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Rustic Pine Benches

May 28, 2014

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Last summer I had to have three white pines taken down in my back yard. The first two trunks got turned into the Pine Stools, leaving one trunk about sixteen feet long.  Being white pine, there are a ton of knots, the bane of the hand tool wood worker.  So instead of chopping it up into firewood, I bribed a friend of mine– who likes Greek food and has a chainsaw– into cutting the trunk into slabs for me.  We had tried to cut slabs earlier from a smaller section of trunk using a normal (crosscut) chainsaw blade; we eventually got it done, but it was very slow.  This time I got a ripping chainsaw blade and the process went much better. The blades don’t look that different, but the cutting geometry is different in the same way a rip saw differs from a cross cut saw.  Using a 2×4 as a guide, the cuts were all from the top down by eye; it’s not as accurate as a mill, but for nothing but the cost of a 2×4 and some nails. The results definitely exceeded my expectations.

The tree trunk’s shape necessitated working it three sections.  The first section of trunk nearest to the ground made two very nice slabs, between three and four inches thick, by twelve or so wide, and roughly three and a half feet long.  The next section was about seven feet long; we got one nice slab out of that, which I cut into two more bench tops.  There was a more-or-less half round piece that we could not figure out how to hold still, so we left it that shape.  The top-most section of trunk was about six feet long, but not wide enough to get more than one slab out of. So we decided to split it down the middle for two additional half rounds.

Normally, at this point in the project I would switch over to hand tools. The intended purpose of these particular benches is to be used at an outdoor SCA event for crowd seating, and the event date isn’t that far off, so I resorted to using power tools to speed up the process.   The legs are 2x4s run through the power planer to get them flat, smooth and all the same dimensions.  If I had unlimited time they should have been turned to better match the historical examples, which in turn would have made the mortising process easier.

I brought each rough sawn slab down to my main workbench to get the top surface prepared.  This process was done by hand for two reasons: First, my planer could not handle something that large; and second, they get a better surface texture when done by hand.  Using a strongly chambered iron and diagonal cross-grain planing I was able to remove the saw marks on the top pretty quick; the bottoms, other than sharp corners, were left rough.

For the flat slab benches (not round on the bottom) I mortised roughly two and a half or three inch deep at a 1:6 angle. I drilled out most of the waste first, using a timber framing trick; normally I would do that by hand, but to save my arm I did it with a one and three-eighths Forstner bit and a power hand drill.  I did the final sizing with a corner chisel and bench chisel, which is fairly straightforward work in the soft green pine.  Add the four legs, trim them off level, and the bench is complete.

Two of the sections with rounded bottoms were a bit more challenging to get that top surface flat, but eventually they got there.  I eyeballed the placement of the legs; they are a  more of a bold angle because there was less log to mortise into.

The last rounded bottom piece was a little smaller and thinner, so I decided to put in three legs for a change of pace. While it looks like it would be tippy, it is not: Three points define a plane.

All of the benches are finished with satin marine polyurethane as they are expected to be used outdoors and left to the merciless elements in between uses.  There is a surprising amount of surface area to cover, one and a half quarts worth.

I’m going to keep my favorite for use in my backyard.

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