Sitting Bench: Initial Design

Sketches of Sitting Bench

I’m working on a design for a sitting bench for my house (and profile). I want to get this done quickly for a deadline coming up in a couple of weeks. However, the design process cannot be rushed and although I thought I had it nailed down, I’ve found my designs aren’t quite right yet and so I need to continue. This is a great thing, to take the time to come up with a design that I truly love and want to spend hours building just right.

Initial Design

I start with some sketches on paper, doodling ideas.  A design element is a circle with a line through it (watch the video above to learn more!).  Just a bunch of things, whatever pops up.  I take a lot of time turning over a 3d model in my head as I sketch – it’s much faster for me than trying to draw in 3d.

When I have something I think is pretty good and wanted to visualize in 3d, I move to Google Sketchup.

My first design is sort of modeled on those benches you see everywhere with a thick top and two “squares” as the legs.  Pretty nice, modern and clean.  I went with curved legs at the end.  I was thinking bent lamination, but the curve is pretty mild and I could get away with bandsawing the stock.  I like this design a lot, though I think it needs more work.

Butternut Lumber

The reason I’m not going to pursue this idea now is that I’ve actually gone ahead and purchased some stock for this bench.  I thought I’d have a design ready and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check out Artisan Lumber (hey, Tommy Mac uses them!).  These guys have awesome stuff and are located just down the street from me.  It was a ton of fun getting to see around the yard and the stock they have.

I ended up with a piece of butternut that is 6/4, 20″ wide by 11′ long.  It’s gorgeous.  Has some knots and inclusions that I may use or not, we’ll see.  However, the 6/4 thickness really doesn’t look as nice in my initial design due to thickness of the top – going thinner hurts it over.  I don’t want to build up the edge or something – so I’m going to keep working designs.

Second Design

My next design looks totally different, but uses the same design element.  I like this one a lot, the mass of the legs and overall dimensions.  It’s very rough at this time – I just put together a few building blocks in Sketchup quickly.

I’ll continue to sketch, review what I have, model in Sketchup and think about the piece of lumber in my basement!  In the meantime, I’m going to get some other work done and give the design process its due.

Sitting Bench: Design Done

Bench

I settled on the bench design as basically my second version with a couple of additional details.  What I like about the design is how the legs are two arcs from a continuous circle and how wide and curved they are.  It’s challenging and looks good.

I got a two ideas that I’ve incorporated into the design.  Reading Toshio Odate‘s articles in Popular Woodworking got me thinking about the tapered sliding dovetail to attach legs to a top.  I love the idea and used it in my sitting bench design.  This detail however might hit the editing room floor because I’m under the gun to produce this piece and that might take extra time that I don’t have.

The other idea was supplied by my dad – it’s a brace attached at the end of the lower stretcher.  This serves two purposes:

  1. It holds the legs in place since they want to push outwards
  2. It keeps the 3 separate leg pieces inline with each other front-to-back
  3. Oh, and it looks good too.

Bench from the End

I changed the lower stretcher to be horizontal instead of vertical.  That enters the leg brace more easily to be wedged and I think will give a more attractive view from the top, seeing both the bench top and stretcher simultaneously (from the same lumber).

I posted a picture of the design on Twitter and got some great feedback, especially from Steven Taylor who wrote:

“1) The legs braces – are those ~60 degree bevels or curves matching the legs?”

The leg braces will have an outside curve to match the legs.  I’ll shape this by hand; tool TBD.

“2) Are the legs one “piece” with grooves in them on both sides, or two small pieces flanking the center one?”

Each leg is made from three separate pieces (2in | 8in | 2in).  They will be held in place with tenons into the top cross-member and the leg brace towards the bottom.

“The pegs you have in the leg braces – for some reason the first thing that popped into my head was antiqued metal – whether its bronze, brass, or copper – that just seems like an interesting fit – almost as if the pegs were rivets.”

Totally love this idea and want to use more mixed materials in my projects.  For this one I’d try it except for the tight deadline.  So, I think I’ll go with wooden pegs this time, but look for something else in the future!  Thanks for the tip Steve.

So, now it’s on to construction.  I’m trying to wrap up this whole build in 2 weeks for a house tour.  I’ll let you know how that goes!