Need advice for making an outdoor bench

  • Advertise with us

« back to Designing Woodworking Projects forum

Forum topic by MJM305 posted 05-08-2010 02:25 PM 892 views 0 times favorited 4 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View MJM305's profile


5 posts in 2459 days

05-08-2010 02:25 PM

I am wanting to make an outdoor bench from a couple of walnut slabs that I have had for about ten years. The slabs are approximately 7 feet long and still have the bark on them. I kept them after having a large black walnut tree milled, never knowing what I would use them for until recently this idea struck me. One slab is approximately 4 inches thick in the middle and the other is is approximately 3 inches thick.

I want to use the 3 inch thick slab for the back support of the bench and the 4 inch slab for the seat. I am wondering if I should leave the bark on or find a way to shave it off. I am going to attach the back support to the seat obviously but am having trouble finding the right angle to put the back support at.

My biggest question is how do I smooth the surface of the wood? I do not have access to a planer or sander big enough to handle these slabs and doubt either would work because of the curve of the would on the back side. I thought about building a carrier for my router which would ride on rails as I made passes over the wood slabs (using a flat cutting bit and making several passes). My thought was the wood slabs would be sitting on my bench or saw horses and secured so they would not move.

I am going to make legs for the bench by using some small branches about 3 to 4 inches thick. I have not completely figured out the best way to attach the legs yet.

Can you guys/gals give me any advice on planing/smoothing out the wood? Please throw any thoughts you have out there for any part of it. I am probably going to use a spar finish on the wood, will this work for the bark side or is there something better to use?

Thanks for any advice offered.

4 replies so far

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 2494 days

#1 posted 05-08-2010 03:09 PM

This is ironic. In another forum subject we are commenting on what purpose a hand held power planer has for a woodworker and the consensus is “not much”. Now, your situation may be the perfect place for a hand held power planer. I would opine that for this application you don’t need to get the surface perfectly flat. Just close would be good enough. You can probably get there with a hand held power planer followed by an aggressive sander.

Speaking of sanding – If I want to remove a lot of material in a hurry, I use my handheld belt sander and a 40 grit belt.

Regarding the angle of the back, most casual chairs and benches usually 12 – 15 degrees off of perpendicular.

Regarding the bark – - It’s going to come off eventually unless you permeate it with CA glue which would be a big job for a project like this.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View uffitze's profile


199 posts in 2375 days

#2 posted 05-08-2010 07:14 PM

I know you’ve had it for 10 years, but I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t use walnut for an outdoor project.

Of course, if you do go ahead and use it, Rich is right a hand plane (or power planer if you must) is the proper way to surface the wood.

View MJM305's profile


5 posts in 2459 days

#3 posted 05-08-2010 08:31 PM

uffitze, I am curious, why do you recommend not using it for outdoor use? Will the wood not hold up to the outdoor elements? Thanks

View uffitze's profile


199 posts in 2375 days

#4 posted 05-08-2010 09:22 PM

Well, any wood exposed to the elements is going to fade in color. You may be able to reduce some by using a good spar varnish, but you will also have to keep on top of maintaining the finish.

Other than fading, I’m not sure how it will respond to the elements. I am aware that “Brazilian Walnut” is sometimes used for decks, but I don’t know how that wood compares to black walnut.

My primary concern though is that I wouldn’t want to use such a pretty and expensive piece of wood for an outdoor project that I’d only use part of the year, would be exposed to freeze/thaw cycles, and that I’d have to have to work on every couple of years to keep looking good.

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics