Lutyens Garden Bench, The - Fine Woodworking

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The LutyensGarden BenchTurning our little yard into a landscaped gardenretreat has been one ofthose back-burner projects mywife and I have managed toavoid since buying our housesix years ago. It's been easy todo because neither of us is agardener. As a woodworker, I'malways able to find constructiveprojects somewhere inside thehouse that are better suited tomy skills than moving earth andplanting flowers. Plus, I've decided that a proper gardenshould evolve slowly over theyears—four years ago we planted a Japanese maple under thefringe of the huge Sycamorethat dominates the yard, and lastsummer I laid down a brickpatio outside the back porch.Good things shouldn't berushed, I tell myself.Now that I work primarilyfrom home, the prospect of taking daily work breaks in a morepleasant backyard nook has methinking more about the gardening part of our imaginarygarden. But over the wintermonths all I could do was plan,dream and defer. Then I saw apicture of the Lutyens gardenbench in a catalog. The benchhad the kind of distinctive elegance that I wanted my gardento have, but with a price tagnearing 2,000 in the catalog, Idecided to make one myself.The original bench was designed 100 years ago by EdwinLutyens (1869-1944), a Britisharchitect and designer. Thebench's curvaceous crest railand lollipop-like front legs forma whimsical frame around theclassically regimented slats ofthe back and rolled armrests. An

Full-sized drawings and accurate templateshelp break a classic design into manageable partsBYT O N YO ' M A L L E Yeye-catching and comfortablethree-seater, it's no wonder theLutyens bench is still copied bydozens of outdoor furnituremanufacturers.Some reproductions I've seenhave no bottom stretcher at thefront or back, and others haveboth. As I sketched and workedthrough drawings, I began tonotice that a bottom stretchereven with the front legs wouldrestrict a sitter's feet from goingwhere they naturally want togo—under the seat a few inch-es. As a compromise, I positioned a stretcher under themiddle of the seat, tenoned intothe bottom side stretchers.I worked out the details of theentire bench using full-sizeddrawings. I drew the bench, atvarious views, directly onto-in. plywood. Because of themyriad joints, angles and curvesin this design, full-sized drawings were crucial to making theproject run smoothly. The drawings helped me not only to refine the design of the benchbefore committing any cuts tolumber but also to figure out theconstruction and necessary order of assembly.Choose an appropriate woodfor outdoor useReproductions of the Lutyensgarden bench are typically,made of teak, but I ruled thatout immediately due to the cost.My bench would sit outsidepermanently because I didn'thave a place to store it indoorsover the winter, so weather resistance was a main requirement. Spanish cedar is a goodmahogany-colored wood thatweathers better than real ma-

This classic bench design was built fromcypress to endure all four seasons. Loosetenons and dowel joints were all joined with aslow-setting, waterproof epoxy so that theentire bench could be assembled at once.hogany, but I couldn't find anylocally. I looked at several imported hardwoods being mar-locally grown woods like whiteseat boards, arm slats and backketed for deck building—ipefrom South America and jarrahoak and locust.I settled on cypress for its lightweight, good moisture resistance and moderate hardness. Itslats. If you want to avoid planing rough lumber, cypress isavailable as dimensional lumber from many suppliers oferally hard to work. Highweight also helped me rule outused 8/4 material for the benchframe and 4/4 material for theThere's no better motivatorwhen making furniture than ac-from Australia among them—but these woods are very heavy,quite abrasive to tools and gen-was also available from a localsupplier at a good price and inthicknesses that would work—Ideck-building materials.Start with the seat frametual progress, so I like to startwith the easier parts of a projectand work my way up to themore difficult ones. In this casethe back of the bench was byfar the hardest part to make, so Idecided to build the rest of thebench first.For each back leg, I faceglued two pieces of 8/4 stock. I

FULL-SIZED DRAWINGS AID LAYOUTFRONT LEGREAR LEGFull-sized drawings lead to ac-curate templates. Thedrawings makeit easy to checkmeasurementsand make a template for thelegs. Simplymark out theprofile on theblank (left), thenbandsaw the legto shape (right).Mark legs at intersectionpoints. With thefront leg cut toshape, use aside-view drawing to mark outthe positionof the rail andstretcher (left).All frame mortises are centeredon the stock andare in. thick(right).planed down the stock to in.thick (the actual thickness is notcrucial; just keep it as thick asback legs from my full-sizedpossible). I ripped the stockslightly oversized to 3 in., thenglued the slabs together. Theseam is visible only from thephotos above). I sanded thebandsawn surfaces on my 6-in.edge sander, but a block planeand some hand-scraping wouldside-view drawing and cut themout on the bandsaw (see theside, not from the front or just as well.little cleaner. I planed the rest ofthe 8/4 stock down to its finalpart of the legs overlapping. Irough-cut the legs first, thenripped the inside edge of eachone on the tablesaw, stoppingStructurally, either approachwould be sound, but my approach made the front view a-in. thickness.I transferred the profile of theBoth front legs can be cutfrom a single piece of stock,6 in. or wider, with the straightshort of the top circle. Then Ibandsawed the final shape ofthe circle and the transition into the straight inside edge.With all of the seat-frame partscut to size, it was time to cut themortises. Years ago, when I firstlearned woodworking, therewas a horizontal mortiser in theshop where I worked. With onesetup, this machine cuts mortis-es in both parts that form a joint;a separate piece of wood isused for the tenon (called aloose tenon). In most cases it's aDO COMBINATION MACHINES MAKE SENSE?The deal I got on my used Robland X31 combination machine seven years ago wastoo good to pass up. The Robland combines five tools: tablesaw with sliding table,jointer, planer, spindle shaper and horizontal mortiser. Moving from one task toanother can be time-consuming, but the tool is heavy duty and high quality. For mysmall shop and tight budget, the machine definitely has been worth the money.lot easier than cutting a tenonand routing a mortise, and theresulting joint is just as strong.Since then, the idea of cuttingmortises with a plunge routerhas never caught on for me, andI now use the mortiser on myRobland combination machine(see the photo below) for al-

most all joinery work, includingdoweling.I centered the mortises in the-in.-thick rails and stretchersand in the faces of the legs. After shaping the tenon stock andcutting the separate tenons tolength, I glued them into theends of all the rails and stretchers with epoxy. One caution,however: Before gluing thetenons into the seat rails, dry-assemble the legs and side rails. Ifthe complementary anglesformed by the back-leg cantand the rails are off, the jointsOne tenon fits all. The authormills tenon stock to thickness,rips it to width, then rounds overthe corners. By trimming them toshort lengths, he can make manytenons from one piece of stock.won't close perfectly. To solvethe problem, simply scribe anew cut line and recut the backends of the side rails and sidestretchers for a perfect fit. (Besure to recut the two intermediate seat rails at the same time.)Also, because the tenons onthe front, rear and side seat railsintersect, I mitered them so thateach is as long as possible. I cutthe curve in the seat rails on thebandsaw and—at long last, itseemed—dry-assembled thebench frame, less its back.The back is the mostdifficult section to makeGood design often leads to construction and assembly conun-drums, and it's certainly truewith the back of this bench. Thevisual centerpiece aroundwhich the bench is designed,the back is deceptively well integrated into the rest of thebench's structure (see the drawings above). But the requiredassembly sequence was not immediately obvious to me. Looking at the sturdy bench framedry-assembled, I wanted to gluesomething up. But each assembly sequence I considered ledto a dead end involving theback of the bench.After scratching my head fora long while, it became clearthat the entire bench, startingwith the back, would have to beglued up in one continuous assembly. It also would have beenpossible to glue up the backfirst and then the rest of thebench frame, but I opted for asingle glue-up. I chose anepoxy from West Systems andused a hardener with a slightlylonger open time than the company's standard hardener (seethe box on the facing page).First I made a full-sized drawing of the entire back. Then Imade a template for shaping thecrest rail, which is made of twopieces connected at the center-

line with a mortise-and-tenonjoint. I drew a half pattern of thecrest rail on paper and refinedthe wavy curves with a lot of trial and error, using catalog photographs as a visual guide. Aftertransferring the pattern to apiece of -in. plywood, I band-SHAPING THE CREST RAILsawed the shape, then blendedthe curves using a belt sander,spindle sander and rasps. Itraced the shape onto the railhalves, then cut them out on thebandsaw, staying slightly outside the line. Then I screwed thetemplate to the back faces of therail halves and trimmed themflush. The first pass with a pat-tern-routing bit trimmed abouttwo-thirds the thickness of theedge; a flush-trimming bit, withthe bearing riding on the edgealready shaped, cleaned up therest (see the photos at right).Incidentally, each half of thecrest rail requires 8-in.-wideMany chances for refining the crest rail. Begin with a patternshaped on paper, then adjust it as you mark it out on plywood templatestock. Cut out the shape on the bandsaw and refine the template further with rasps and various sanding machines. With the templatescrewed to the face of the crest rail, use a pattern-routing bit in a routerto clean up the shape. A flush-trimming bit finishes the job.stock or wider. I didn't have any8/4 material this wide, and Ididn't want seams in the face ofthe rail, so I face-glued twowide pieces of 4/4 stock.I was less than thrilled withmy decision for two reasons.First, the front and back boardswere not well matched, so thegrain is noticeably differentwhen looking at the top edge ofthe crest rail. And because oneof the boards was a lot heavierthan the other, the laminatedstock bowed slightly after I hadplaned it to final thickness. Thelesson: select boards of similargrain and weight if you have toface-glue.Next, I cut the mortises in thecrest rail and bottom rail of theback, in the two vertical stiles inthe back and in the top of theback legs. Because their odd tween the crest rail and bottomshape precluded clamping to rail, rounding its top end tothe mortising table in the nor- match the curve of the arch.mal fashion, I could not com- Then I cut small mortises to joinpletely cut the mortises for the this center stile to both rails. Itwo intermediate stiles into the could finally dry-assemble thecrest rail using my horizontal main structural frame of themortising machine. Neverthe- back, then cut all the slats to fit.less, I clamped the rail halves atMy plan was to fit all of thean angle and mortised in as far slats with a pair of dowels inas possible, then deepened andfinished these two mortiseswith a drill and chisels. I cut thecenter vertical stile to fit be-each end and drill the corresponding holes in all of the verticals. At this time I wonderedabout the assembly sequence ofCHOOSE GLUE SET TIME TO MATCH YOUR WORKThis is an outdoor bench, so I turned to epoxy (West Systems Epoxy; 517-6847286) because it is waterproof. But I learned that adding a slow-set hardenerwould give me 50 minutes open time—more than the usual 9 to 12 minutes. Forsimple applications, such as gluing loose tenons into place, I used the regular formula. But the hardener gave me enough time to do the final assembly all at once.the back, with all of those slats.The main structural parts (bottom rail, crest rail, three stilesand back legs) come together inone direction, while all of theslats are joined in the perpendicular direction. The problemis with the slats that join to thecrest rail—if they were doweled, there would be no way to

bring the crest rail down ontothe stiles and also engage thedowels in the back slats at thesame time.I'm sure there are other solutions, but I decided that all ofthe slats attaching to the crestrail would be butt-joined andreinforced with countersunkscrews from underneath. Additionally, the slats under the center arch would have to beadded after the main assemblyby half-lapping them over thecenter stile. Between epoxy'sof the slats on my horizontalmortiser.Build the rolled armsand attach the seatOnce the components of theback had been cut and the joinery fitted, I reassembled the entire bench dry (see the rightphoto below), then cut the armslats to fit. First I laid out the position of each slat on the frontand back legs, then cut the slatssquare at the front and with a 6 angle at the back to correspondto the angle of the back (see thedrawings at left). I drilled anddoweled the ends of the armslats on my mortiser, thendrilled the corresponding holesin the back legs and crest railwith a hand drill using a bevelper slats, I held them in position gauge as a guide (see the leftand marked right off the crest photo below).After all that, the most essenrail where they intersect. I bandsawed and sanded the ends to tial part of the bench—thefit snugly, After cutting the half seat—still remained undone.laps in the center stile and the The back edge of the rear-mosttwo top slats, I used the same seat board is angled at 18 soprocess to fit these last two slats. that it can snug up against theI drilled the dowel holes for all back legs and stiles. The frontgood gap-filling ability andcarefully predrilled holes for thescrews, these butt joints shouldhold up just fine.I cut all of the slats to fit within the assembled back frame. Toget the curved ends of the up-HAND-DRILLED MORTISESRolled arms are attached with dowels.With the back dry-fitted tightly into place, youstill have to drill dowel holes for the slats thatmake up the rolled arms. To make sure theangle is correct, use a bevel gauge canted to6 to guide a handheld drill.

ATTACHING THE SHAPED SLATSFinishing the back. After themain components of the benchhave been glued up, the smallerslats can be set into place.A smooth fit. Using a dado set onthe tablesaw, the two top slats arenotched to fit over the center stile.Scribing the back slats. The upper slats on the back are scribed for atight fit. A bandsaw is used to cut them to shape, but final shaping isdone with rasps and sanding machines. The shaped ends of the slats arescrewed into place from underneath.The last touch.Working from theback toward thefront, the authoruses spacers andscrews down theseat. Once inplace, bungs areepoxied intoplace over board is narrower and sitsflat on the square edge of thefront seat rail. The four middleseat boards are identical. Topromote rain runoff from theseat and reduce the likelihoodof splinters, I rounded over thetop edges of the seat boardswith a -in. roundover bit.Using exposed screws in thetop of the seat boards woulddetract from the refined look ofthis bench and give water aplace to pool. And screwing upthrough the curved rails wouldrequire different-sized screwsor counterboring a differentdepth for each board. So I attached the seat boards to theframe from above with galvanized deck screws. The holeswere counterbored, and I gluedplugs in them for a clean look.Before the final glue-up, Isanded all of the bench parts,keeping the joined areas goodand flat. I went over all fouredges of the arms slats with an-in. roundover bit. I used a-in. roundover bit to soften theexposed parts of the curvedJapanese maple and a fewpotted plants. Only now it'salso graced by a quite comfortable and distinctive bench. ButI'm afraid it will take some inspired landscaping and proba-crest rail and the front legs, being careful to stop at the joint bly more than a few years toseams. After sanding, I assem- develop a garden that's worthybled the bench with epoxy anda lot of clamps.Well, my garden retreat is stillcomposed of a brick patio, aof the bench.Tony O'Malley is an editor, writer andwoodworker in Emmaus, Pa.

bench frame, less its back. The back is the most difficult section to make Good design often leads to con-struction and assembly conun-drums, and it's certainly true with the back of this bench. The visual centerpiece around which the bench is designed, the back is deceptively well in-tegrated into the rest of the bench's structure (see the draw-

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