A torii inspired garden bench

Back rest

The back rest will have slats about 10cm (4”) wide, three on each side of a wide horizontal panel. I will use mortise and tenon joinery here, too. For this I decided to save some time using the router again. A better option would’ve been a pillar drill and a forstner bit to hog out the waste – much more control and way less dust. But since I don’t own a pillar drill yet, the router option was chosen. Hand tools are great for jobs such as this, but I think it is a good idea to keep the power tool skills honed too. There’s a time for everything.

I started by selecting a router bit that was almost as wide as my chisel. A bit of chisel cleanup, and the mortises were squared off and cleaned up.

Here are two methods of cleaning up the bottom of the mortises. If you have a marking gauge with a wheel style cutter (they don’t rotate), such as the Veritas marking gauges, you can actually use the sharp cutter to shave off a bit of material here and there – but for more substantial work, the router plane is unsurpassed.

I then made the tenons on the slats like before – I cut them oversized then trim them down to a snug fit using the router plane. I also made the wide, horizontal board that goes into the center of the bench. It is almost 20cm in width (about 8”), but that is no match for my BS400 band saw which has a 30cm capacity (about 11.5”).

After making mortises in the two central slats, I cleaned all the tenons with the router plane until they fit snugly. I trimmed the length and squared them with my 04 smoother. And here’s a little trick: When planing end grain, it is very easy to break the fibres on the exit side. You must stop before you blow out the end. You could either flip the piece in the vise or stand on the other side (which means you must do it left handed). In stead, just flick the plane around and drag it towards you. You can help with your left hand if needed. Quick and easy!

The main benefit is that you don’t have to change stance, height, position – just spin the plane, swiffa-swoffa a bit of chamfer to the edge, then spin it back and continue. Fast and easy!

The next job was to prepare stock for the top rail on the backrest. Oh, and I did buy some better materials for the seat slats. Nearly knot free, at least the pieces I chose for the slats. There were waste, don’t ask…

Quick test to decide design elements.

After milling the top rail blank, I placed it on top of the back to decide some design elements such as top rail overhang, height, how big the arch shall be and stuff like that.


Measure twice, cut once. Well, I did measure. A lot. I drew lines. But still, I managed to mess up! It was a case of not thinking it through, really. What I SHOULD have done, was to mark the desired width of the outside of the bench. Then marked the width of the back legs, then do the layout for the mortises in the top rail (for the tenons on top of the back legs).

What I actually DID do, I don’t even remember. But I did mark the mortise on the wrong side of a line, something I did not discover until I had drilled two beautiful holes with a forstner bit – perfect depth, dead plumb to the surface and well within the lines so that I could clean up the mortise with a chisel. Well, this worked out great for the first mortise. It’s perfect! The next one – not so much. I rinsed and repeated and marked the mortise.

But it was on the wrong side of the mark I made. A perfect bullseye, but placed dead center in the neighboring target.

I made a dowel by cutting a 15mm square blank which I then hand planed round by dividing each face into 3 equal section. I then planed the corners down to the lines using my handy little dowel planing jig (a piece of gash with a 45 degree troth with an end stop). From there, you work your way around. The blank goes from 4 sides, to 8 then 16 and so on, until it is reasonably round. I did overshoot the process a little, but I decided to roll with it. I was going to use epoxy glue anyway, and epoxy does not shun gaps.

After the epoxy cured (and I had a night’s sleep to reset the brain), I cut the dowels, created a recess then made an inlay to hide the mishap. Nobody will know. Lest they read this blog post. Oh, well.

Hiding mistakes – or the door to Narnia?

After pulling off a perfect act of “smoke screenery”, I proceeded to make all the mortises in the top rail for the slats and the leg joints, and the two tenons on top of the back legs.

Getting there!

Now the horizontal piece in the backrest looks “right” – the space above and below is exactly the same.

Time for the arm rests and some design and shaping. [insert sound that means “turn page” here]. Remember the Disney cassettes? Or was that a Norwegian thing?

Anyway, on the next page we shall rest. Our arms. And add some design to the bench.

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