Need advice for making an outdoor bench

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Forum topic by MJM305 posted 05-08-2010 02:25 PM 995 views 0 times favorited 4 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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5 posts in 3008 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 3043 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 2924 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 3008 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 2924 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.

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