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A bench built for two -- or just you

This garden seat is supported by fence posts that won't wobble.

January 11, 2007|Robert Smaus | Special to The Times

FACT: There are never enough places to sit in a garden.

Solution: a simple and solid bench that is wobble-free and can be built in an hour, not counting travel time to the lumberyard. I've built several of these sturdy little benches, and they have served me long and well in several gardens. I sketched the idea after I built a nifty outdoor bench with legs that collapsed the first time I sat on it.

What makes this design so strong? It has no legs. Legs -- as anyone who has tried to build their own stuff knows -- are problematic. They wobble, spread, collapse and snap. They need bracing and cross-bracing and strong points of attachment.

It's a lot easier to dispense with them altogether and support a bench with fence posts, sunk 2 to 3 feet in the ground. A bench built on posts will be one with the soil itself, as immobile as a tree. After I built the first bench I was astounded at how strong it was. I could jump on it, pile it high with heavy bags of potting soil, and it would not budge.

Perhaps best of all, such a bench could go almost anywhere in the garden because it needs no pavement or solid ground to sit on. Love that view of the roses? Put in a bench so you can enjoy it seated. Plants can grow under and around it. All it needs is a little room for the two short sections of fence post.

There is a catch, of course. The bench will be there until you dig it up. It is easier to build another than it is to move one. That may be why I have several in the garden, all in choice spots with great views. I'm building another for a new area beside a lily pond.

To make one, start with a single 8-foot-long, 4-by-4-inch, rot-resisting pressure-treated fence post, the kind with all the little dimples in the sides. (They are often a greenish color.) Cut it into two 4-foot sections. Make two holes in the ground with a post-hole digger -- the "clam shell" types are the cheapest, if you don't already have one somewhere in the garage. The holes should be 2 to 3 feet deep and up to 3 1/2 feet apart. Keep the holes narrow so the posts fit snugly. Rest the posts on a little gravel for drainage in the bottom of the holes.

Measure up from the ground for however tall you want the bench (18 inches works best for most people) and mark each post, so the bench will be level. Take the posts out of the hole and cut each about 1 1/2 inches below the mark (to leave room for the 2-by-4 bench top).

Make end supports for the top about 11 inches long, using 2-by-6-inch redwood or cedar. Screw and nail one support to the side at the top of each post. The 3 1/2-inch-long lag screws provide strength; the nails keep the support from rocking or moving. Once the supports are attached, put the posts back in the hole, try to square them to each other and then put soil back in the hole, packing it in around the posts. If the holes ended up too wide, or your garden's soil is too soft, put cement in the holes instead, but that usually isn't necessary.

Make the bench top from redwood or cedar 2-by-4s. These woods tend not to splinter, so nobody gets one in his bottom. Three boards will fit across the 11-inch-wide supports, with spaces between for water to run off. Four-foot-long boards on top make a bench comfortable for two. You can let them overhang the supports by several inches. Fasten them to the supports with 2 1/2 -inch screws or nails. Some of my benches are only 2 feet wide so I can contemplate the garden in solitude, though often these short benches end up being a handy place to set a basket of just-picked tomatoes or the rose shears and trowel.



Building supplies

Here's what you'll need to build a "legless" garden bench:

* One 8-foot-long, 4-by-4-inch pressure-treated post

* One 3- to 4-foot length of 2-by-6-inch lumber

* Four 3 1/2-inch-long 3/8-inch lag screws and washers

* A few 3 1/2-inch galvanized nails

* Redwood 2-by-4s for bench top

* A handful of 2 1/2-inch screws or nails to fasten bench tops

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