SOMETIMES IN MIDDLE AGE, people pick up strange new hobbies — salsa dancing, wine-tasting, or maybe bonsai. My handy wasband has taken it into his head to make rustic garden furnishings from fallen cedar trees he finds in the woods of upstate New York.
First was an arbor inspired by those at Poet’s Walk, a riverside park in Rhinebeck, N.Y., built with the help of our daughter Zoë.
His second project was the beautiful bench, top, of which I am the grateful recipient. He delivered it this weekend and it already looks at home under the cherry tree in my East Hampton backyard.
I asked Jeff how he figured out how to do it [see below for how-to]. He said he found some information online and consulted with our equally handy son, Max, a woodworker. There are no nails or screws involved — it’s all mortise and tenon (pegs and holes). He creates the design as he goes along, based on what the wood suggests. I love the back of my bench, which reminds me of the veins of a leaf.
Cedar mellows beautifully and can be left outdoors in all climates. The wood for this bench came from a building site in Upper Red Hook, N.Y. Jeff noticed some lots that had been partially cleared and were for sale; there were a lot of fallen cedar trees on the property. He tracked down the owner and explained about his new hobby, and asked whether he could remove those trees. She laughed and told him to go right ahead.
HOW TO BUILD A RUSTIC BENCH
For each (male) piece, measure the length of log needed and then add 1-1/2″ to each end. Using a saw, scribe a circle 1-1/2″ from each end, cutting into the log to the depth of the tenon (peg) you are making. With a chisel, carve out the tenon. Then, with a drill, cut a mortise (hole) in the adjoining piece. Fill the hole with glue, then push and hammer the piece with the tenon into the glue-filled joint.
To make the join even more secure, drill a perpendicular hole into the female piece and through the tenon. Then fill the hole with glue and hammer in a dowel.
The decorative pieces on the back and the angled pieces are joined with dowels to the frame.
The seat, which is locust (the farmers up here used locust for fence posts–it’s said to last 150 years without treating) is also joined to the frame with dowels.
The only difficulty is getting a right angle. Cedar logs are rarely straight, so you may have to cheat, correct and re-jigger the frame to allow for the funky dimensions of the logs.