Larry Ciesla Woodworking

English Garden Bench

I’ve been to England several times and fell in love with the garden benches that are located in many of the parks throughout London.   It also happens that Norm Abrams built an English Garden Bench for one of his New Yankee Workshop projects.  Years ago I purchased the plan and video from the New Yankee Workshop web site intending to one day build one of my own.  Building from a plan is a departure for me since I prefer to work from my own designs, however, this particular project is quite complex and I don’t think I could have come up with a design as good as Norm’s.

Norm built his bench from teak but since teak has limited availability and is very expensive, I chose to build my bench from white oak.  White oak is a good choice for an outdoor project since it holds up well to the outdoors.  The sides are constructed from 12/4 stock and I had a very difficult time finding a supplier in the Chicago area with a 12/4 piece availabile.  In fact, of the three suppliers I normally use, only one had white oak in this thickness, and he had only one piece at that.  The board he had for sale was about 12 inches wide and about 10 feet long.  This was more material than I would need but the supplier was not willing to cut it so this single board ended up costing me about $400.00.  That's a lot of money to pay for one board, but I have enough left over to come close to building another bench or chair someday.  

This project is all about making templates and I took a lot of time to make the templates as accurate as possible.  The technique I use is to use the templates to rough out the shape on the bandsaw and then make an exact copy on the router table using a pattern bit.  This technique makes it possible to produce as many copies of a particular piece as I need and they will all be exactly the same.  
The templates also come in very handy to help get as much yield out of an expensive piece of wood .  Here I'm using the templates to figure out where each piece will come out of the board.
Here the two arms have been rough cut.  The critical angle on the left of each arm had to be precise or else the arms would not have parallel with the ground when attached to the backs.  After this cut was made on the table saw I used a bandsaw to rough out the curved cuts staying well away from the line.
Here I'm using a pattern bit on my router table to refine the shape exactly to the template.  The 1/2 inch MDF template has been attached to the workpiece using double sided tape.  The hight of the router bit is set so that the bearing rides along the template and the bit cuts the wood.  Because this stock is 12/4 (e.g.: 3 inches thick) the bit I'm using can only do half the profile.  After this step is complete, I used another pattern bit with the bearing on the top, removed the MDF template, then finished the cut by referencing the bearing against the part finished in this step.  The result is a three inch piece cut to the exact shape of the template.
The mortises needed to be cut an inch and a half deep and were 3/4 inches wide.  There are many ways to cut mortises and for these I chose to make another template for the four different mortise lengths I would be cutting.  The size of each hole is adjusted to accomodate the guide bushing I've installed on the router and also considers the diameter of the router bit.  The advantage of this technique was that I was able to very precisely position the template on the work piece to locate the mortise as accurate as possible.  The disadvantage is that I ended up with rounded corners that I had to chisel square so the tenons would fit properly.
Here I'm using the template I describe above to cut one of the mortises.
Polyurathane glue has excellent outdoor properties so it was the natural choice.  It is, however, a very messy glue and it is very difficult to clean any squeeze out.  During the dry fit I clamped the assembly together and applied blue tape to the joints.  This technique catches 99% of the glue squeeze out.
After glueing and clamping, I drilled 3/8 inch holes into and through each tenon, applied some glue, then drove in 3/8 inch birch dowels.  This is called "pegging the tenon" and this technique has been used for hundreds of years to added incredible strength to a mortise and tenon joint.  After the pegs were inserted, the clamps were no longer needed.
Here I've setup my hollow chisel mortise machine to cut the angled mortises for the slats along the bottom back rail.  
Here I've setup to cut the cheeks on the tenons on one of the back members.  I needed every bit of my 10 foot ceiling height to pull this off.
At the dry fit stage before glue I'm laying out exactly where I want the pegs to go to peg the tenons.
The woodworking is complete and its time to enjoy a cup and reflect on a really fun project!