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Build a live-edge bench!

Build a live-edge bench!

Sometimes you meticulously make plans, sometimes you fly by the seat of your pants. I almost always know what I want the result to look like, even if I can’t work out how to connect point A and point B straight away, but I stalled out halfway through building a live-edge bench. It’s finished just in time for summer, though, and I love the result.

Macrocarpa slabs

Building the benches started off simple: I brought home two slabs of macrocarpa from an auction, $20 each. Macrocarpa, aka Monterey cypress, is commonly used for planting windbreaks in the country. The trees are magnificent, the soft knotty yellow timber less so. Still, these slabs were $20 and they had live edges and they were mine.

I brought the slabs to Jamie’s dad’s property to work on, in close proximity of helpful machinery. The slabs were cut to 1.5m long (enough to seat three people), sanded smooth and stained. The macrocarpa didn’t take stain well at all, so it took me two tries to get a result I was happy with. (Apparently wood conditioner helps ensure an even stain on pine and softwoods, so, I’ll remember that in the future.) I reglued some of the live-edge that popped off and filled the rougher areas with clear epoxy.

Live-edge bench: what base?

So far so good. And then… indecision. What did I want for the base???

You wouldn’t think a live-edge bench would be so complicated. Make it industrial, rustic, whatever you want. But I just froze up, undecided about what to do with the bench and how well it’d play with the other outdoor furniture. I was hot on hairpin legs for a while, but given that I’d need Sam’s assistance for welding some and he didn’t need me wasting any more of his precious free time, that never eventuated. (Dropping $200+ on eBay legs was out of the question.)

In the end, I came back to my original idea for the live-edge bench: splayed tapered legs with mitred support beams. Seeing examples of awesome home-fabricated furniture at Open House Hobart was a real kick in the pants for me to put these things together. The finished slabs had only been sitting around for well over a year, waiting for me to make up my damn mind already.

Workbench surface

Once I sorted out the design and made an estimate of the necessary dimensions, Jamie and I decided to go with his original suggestion and use one of our myrtle slabs for the timber. The myrtle was also an auction win, cheaply priced because it was seconds-grade timber. I would have been just as happy with generic hardwood, but hey, myrtle. Jamie also did some calculations for me to ensure that the legs and supports could hold three people — the support beams helped a lot.

(Fun Fact: ‘Myrtle’, when referring to Australian timber, is actually a native beech. It’s unrelated to any other plant known as myrtle.)

We brought the myrtle slab for a visit to Sam and his work shed. Sam, Jamie’s brother, is the same cool dude who helped me weld a steel bookcase, and as ever I’m grateful for his help. A 12” table saw blade managed to cut slices out of that thick slab, while the bandsaw took care of the smaller cuts. For the legs, I cut a piece of Tasmanian oak to the right dimensions and used that as a template for all the others.

Woodworking with myrtle

It took a couple Sunday visits to finish all the support beams and legs. The myrtle wasn’t the easiest timber to work with; because it was seconds-grade, it had a number of knots and cracks to avoid. Add a blunt planer blade and the legs turned out slightly uneven in thickness from one another. Hopefully it adds to the rustic charm? Gonna just quickly remind myself that professional joiners couldn’t give two craps about me or this blog.

 I polished the legs on a linisher, or a table sanding belt, where it only took an 80-grit belt to make them smooth as silk. Suddenly my homespun legs looked like factory issue. Whoa. The final touch was two coats of clear Feast Watson garden furniture oil, which brought out the red of the myrtle. Go figure, you come back to a project after a year and the second part turns out way nicer than the first.

Diagram overkill :)

And this is what that assembly looked like, in simplified images. Cut things, screw things together, done. (Feel free to ask if there’s anything you want more details on; I think that if I attempted a wordy explanation it would make for a long, confusing, boring post.)

Milk crate bench

The milk crates had a good run… but it was time for them to go.

Full live-edge bench
Live-edge bench on the deck

There it is! Meet my live-edge bench. It debuted just in time for our Friendsgiving Thanksgiving.

Bench closeup
Echeveria flowers

The macrocarpa stain matches the legs pretty well — I used Cabots Autumn Leaf, a slightly greyer red which I figured would be counteracted by the yellow of the cypress. It’s rich but I didn’t want the whole thing to be RED, you know?

The coffee table is still a piece of junk, but the Echeveria setosa is putting on an impressive display right now! Not bad for a tiny piece broken off at the Botanical Gardens (shh). The pink-flowering spring cactus is fading, but after two months of blooms it’s probably entitled to a break.

Bench and deck

It doesn’t look much different out on the deck than it did last summer, but we’re getting there. If nothing else the succulent corner is looking all right since I gave the large mixed planter a couple more to keep it company. More cheap Kmart pots and plant stands for the win. (The wintersweet in the corner… not so much. It shrivels as soon as it skips a drink. Good thing I’m not growing it for its foliage.)

No, to my embarrassment, the second bench isn’t assembled yet. Mostly because I’m not sure where to put it. Cut off one snake’s head and two others pop up in its place, sigh. I want to build a low-profile plant shelf by the railing and I don’t want to make it too crowded with furniture out here. Work in progress.

Live-edge bench on the deck

I can’t believe Christmas is so soon! This half of the year goes by so quickly, it’s exciting and a little scary. How’s December treating you?


4 thoughts on “Build a live-edge bench!”

  1. Pingback: DIY Rustic Live Edge Bench For Outdoors - Shelterness

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  3. Thank you so much for posting this beautiful project and wonderful sketches! This is exactly what I’ve been looking for! I, too, have had a slab waiting (many more years than you) for me to find the right design. It is an oak slab with live edge that came from my grandfather’s workshop. He’s been gone many years and I’ve wanted to find just the right design before starting. Thank you!

    1. Hello and welcome!
      Thanks so much for your lovely comment.

      After living with my bench for a while, I have a recommendation: use long batten screws for attaching the legs to the under-slab supports. They will make the legs less wobbly. 4″ long is good, 6″ is better.
      Before you attach the legs to the supports: take each leg, clamp it in place on your bench, and drill a pilot hole as far as your bit will go. This way, when you’re inserting the long screws, the screws won’t go wonky.

      ‘Batten screws’ are what they call long, heavy-duty, bugle-head decking screws in Australia; the best N American equivalent I can find are these decking screws at Home Depot. I’m sure there’s an obvious American term for these that I can’t figure out (which happens a lot – who knew the US/UK/Aust had so many differing names for building supplies).
      But yeah, here’s more info about battens and why I’d use them here.

      Best of luck with your building plans!

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