A Garden Bench is no longer just a garden bench
Our outside patio was a little lacking when it came to seating. A garden bench would help us out quite a bit when we entertained. In addition, as readers of this blog will know, I grow a lot of plants from seed every year. I prefer to start my seeds in larger pots, which means I don’t grow as many plants per tray as I could. But, I still have many trays each spring – a couple for vegetables, a few for flowers, etc. So building a garden bench that could double as a seedling tray holder was a great idea!
And to protect them I want them off the ground to keep the squirrels and rabbits at bay once they start germinating. So, as a partial solution, and to keep them off our regular outdoor patio furniture I decided to build a garden bench that could accomplish this, but it also has a secondary feature. It also helps make the garden bench stronger and more stable as another benefit too.
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Garden Bench secondary purpose….
This garden bench can hold 4 10×20 trays , and has a lower shelf that can hold the same amount. The lower shelf comes in handy when we get severe weather, as if I suspect strong storms I just move all four flats down to the bottom shelf. This gives them good protection from heavy rain, as one of the most frustrating things is when small seedlings or seeds get washed out!
The secondary purpose of the garden bench is just that – a garden bench! When we entertain and need some additional seating this garden bench can safely hold two (200+ lb) adults, or 3-4 children. When I need it I just remove the plants, set them off to the side, and hose it off prior to people arriving and let it dry in the sun. Quick, easy, and we think it looks nice too! We found this set of set of 4 pillow covers for under $20 to complement the garden bench and our love of farmhouse style. And, we used these 18 inch pillow inserts .
I will now tell you how I built this, and how you can do it too!
Garden Bench General Layout
I knew that I needed be able to fit 4 10×20 trays – which aren’t actually 10″x20″. I wanted to have gaps between the slats for this garden bench to allow for water to run off. So I did a bit of math and determined how many boards I would need, and what spacing they needed. For the height, I used a chair seat heights as my reference, and then worked backwards based on my lumber, to determine my cut lengths.
For the lower shelf height, I needed it to be off the ground at least a few inches, but didn’t want it too high because if I had some taller seedlings to put under the main seat, I didn’t want them to get damaged taking them in/out. From there, it was a matter of getting the proper support pieces designed up. And since I like making nice things without spending big money, I utilized some further scrap wood I had lying around. Almost all of this wood is recycled from a heat treated pallet.
I made my cut list and sanded down the pieces. For the end pieces, since I knew I was going to stain them I sanded them from 80-120-220 grit sand paper. This was old pallet wood, so it was exceptionally rough at first, and I never got all the gashes out, but this is going to be a rustic garden bench. Plus, it gives the final piece some nice character. After sanding, it is important to take an old dust brush or paint brush and get as much dust out as you can.
Also, I made sure the boards I utilized were straight and not warped. If you need to buy your lumber, I suggest you read our tips on how to buy lumber that won’t warp.
If possible, with any project, you should stain/paint your pieces prior to final assembly. That will minimize the amount of touch up you need to do after building. You don’t need to worry about getting stain into as many nooks and crannies, as you will have full access by using the individual boards. Since this garden bench will be holding seed trays most of the time, that means lots of water. The best way to protect wood from water is paint, so I grabbed a can of exterior latex primer, then two coats of exterior latex paint. This also makes repairs to the finish easy, as a little dab of paint is all you need to give the garden bench long life and keep it looking nice.
Staining the Garden Bench end pieces
I then prepped the end pieces with stain pre-stain wood conditioner, as I assumed that this was pine. It helps keep the stain even and minimize blotchiness. I followed this up with a coat of Provincial Wood Stain, as it is a nice golden-brown color. I then let the stain dry for 24 hours, as that way you know everything should be fairly well absorbed. Side note – always make sure you dispose of your stain rags properly! I use shop towels, as they are quite tough, and then I burn them in a burn barrel, one at a time. This is VERY IMPORTANT as oil based stains give off heat when drying, and a crumpled up rag or paper towel can self-ignite. So please, research the best ways to dispose of this, and above all, be safe.
Assembly – End Frame
After you have all the individual boards painted/stained it is time to assemble the garden bench. I wanted to keep it looking as nice as I could, but didn’t want go crazy with mortise/tenons or anything like that. So, I made dowel joints for aligning the top pieces, and glued them into place. It is very helpful if you have the marking gauges, as this will help ensure proper alignment. I do not have a drill press, so I had to carefully drill the holes for the dowels by hand. The dowels add a ton of strength to the main frame of the garden bench. They make it far stronger than screws alone.
Some people reading this are probably wondering why not just shoot some large wood screws in from the outside. The reason I didn’t do it is twofold. First, I didn’t want screws visible from the outside of the garden bench. Second,the wood screw would be gripping into the end of the side brace, aka the end-grain. So, the screw would be parallel to the grain of the wood. Over time, with repeated stress of people sitting down/standing up these screws will loosen, to a point where they will not be able to be tightened. It is always more durable (much more) to use a screw perpendicular to the grain, and not parallel to it. But since I didn’t want hardware visible from the outside, I did the dowel joint/pocket hole joints.
Prepping the Slats
After this, we need to prep the 2×4 braces, and get them ready for assembly. I decided to use pocket holes for this, as they would be quite hidden by the main seats. Also, for aesthetics as well as preventing water damage, I decided to use pocket holes for assembling the main slats. To do this, it is best to use a Kregg Jig. You can pick up the small one for about $20, or the larger one for $100-$150 typically.
Since I was going to be making many, many pocket holes, and I have a very nice neighbor who owns a larger one, I borrowed the bigger one to go faster. But – I will say that I had more control with the smaller one. I noticed that sometimes I would have the wood rotate a small amount while drilling with the larger jig – counter intuitive, but that was my impression.
Also, I knew roughly what kind of gap I wanted between slats. But things always get a bit fuzzy when spread out over 4’. So, I laid out my set up exactly. Since I have some experience with manufacturing, I know that for this garden bench to have identical spacing it is better to use some sort of gage. I fashioned on using some scrap wood and a c-clamp, and used this for spacing my slats. Then, using a square I traced out where the slats would go, and marked out where I needed to drill pocket holes.
Be mindful of pocket holes….
Another tip – always, always, always make some test joints out of scrap lumber prior to drilling on your finished pieces. You can’t undo a pocket hole very easily, and furthermore you don’t want to have to use wood filler because you the pointy end of the screws through the slats where people will sit!
After setting up, and testing my jig settings I got to work. Drilling holes takes a lot out of a battery, and I had to recharge before finishing up. Once this was done, I asked my very nice neighbor of a second set of hands in return for some beer, and we assembled the garden bench using pan-head screws, which are what you want for pocket holes. This was pretty quick, and it’s always a fun time shooting the breeze while building something.
Once the garden bench was fully assembled, I needed to go back and apply a bit of stain where I drilled the pocket holes. These are relatively invisible due to their location, but I wanted them to match the color. If you didn’t do this, the contrast in color would be very noticeable. I own a touch-up pen, which is like a paint pen but for stain. It is perfect for this kind of job.
Again, I let it dry for 24 hours. Then it was time to seal up the stained pieces of wood. So I used a foam brush and some DECK SEALER. This will protect the garden bench from sunlight and water, without changing the color much. Even still, I plan on applying a new coat each year, as that is easier than building a new garden bench. In addition, since stain color changes in the sun no matter what, I plan on flipping the garden bench around each year. This will help the color change evenly on each end of the garden bench.
In the end, this bench costs me some sand paper, screws, stain, sealer, paint – about $35, but I still have plenty of stain/paint/sealer left over. The bench holds four seed trays nicely, can hold people when needed, and looks great on our patio. Thanks for reading this, and don’t hesitate to ask questions. And, follow us on Pinterest & Instagram.
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