How To Choose Your Ideal Wooden Bench
Buying a Bench - pick the perfect wooden bench for your garden
When buying a bench, it is important to gather some basic information before making some of the harder decisions.
How many people do you wish to seat at one time?
Where are you going to position the bench?
Do you want a slight curve on the bench because it is going in a corner?
Does the back need to be curved to offer additional support?
Once you have made these decisions, you will know if you want a:
- 2 Seater (4ft or 1.2m)
- 3 Seater (5ft or 1.5m)
- 4 Seater (6ft or 1.8m)
Or even larger, some companies will do benches to accommodate up to 8 people!
Curved Benches that fit into corners are often known as Alcove Benches, Twin Seats or even ‘Bonnie & Clyde’. These are angled with a table in the middle, ideal for resting a drink, book or snack. These benches will usually accommodate a maximum of 2 people. This style is also good because it will accommodate a parasol, secured by the table, in the middle of the bench.
An alternative corner seat is available with a gentle curve and no table; often called a Love Seat, because it is a more intimate when sitting together, otherwise Banana Benches or Peanut Benches so called because of their shape. These benches are often manufactured pre-assembled due to the complexity of their shape; building from flat packs would be very difficult. They are mainly manufactured in Indonesia from Teak, as they are labour intensive.
Once you have identified the style of bench that you are looking for, you have to consider if you wish to maintain the bench or if it is something you want to put in the garden and forget about, yet know it will be there when you want to use it. The material used to construct the bench will determine whether there is a necessity to maintain it or not & the following paragraphs categorise the materials into differing levels of maintenance.
Buying a High Maintenance Bench
High maintenance benches are always wooden. They will need treating either every 6 or 12 months with a wood stain or varnish, this is usually applied by brush. This is time consuming and generally requires preparing the surfaces and ensuring the product is under cover or the weather is going to stay fine while the treatment dries. Providing the bench is treated to the standard required, a moderate hardwood can last for many years and stay in pretty good condition. You should weigh up the cost of treatment over a ten year period and the time invested in applying the treatment; use this information when comparing prices between high maintenance benches and low maintenance benches. When using a varnish or stain, it is important to get the correct colour or benches will often lose their natural appearance and the colour of the treatment will take over. Using a clear treatment will give you the best chance of keeping the characteristics of the natural wood.
High Maintenance Woods
I would consider this list of woods as ‘high maintenance’. Whilst this is not an entire list of moderate hardwoods, it covers around 95% of the most popular woods used for garden furniture and garden bench production.
- Yellow/Red Balau / Meranti / Shorea
Regardless of any other recommendations from retailers of these woods I would always suggest you follow our high maintenance routine. However, some warranties are only valid if you use selected treatments and this should always be your first concern. These treatments will go out of date, so buying large tins or in bulk is not often an option. Applying the treatment can be time consuming, messy and if you have no inside space you will need fine weather to allow one or two coats to be applied & dry.
The Cost of Maintaining a High Maintenance Bench
Here is a quick summary or the cost of owning a high maintenance bench over a 10 year period.
Treating once a year
£15.00 for a 750ml/1litre treatment
2 hours to sand and prepare surface
2 hours to apply 1st coast of treatment
12-24 hours drying time and a further
2 hours to apply a second coat
Cost over 10 years
60 Hours (7 working Days)
Treating twice a year
£25.00 for a 1 Litre/2 Litre treatment
4 hours to sand and prepare surface
4 hours to apply 1st coast of treatments
12-24 hours drying time and a further
4 hours to apply a second coats
Cost over 10 years
120 Hours (14 working Days)
Extending product life of high maintenance benches
By keeping up with the treatment of high maintenance products you can extend their natural life by many years. A product that may only last 3 years if untreated could last as many as 20 years, but only through hard work and commitment. Also remember that taking the bench under cover through the winter or summer months will extend its life but is not a substitute for treating it. It is important to realise that the summer weather causes just as much, if not more, deterioration to a bench than winter weather. UV rays penetrate the treatment very quickly, attacking the wood, causing fading and allowing water to penetrate the grain.
If you have the budget to buy a bench with lower maintenance requirements, this information can be used to work out if the cost difference is justified to you.
Buying a Medium Maintenance Bench
This is a bench that may need oiling once, twice or three times a year, application is quick because you can use a cloth and the treatment is easy to apply. Alternatively a medium maintenance bench may need covering up through the winter or benefit from been placed in a garage or garden shed. Taking benches in is only possible if you have the room, alternatively they can be covered but this too has drawbacks which will be considered in a separate article. Whilst these benches need less protection they can still show signs of fading and light cracking. Although the wood is a better quality, the maintenance is less intense and therefore deterioration will be at a similar rate to a high maintenance wood which is given a more costly and time consuming treatment.
Medium Maintenance Woods
I would consider this list of woods as ‘medium maintenance’. Regardless of any other recommendations from retailers of these woods, I would always suggest you follow, at the very least our medium maintenance or even our high maintenance routine.
The cost of Medium Maintenance over 10 Years
£5.00 for 500ml Teak oil, linseed Oil or Teak Sealer (usually get 4-5 applications from a bottle)
15-30 minutes per application, up to 3 applications per year
No or very little preparation required (just ensure the furniture is clean)
Cost over 10 years
Total Time 8 Hours, (1 Working day)
Extending product life of medium maintenance benches
If you buy a good quality wooden bench and maintain it to the same level as a high maintenance wood, you will almost certainly have a bench that well last for many years. If a bench is put under cover through the winter months, it will undoubtedly benefit. Medium quality timbers fair a lot better under furniture covers than poorer quality woods. The reason for this is that condensation often forms on the benches and is not able to dry out quickly due to the cover. This will often cause the treatment to wear off and be penetrated and you will be unaware of the deterioration because it is out of sight. With a better quality of wood, it is unlikely that water is going to be the biggest threat to the bench as the grain will be dense and water will not penetrate as easily. The cover will prevent UV harm and prevent the harsh elements from having direct contact with the bench.
Medium maintenance woods whilst quite dense and hard-wearing, still require oiling several times a year to ensure that the timber remains moist and doesn’t dry up and crack. You will also keep the timbers natural appearance and oiling the wood emphasises the grain and looks great. Some cracking will still occur, but it will not be as severe as a high maintenance, lower cost timber. Covering the bench is a good way to reduce the deterioration of the bench; however covers can be costly and will only last around 3 years.
Buying a Low Maintenance Bench
A low maintenance wooden bench is one that requires no maintenance or maintenance to maintain colour only. All woods no matter how good will lose colour if not treated. However the best woods will not develop large cracks or twist if left untreated. These are the ideal benches for people with busy lifestyles who are unable to spend time maintaining a bench, or for use away from home such as memorial benches in parks, golf courses or church yards. Whilst these benches would benefit from oil from time to time, it is not essential.
Low Maintenance woods include
- Merbau (Kwila)
Usually you will make a choice, leave it to fade or maintain the colour. With no treatment at all, over time the colour of the bench will fade and the bench will weather to a silver colour. Good woods tend to have an equal density that allows equal and consistent fading. If a bench has been left to silver over several months or years, it may develop cracks in the end grains. This is perfectly normal and does not affect the structure of the bench, end grains will open and close over the years.
You can maintain the natural colour of a good wood by using a teak oil or linseed oil; you can also manipulate the colour if you want to enhance the grain by using oil that contains a coloration or pigment. Teak looks wonderful with a touch of bronze or gold. It will often emphasize the grain to look black and the wood a rich brown. How often you oil it is entirely up to you, the more you oil it the richer the colour will become.
If you wish to restore the colour of a teak bench, as a result of it turning silver or fading, a teak oil can be used which will add colour momentarily but it will fade quickly. Depending on whether the bench has faded over months or years will dictate how long restoration will take. The first thing would be to clean the bench using a jet wash, wire wool or scourer, you should ensure that you start with the less harsh option depending on the age and hardness of the wood. Once cleaned, allow the wood to dry, then sand down the timber lightly. At first you will have dirty grey sawdust, but when you get to the coloured wood the dust will turn brown. By sanding down to the wood underneath, you will have a chance to restore the colour. Use teak oil regularly to maintain the colour as the restoration process can be time consuming.
When you purchase a quality hardwood you can be comfortable that you are going to have a bench that will remain in good physical condition for many years despite fading and end grain cracks, it can be restored to almost its original colour at some time in the future if required. The cost of and time spent treating the bench is negligible. This is a bench for a busy lifestyle or one you cannot access regularly to maintain.