A torii inspired garden bench

We wanted to give my in-laws a garden bench, so that they can relax outside when the weather is nice. A traditional English bench was considered, but I wanted to give it a bit of eastern fusion. Shintō kara kariru!

Disclaimer: That last phrase is translated using Google. Sheath the Katana!

Back in December 2019 I made a small gift box for my in-laws as a Christmas gift. The real gift would be a full-size garden bench, but there was not time to do it then. I therefore made a small model and wrote a note that “the real thing will arrive in 2020”.

You know how time flies, right? You look at the calendar in January and think you have all the time in the world. Then you blink, and it’s somehow August. Oh well. I got the project going in October. A good month later, and the bench was built. But let’s start at the beginning. A beautiful, sunny Saturday in the beginning of October…

Ahh… New project time! A blank page, a sharp pencil, a mug of joe, the shop speakers blasting a playlist and an idea. Excitement!

I found a picture of a bench which I liked, and I am using it as my inspiration. I found several plans which gave me a good guesstimate on dimensions, so I made a quick and dirty “cut list” and bought some pandemic-priced wood for the project. My fire pan benches have held up fantastic, so I’ll follow that recipe. Cheap (well……) spruce construction lumber and Jotun deck oil. This bench will not be placed under open sky like my fire pan benches are – and if those hold up good, the bench certainly will. The nice thing about the Jotun deck oil is that it is extremely easy to maintain. When it starts to degrade you just brush on deck oil cleaner, wait ten minutes then hose and scrub it off. Let dry and apply new deck oil. Good for another 5+ years!

I did not want to make a “classic” design, like a park bench or something. I wanted something that stood out, and when I found an image of a bench with a eastern flair to it I had the design idea I wanted. A big sweeping curve on the top of the back rest, like a Torii. A wide horizontal panel in the middle of the back rest in stead of the usual slats. I decided to combine those elements with the classic look of a park bench: curved seat and narrow seat slats. I decided on a width of 170cm (5’7”) which would seat three adults comfortably, or one person can take a nap or lounge in it.

I calculated roughly the amount of wood needed and took a trip to the local home improvement store. I rummaged through the stacks of wood and got a pretty decent selection of boards that were straight and without many knots.

There’s at least a garden bench in there!

Stock prep

After jointing one face, I ran the materials through the thicknesser and took them to 40mm. I adjusted the material to 4S with my hand plane, removing the machine marks in the process. I then marked the outline for the back legs onto a 2×6” – or what was a 2×6”.

My donkey work eliminator. ML 392 jointer/thicknesser.

The back legs are a bit more “beefy”, and they are angled to create a nice resting angle for the back. I also made the seat height somewhat tall – the fire pan benches has proven to be ideal for people that has problems with their legs or hip. Back in the days I used to work in a furniture shop, and I remember one manufacturer specializing in furniture targeted towards the elderly – the seat height being one of the main differences. I opted for a seat height around 50cm (19 11/16”).

By nesting the two legs, I got minimal waste. The offcuts became the lower leg rails.

I chopped the blanks to length in order to square off the bottom of the legs. Since the wood was 4S, I made a knife wall all the way around. This eliminates tearout and gives me a line to plane to. My Record Power BS400 band saw zipped through the cuts with ease, separating the parts. I then used my No.4 smoothing plane to remove the saw marks and plane down to the line.

To make the two back legs identical, I clamped them together and planed them so that all the surfaces were square and identical. A power router and a copying bit would’ve taken a lot more time and not created the pristine surface a hand plane leaves.

In the following image, look for the “break” in the surface in front of the hand plane. This is where the back meets the seat. Easily adjusted with the plane, and it is dead square to the sides of the leg. Perfect!

On the back side of the legs, I made a curved transition with a spokeshave.

When hand planing two boards to equal thickness, I prefer to make one “master” first. I plane it 4S then clamp the boards in the vise. By applying light pressure and using the rubber face of my Thor hammer, I can adjust the position by feeling for flush on the underside. When flush, I tighten the vise and plane the high areas with the “master” as my guideline. Voilà: to identical parts!

After preparing the stock, I started the joinery. Go to the next page for more.

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