Every piece of wood is different—color, grain patterns, knotholes, even the smell. This Eastern Red Cedar began life behind my childhood home on Angel Fork, somewhere between Tornado and Hurricane in West Virginia. Transplanted to our home in Raleigh twenty-seven years ago, it has adorned our backyard through hurricanes, tropical storms, ice storms, and a fluke (and record!) 23” snowfall.
Eastern Red Cedar fancies the solitude of a sunny hilltop, not the dense shade of a suburban lot. It prefers a light loamy soil, not heavy red clay. My scrappy Mountaineer fought to survive as towering oaks snuffed the sunlight and consumed the rain. Falling debris triggered by an ice storm damaged the tree, and I decided it was time to end the struggle.
Sentencing these logs to the fire pit or the city’s chipper-shredder seemed poor stewardship.
As I examined the color, knots, splits, and grain pattern, an idea was born. Why not design a wood project that could utilize these treasures? Why not turn firewood into furniture?
A tree has no idea what it can become, but the carpenter sees beyond the moment. My dream was to combine cedar with sections of reclaimed barn wood to construct an heirloom bench.
The trunk, by design, is strong and resists change. Action in the wood shop is full contact. Strength, energy, and sharp tools are required to reshape the wood into the desired size. Sweat, splinters, and blisters are part of the job.
Only the carpenter knows where to cut, how much to leave, and what to remove. Converting round tree sections into square legs was a new experience, causing me to ask, “Why am I doing this?”
As the shavings carpeted the shop floor, I paused often to admire the beauty of the cedar. I was also out of breath from exertion.
My rustic bench needs joinery that fits the theme. Pioneers settling the frontier would have utilized hand tools to build their furniture. I enjoyed the breeze from my electric fan as I evaluated my skill level. Have you cut mortise and tenon joints using hand tools? It’s a bit of guess and check, and my slots ended up slightly longer than needed. Keep the chisel sharp and the fingers behind the projected path of the blade.
Appreciation for beauty
The bench top is constructed from salvaged barn wood and required serious sanding to remove splinters and years of barn-related buildup. The original curvature of the old-growth pine coupled with the artistic weavings of an insect created a lasting impression I intended to preserve.
Bench construction filled my spare moments over several weeks. While I focused attention on the current step, I also had to consider the next steps. Patience is a handy tool in the shop, and when it is applied with a heap of consistency, good stuff happens.
On the recommendation of my paint-savvy daughter, I applied 3 coats of Rust-Oleum Polyurethane (Matte) for the finish. That was a step of faith for a longtime Minwax man, but I’m sold. The finish started milky white, leveled easily, and dried quickly. I did the first coat in the morning before lunch, and brushed the second before supper. Coat 3 went down after breakfast the next morning. Note how I track shop time by meals.
Shawn joined me for a test smooch on the finished love bench. She approved.