This is a modification of the plans created by Don Dougan. He is a noted stone carver and also an instructor from the Atlanta, Georgia area. A former client contacted me about this project. A number of years ago I re-caned some chairs and did some restoration work on some other pieces for her. To be honest, after the precise work, mortise and tenons, fitting marble, etc. of the Mechanical Cellarette I was ready for something a bit simpler — you know the type of work; chop saw, drills, glue, and screws! Here’s the beginning and ending of this project:
Just like anything else though, this piece wasn’t without its challenges and issues too! For starters, he suggested using rough sawn, yellow Pine which he mentioned as being hard, durable, and easy to find — not so much here in the Southwestern desert! My client and I decided to use construction grade Douglas Fir instead.
Apparently these were designed for his sculpture studio and as I read through the plans, he used a pneumatic wrench, a holding jig, and 5 1/2″ long lag bolts to attach the legs to the top section. When I discussed this with my client I told her that I didn’t feel lag bolts were a good choice for our desert climate. Knowing that this bench will be kept outside and that the wood will continue to shrink the lag bolts would soon work themselves loose and the hole would be worn out resulting in loose, wobbly legs! His plan also called for simply nailing the structure you see pictured here together.
Admittedly, I tend to over-engineer things so those nailed joints were replaced with pre-drilled holes, Titebond III waterproof glue, and deck screws. I also added a 2×4 to the center of that section. Once this apron section was squared up, glued and screwed, it was allowed to dry before attaching the legs. These are 4×4’s and he used a spacer to achieve a 15 degree angle to splay them out for stability. The plans called for lag bolting these in from either side of the apron but here is where I chose to use through bolts so that they could be tightened as the wood will eventually shrink. I made a trellis in my back yard years ago with carriage bolts, those needed to be tightened yearly to compensate for the wood shrinkage and I want my client to be able to do the same thing with her bench. Not wanting to cut this angle by hand, I used my Makita chop saw which only has a 7+ inch blade so that cut needed to be made in two passes as shown:
The reason for drawing two lines was an accuracy thing, I was able to center the blade between them to achieve the most accurate cut.
Now it was time to cut them to length. The top will be made of 2×4’s which are actually 1 1/2″ thick. Using a sliding bevel set at 15 degrees, I measured down from the top of the apron 34 1/2″ to get the 36″ total bench height. I could now draw the leg location on the outside of the apron, take it to the drill press and drill the holes for the 3/8″ bolts. Figured the best way to assure straight, accurate bolt holes was to use the drill press.
By laying the apron on a flat surface (tablesaw) and holding the legs firmly against it, those pre-drilled hole locations could be transferred to the legs. I used the drill bit to locate their centers and then took them over to the drill press once again to maintain those straight holes. The bolts were countersunk in the apron, washers were added and assembled loosely.
Next up was flipping the entire assembly over onto the legs so it could be leveled and tightened up. Getting tables and chairs to sit flat on the ground can be challenging enough with dry, seasoned lumber. Substitute that with green, select construction grade materials and it becomes even more fun! On the assembly bench it was perfectly stable in the evening but the next day had a slight wobble. By adding cross bracing (glued and screwed) to the lower portion of the legs plus an additional shelf I believe this will help it to stay stable for many years.
Although I’ve never really done any stone carving I did take an introductory lesson from Sharon Gainsburg, a very well known artist here in Las Vegas. I don’t recall exactly how her carving benches were constructed but do recall that you use multiple bags of sand to anchor them. These are placed on top to cradle the stone and also on the lower shelf to add ballast to it. My client customized this to suit her requirements so the top is 22″ square and the over-all height is 36″. A coat of Thompson’s Water Seal was applied to give some protection from our environment. That too has been modified to meet EPA standards and doesn’t perform as it used to — but that’s another rant for another time!