Live Edge Black Walnut and Curly Maple Sitting Bench
I strongly believe that each piece of wood has a purpose or shape, it is the role of the craftsman to bring that meaning to light. It was in that spirit that I decided to use some cut-offs to make a simple, yet elegant sitting bench.
I had cut down a large live edge black walnut slab in the past to make a table and had some long, rectangular-ish pieces left over. While I could have cut them down for uses in smaller projects, I decided that it would be a crime to chop them like that. Hence the bench build.
An effort was made to keep the design simple and clean. The legs would be cylinders, the tops of which would act as a through mortise in the bench top. The legs would be made from blond curly maple to provide a nice contrast. For added strength and style points, I would cut the leg tops so I could hammer black walnut splines down into them. I passed on adding a stretcher as this bench would be quite heavy and the tenon portion of each leg was going to be about 3 inches long and 1.5 inches in diameter. Pretty robust all in all.
Bench top (Black Walnut cast off for me, about 3ft long, 16 inches wide, and 3 inches thick)
Curly Maple Beam ( about 4” x 5” x 10’, obviously I didn’t use all of this)
Table Saw (Get an awesome old workhorse off craigslist!)
Chop Saw (https://amzn.to/2VBzm2E)
Band Saw (https://amzn.to/2VBzT4E)
Angle Grinder (https://amzn.to/2RFrgGM)
Angle Grinder Flap Discs (https://amzn.to/2VCHhfS)
Orbital Sander w/ sanding papers (https://amzn.to/2REVXMo)
Drill or Drill Press
Forstner Drill Bits (https://amzn.to/2XfxaPa)
Draw Knife (https://amzn.to/2se5hbP)
Spoke Shave (https://amzn.to/2Ca19Oz)
TiteBond III (https://amzn.to/2ADgvLz)
Tung Oil (https://amzn.to/2Rx6Wrl)
Some Type of Ventilator Mask
Lint Free Rages
Workbench with a Vise
The Bench Top:
Lets start with the bench top.
Luckily this slab was already pretty flat, so I just had to fine tune things with my hand plane. The bench dogs on my workbench came in very handy as they allow me to constantly readjust the slab to work on the areas I want while holding it in place.
Once I had flattened things out to my liking, I made some reference lines and found the approximate center of the slab. From there I marked out where I wanted my legs to project through the top. I played around with angles in a 3D mockup in Fusion 360 and settled on making the legs 10 degrees off of the vertical axis.
Drilling things at a fixed angle by hand is a fairly challenging process. I took a scrap piece of wood and used my compound drill press to drill a hole that was the same angle (10 degrees) I was looking for. I then clamped this piece to the top of the slab and used it as a guide for my drill bit. All in all it worked pretty well, I would say around 90% happy with it haha. A forstner bit is not the best to be using for something like this, an augur bit would have been a better choice.
ProTip: Clamp a piece of scrap to the back of your piece to prevent the wood from blowing out when your bit comes through.
With the holes drilled you should how have your top mostly done.
I used an angle grinder with a flap disc to clean up the cracked and the live edge. If you have a lot of bark left then you might want to use a chisel and clean up as much as you can first. Be careful you can remove a ton of material quickly. Also, WEAR A MASK. You will make a ton of sawdust doing this, don't breath it in....
The Bench Legs:
So here is the most challenging part of this build. The Bench Legs.
I do not have the disposable income to buy a lathe at the moment so I had to resort to more primitive methods of making cylindrical objects. I might make an instructable just on this step but for now here is the summary of how I did this.
1) Rough cut your legs out of your stock. I cut my beam of maple down and then used the table saw and jointer to get myself 4 sticks 2.5" x 2.5" x 30". I then used the band saw and by tilting the table at a 45 degree angle was able to cut the corners off of the sticks, turning them into octagons.
2) Drill a hole of the diameter you want the top of your legs to be (1.5" for me) in a piece of scrap.
3) Use a ruler to find the center on the end of each stick. Since I want my ends to be 1.5" I then marked out 0.75" away from the center mark in a few different spots.
4) Hold the scrap piece with the 1.5" diameter hole over the end of the maple stick and line the edges up with the marks you just made. Use a pencil to trace the circle onto the end. You now have a guide for when you are working the legs.
5) Clamp the stick in the front vise and, using your drawknife, start removing material, tapering the leg down to the 1.5" diameter circle you marked out.
NOTE: Be careful, you can remove a lot of material very quickly with a drawknife.
6) Regularly rotate the leg so that you evenly remove material from all sides.
7) Measure how long the tenon end of the leg needs to be (~3 in for me). Measure 3.25" down from the end of the leg and make a marking. You now need to get the area inside the 3.25" to all be a uniform 1.5" diameter.
8) Pick up your spokeshave. This is a little gentler than a drawknife and allows you to fine tune things. Use the spokeshave to shave away at the end of the leg until you get the entire 3.25" to be a uniform 1.5" in diameter (see pictures if this doesn't make sense).
9) Shape the rest of the legs as you see fit. I wanted the legs to taper up in size before coming back down a hair. So I shaped the bottoms until they were 2" in diameter. This gave me the shape that I was looking for.
Repeat this process for all four legs. Hopefully, they end up looking the same haha.
Cutting Legs for Splines:
Take the legs over to your band saw and gently cut a crosshair pattern into the top of the tenon end. You can do 1.5-2" deep into the tenon. This will be the spots you later hammer the black walnut wedges into.
Take a scrap piece of black walnut and use your table saw and a miter fence to cut some thin wedges off. Make sure they aren't too thick as they wont hammer down into the tenon.
Assembling the Bench:
Time to assemble the bench.
With the bench top upside down, hammer the legs into the holes that you previously drilled. Hopefully its a nice and tight fit. While mine were a very tight fit, I did put a little wood glue on the outside of the tenon prior to hammering it in.
Now take your wooden wedges. Lightly tap them with a heavy hammer. This imperceptibly compresses the wood. Put some glue on the wedges and then hammer them down into the cross hairs that you previously cut. The reason for tapping with the hammer is that the wedges with expand just a hair and really tighten into place.
You want to hammer the wedges in tight but don't feel like you have to go for broke. Just get them down in there and in place.
....Wait a day....
Using a thin semi-flexible saw cut the tops of the tenons and splines off flush with the table top.
Place the bench on a known flat surface.
Oh no, its not level! Guess its just good for firewood at this point. Just kidding, we made the legs long on purpose so that we can cut some off the bottoms of them to make the bench level.
Use some scrap wood to shim up the different legs until you have made the table top level.
Now take another piece of scrap wood you know is square and drill a hole in it the diameter of a pencil.
Hammer a pencil through the hole.
Set this scrap piece down on the table and gently run it around each leg allowing the pencil to trace a line on them. This is your cut line.
Take the bench and and use a hand saw to cut along each line. If you do this correctly your bench should now be flat and level.
We are just about there. You could leave this as it is if you want a super rustic look but I was going for something a little more finished.
I sanded the entire thing down in progressive grits from 80-400.
Using a lint free rag I applied a few coats of tung oil.
Allow this to cure.
You can go back and buff it with some wax if you want to get a little more shine but otherwise you are done!