Friday, 16 August 2019

Build a Better Backyard

From late spring through early fall, Connecticut has wonderful weather, perfect for spending time outdoors. So, when my family and I moved here, we looked for a house with a big deck in the back. We were fortunate to find one, but after moving in we realized that we didn’t have enough outdoor furniture to fill it. If I weren’t a woodworker, we probably would have been off to the home center to buy a table and chairs. But my love for wood furniture led me into the shop instead, and I made a pair of garden benches.
Making those two benches taught me a lot about how to tailor furniture to survive outside. It needs to shed water and be able to dry quickly, so mold and fungi don’t start growing. I also learned that you should relax and have fun when you’re building for the outdoors. No matter how well you design and construct outdoor furniture and projects for the yard and garden, eventually it all loses the battle against Mother Nature. Accept that truth and you won’t be nearly as stressed when building for the outdoors as you might be when making indoor furniture, which we hope will last for several lifetimes.
This collection of outdoor projects covers every area of the living and working space you find out the back door. There are compost bins and raised beds to improve your garden, an arbor to create a beautiful and shady spot for resting, and plenty of chairs, benches, and tables to use for relaxing. Some of the projects can be made in just a few hours (or even less) with the basic tools that most homeowners already have, while others will satisfy that desire to challenge ourselves that pushes every woodworker from one project to the next. Now is the time to get out in the shop (or yard) and start building. Spring and summer are closer than you think. And remember to have fun.

How to build furniture that survives outside

Building durable outdoor furniture isn’t only about picking the right wood. It’s just as important to build smart. That’s because it expands and contracts far more than indoor furniture does. Start by creating surfaces that naturally shed water, such as angled seats. Keep parts narrow and give them enough space to expand and contract. On a seat, for example, six narrow slats are better than four wider ones. Leave end grain exposed where possible; that allows the wood to dry more easily, making it more difficult for mold and fungi to start growing. When it comes to joinery, simpler is better. Mortise-and-tenon joinery, bridle joints, and lap joints are good choices. Use a waterproof glue, like Titebond III, to hold the joints together, and reinforce them with a peg or two. Or you can forgo traditional joinery altogether and use mechanical fasteners such as bolts and screws made from stainless-steel or brass. Ceramiccoated decking screws work, too.

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