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How to restore a garden bench

Restored Edwardian garden bench with wooden slats and cast iron frameRepair and restore an old garden bench with this helpful step-by-step guide from DIY expert Helaine Clare.

From digging and planting to weeding and mowing, there’s always something to be done in the garden. The occasional bench dotted around will encourage you to stop for a rest and appreciate the results of that hard work.

Before deciding on a permanent site for your bench, take an old chair out in the garden and see where you gravitate to when pausing for a welcome break. Wander around the garden at different times of the day and notice the sun’s position. Do you prefer to sit in the sun or shade?

Once you’ve decided on the perfect location you’ll need to do a little groundwork. Don’t just plonk the bench on the lawn or flower bed as the legs will be affected by the constant contact with wet ground. Excavate the grass or earth beneath and replace with shingle or place each leg on to a paving slab. This will make mowing easier too. Use a spirit level to check the slabs are level – if the bench is permanently used on an uneven surface, it can strain and open up the joints.

Wood and metal benches, especially vintage or antique ones, require regular maintenance. Oiling wood a couple of times a year offers some protection from the weather and keeps the bench looking good. Fix metal buffers to the bottom of wooden legs and, if they begin to show signs of decay, stand each leg in a jar of wood preservative overnight. If you have a shed, put your bench inside for the winter or give it a bit of protection under a plastic cover.

This Edwardian cast iron and wood bench has been ignored for far too long. Sitting in obscurity at the end of the garden, it was covered in fallen leaves, moss and algae and some of the wooden slats were rotted beyond salvation. I think it’s suffered enough and it could be an ideal first time project for someone inexperienced at DIY.

You will need...

  • Scrubbing brush
  • Wire brush and wire wool
  • Screwdrivers and spanners
  • Drill
  • Release oil
  • Wood preservative
  • Wood stain
  • Danish oil
  • Metal paint and paintbrushes

 

Restoring a garden bench: Step one

1. Scrub off algae and dirt: Brush away vegetation with a stiff brush. Now take a bucket of hot soapy water and give the bench a good scrub. Rinse with clean water. Once dry, examine the slats to see if any need to be replaced. Push a screwdriver into softened wood to test extent of decay. Remove nuts and bolts and take off rotten slats.

Restoring a garden bench: Step two

2. Release jammed nuts and bolts: If the nuts and bolts used to fix the wood are rusty, try spraying with release oil and leave overnight. Still stuck? Find a screwdriver to match the bolt head. Hold in place and give it a sharp blow with a hammer to break through the corrosion. Still no luck? The last resort is to cut through with a hacksaw.

Restoring a garden bench: Step three

3. Replace rotten wooden slats: Using reclaimed wood to make new slats is the greenest option. Source wood at second hand wood yards such as the Brighton & Hove Wood Recycling Project (woodrecycling. org.uk), country auctions or salvage yards. Measure and saw to length, then smooth the cut ends with a sanding block.

Restoring a garden bench: Step four

4. Tone down the wood surface: New wood makes an obvious repair but wood dye helps blend it in. Use scrap wood or the underside of the slats to test wood stains until you find the closest match. Number each test patch and wait until they are dry before deciding on the shade. The best match was Antique Pine stain with a little black pigment.

Restoring a garden bench: Step five

5. Prepare the new slats: Lay the new planks on the bench. From underneath mark the positions of the bolts. To avoid splitting the wood when fixing it on to the bench, make a pilot hole with a small drill bit. When it just breaks through the wood, stop drilling and complete the hole from the other side. Repeat with a bolt-sized drill bit.

Restoring a garden bench: Step six

6. Fix the new slats to the bench: Push the bolts through each end of the plank and secure with the nuts. Once all the bolts are correctly positioned, go round and tighten all of the nuts. Hold the bolt head with a screwdriver and then tighten the nuts with a spanner. Dip each bolt into a little grease to help to keep any rust at bay.

Restoring a garden bench: Step seven

7. Apply preservative and Danish oil: Apply a coat of preservative to the wood. When dry, apply Danish oil with a brush. Any surplus should be wiped off with a rag so it doesn’t congeal and go sticky. Leave at least four hours and apply a further two coats with the same method. Twice a year, clean wood with warm soapy water and apply a further coat.

Restoring a garden bench: Step eight

8. Spruce up the cast iron frame: Use a wire brush or wire wool to remove rust and any remnants of paint. If using all-purpose wood and metal paint, you will need to begin with a metal primer followed by an undercoat. Alternatively go for a straight-to-metal paint. Apply two coats, following instructions on the can for drying times.