Half-Round Log Bench

Layout Diagram

A crude log bench is a good first project to learn some of the basic techniques used in green woodworking. It makes a nice addition to an outside deck or patio, though it should be protected with a couple coats of finish if it is to withstand the elements. A 30" log contains more than enough wood to make a bench. Many different woods can be used, but a beginner should choose a straight grain log from a tree that tends to split straight. Ash, red oak, and black walnut are some good choices.

Tools needed: old axe, small sledge, minimum of 4 steel wedges, crosscut saw, hewing hatchet, smoothing (9") plane, shavinghorse (or vise if don't have the former), drawknife, spokeshave, 2' level.

Total work time for this project for beginners is about 12 hours.

 

STARTING FROM THE LOG

Start with a 5 ' log about 12" in diameter (average over length of log)

The log should be green &endash; 1-3 months since tree was cut down

(the sooner the better)

Bark (if left on) will adhere best if the tree is cut in Fall or Winter

Split the log in half lengthwise

On one end strike a shallow straight line through the center pith

I use an old (cheap) axe & small sledge

Select a line that will not intersect any large knots

Use an existing check only if its line suits you

Gradually deepen the crack to a depth of 3/4" with the axe & maul

Open the crack by evenly driving in steel wedges (2-3), eventually to full depth

Free these wedges by driving a wedge in the crack in the side of the log

Remember to always reserve one extra wedge!

Crosscut one half in half (this will give a final bench sl. less than 30" long)

Set the best of these two halves aside for the bench top

Do the same for the other 5' half.

 

MAKING THE LEGS

Split out billets for the legs from the remaining half

Rough billets should be square, about 2" on a side

Cut each billet to a length of 24" (choose the straightest, most knot free section)

On each billet draw a 1" diameter circle on one end and a 1 1/2" circle on the other end.

These circles should be placed so as to permit straightening any irregularities along the length of the leg on a line connecting the two circles

On shaving horse, using a drawknife, square off each billet

Square the 1 1/2" end first to get the feel of the run of the grain

Then square the 1" end such that the faces are flat along the length of the leg

Now make the legs roughly round with the drawknife

Start with the 1" end and be sure to leave the leg fat

(approx. 1/8th " larger diameter than the 1" circle)

Then round the 1 1/2" end &endash; again fat by about 1/8th " diameter

Using a spokeshave remove remaining irregularities to give a round leg

Again the leg should be fat by at least 1/16" diameter

The legs should then be set aside to dry in the sun for at least a week

or indoors in low humidity,

or placed in an oven at 180° F for at least 24 hours

 

MAKING THE BENCH TOP

Roughly flatten the top surface first using a hewing hatchet

Check for flatness by placing bark side down on table and using a 2' level

Be sure that the surface is flat side-to-side and end-to-end

Fix the top to a bench using a holdfast

Plane to flatness with a smoothing plane (9")

Plane across (perpendicular to) the grain until all irregularities are removed

Check frequently with a level to maintain flat surface

Once the surface is smooth, switch directions

Now plane parallel to the grain,

check that the direction you plane minimizes tear out

(i.e., plane with the grain)

Once the plane takes shavings the length of the top,

Switch to a jack plane (14" long)

Set the iron to take very thin shavings and complete the smoothing

If you wish, you can finish up with a fore plane (20") and even a scraper

 

DRILLING HOLES FOR LEGS

Place the log on a table bark side up

Strike lines perpendicular to the grain and 3 1/2" from each end

Drill 3" deep, 1" diameter holes for the legs

Legs should be angled ~10° from vertical away from the long axis of bench

angling about 1-2° from vertical in the direction of long axis and

toward the end of the bench avoids "pigeon-toed" appearance

 

PUTTING LEGS ON BENCH

After the legs have dried, use a spoke shave to touch up irregularities

Reduce diameter of 1" end so that leg slips snugly into hole to a depth of ~1"

Place each leg loosely in its hole and mark inside and outside face of leg

Using spokeshave, remove about 1/32" of wood from each marked face

so the end looks slightly oval

(long axis of the oval will be parallel to long axis of bench top)

For maximum tightness, orient leg rays parallel to grain of bench

Or to minimize bench splitting,

orient leg rays perpendicular to grain of bench

You can cut a 1/16" groove 1/2" down from end to improve final "lock"

Now drive each leg tightly home

Place a flat piece of scrap at end of leg to avoid

splitting leg when pounding in

 

EVENING UP LEGS

Place bench on its legs and shim under each leg till top is level in both directions

Measure down (vertical) from the bench top 22 1/2" and

Find a flat piece of wood (like a 6" section of 2x4) that is think such that, when

placed on floor its top is 23 " (vertically) from the top of the bench

With a pencil flat on this piece of wood, scribe around each leg

Cut off each leg following the scribed lines

Chamfer the bottom of each leg about 1/8" in

this avoids splitting leg when the bench is slid across a surface

Coat the bottom of each leg with beeswax to retard water wicking up the pores

 

FINISHING UP

Allow the bench to sit outside protected from rain for about 3-6 months

outside temperature needs to be >50° F during this period

then move bench inside and allow to continue drying for at least 6-9 months

 

Once the bench has dried, you can re-plane the top to correct for cupping

Then finish with tung oil- or boiled linseed oil-based varnish

High varnish content for inside, low for outside use

3 coats, with at least a day drying between applications.