Making a commemoration bench at home. The bench I made was destined for the mountains in Scotland but it would be an equally good memorial to a fisherman on a riverbank somewhere.
Mum wanted to put up a memorial for Dad who died last year. I had the idea of buying a commemoration bench, but my wife suggested I make it myself. In his early life, Dad was a carpenter so it seemed fitting. Unfortunately, my only experience of woodwork was at school when I made a photo frame that fitted no known size of photo, and many years later sanding and staining (badly) a kitchen worktop.
Below is a description of what I learned about outdoor furniture; creating a design, choosing the wood, cutting, sanding and applying a finish. Dad was a climbing and skiing enthusiast and spent a lot of time in the mountains. We wanted to put the bench in Glencoe in Scotland which was his favourite area. The seasons in Scotland are pretty harsh and the bench was going to have to be rugged enough to stand up to them.
I spent time researching and talking to people about what material to use. It turned out that there is something of a debate about whether softwood or hardwood is best to make outdoor furniture from. The resin in softwood allows it to withstand the elements but a hardwood is naturally tougher. It is therefore best to use one of the harder softwoods - a slight contradiction in terms, I know - such as Larch or a resinous hardwood such as teak. To get a hold of these woods you will need to find a local sawmill as they do not seem to be stocked by normal retailers.
There is a further sub-debate about which wood looks the best. Hardwoods tend to grey over time but softwoods are more prone to dents and bashes. Whichever you choose, your finished bench will require treatment before you send it into the field and will need regular maintenance. I'll talk later about the treatments I gave my bench before letting it loose in the wild.
In the end I decided I would make a test bench out of pine from Jewson. This was because I was not sure of the dimensions or if my (amateur) design would be any good. I thought it would be a safer option to try it first from pine, which is cheaper and readily available before committing a lot of money to buying a more expensive wood.
I went for a simple and, I hoped, robust design made from lengths of 2 by 4 and 2 by 6. I went for these sizes because they were the dimensions supplied by Jewson and it would cut down on the sawing.
Once the wood was cut it was time to treat it. A friend on mine who used to be a cabinetmaker told me that the treatment would be more of a factor than whether it was made from softwood or hardwood. There is a huge array of paints, oils and stains available and it is difficult to know which is best. I didn't want use paint as, in my limited experience, paint flakes off after a while.
I decided to use base coats of a rot protector followed by coats of an oil or stain. According to the Internet, 9 was an acceptable number of coats for a decent piece of furniture. I wanted to use a stain as the pine was too light in colour but I had bad experiences of staining wood in the past. When others do it, it gives a deep and luxurious colour. When I do it, it looks like a kid has been let loose on your furniture with a box of watercolours.
I learned that staining on untreated wood was best done following a coat of pre-stain conditioner to prevent it from blotching. The softer the wood, the more it would benefit from some form of conditioning before the stain was applied. For the base coat used I Cuprinol Wood Preserver (clear) and Cuprinol Wood-stain (antique pine) for the finishing lacquer. I read that the preserver would act as a conditioner for the stain, although I was sceptical. In total I applied four coats of preservative and four coats of stain. Not quite the magic nine as specified by the Internet but I hoped it would be enough.
Between coats I gave the wood a light sanding. A tip I learned here is that a palm sander with no more than 180 grit paper is enough for softwood such as pine. If, like I did, you have a go at it with a belt sander and 80 grit you are going to make a bit of a mess.
We added a brass plaque which I bought engraved from Ebay. The finished bench looked good but I'll have to wait to see if it stands the test of time.