I don't normally make rustic type furniture, but when it comes to things that are going to be outside in the elements, rustic is the better choice. Where I live, like now, it is over 100 degrees outside and almost nothing can survive for long. No finish will last and bare wood needs to be of a certain quality to really last.
When I came upon this piece of Blue Oak, which came down in a winter storm last year, I knew it would be perfect for a garden bench. Why? Two reasons, I could get a piece about 4 feet long and make all the parts from that and Blue Oak is part of the White Oak genus. As a type of White Oak it is great for outdoor furniture because it will not rot like other woods. However, Blue Oak goes by a couple other names, one of which is Iron Oak. Not so fun.
Another thing you might notice about this log after it was split is that it has some twist to it. This is another characteristic of this type of Oak. It does much damage every year to those using log splitters, it tries to turn while being split. Many of the Oaks in this area have the same issues including Live Oaks and many of the hybrid Oaks.
So, I know what your thinking. Where can I get some of this supper hard and twisted Blue Oak you speak of? Well, unless you live in California and happen to be in the ranges shown in the map to the right, its going to be tough to find. It only grows in certain areas and many of those areas are protected forests where you can't log. Along with that, the tree itself does not grow very fast, nor does it grow very large. You can get small planks from the main trunk which I have mostly seen used for table tops(made of a few planks). But, you are not going to get the look of traditional White Oak that you see so often in Mission style furniture. It will look a little more rustic even in a well finished piece. It almost always has some knots, dark and light wavy grain, and will undoubtedly look more rustic than typical hardwoods.
The tools in this picture are all the tools I used to make the bench. Not including my large mallet.
As far as the building of the bench, it went rather hard. Not that building this simple bench was difficult skill wise, but the wood itself was flippin' hard. Because the top needed to be flat I used my adze to take down the high points. Which really consisted of me wailing away at opposite corners of the top to take out the twist. I use a broad axe for some of the top, moved to the adze for the major bulk, and finished it off with my Jack plane. I will say that the planning wasn't all that bad. It planed well, but you could tell it was harder than the typical White Oak you get at the hardwood dealer. For the legs I bored 4 holes at 1" diameter and about 3" deep to hold each leg. I would of gone for a larger hole but 1" is the size of my largest auger. Also, boring the holes could only be done with the use of a T-handle auger, again because of the hardness. The legs were quick enough. I split out 4 pieces about 20" long, split off the pith, and used a hatched to trim and tapper the tenons to fit. I should also note that the tenons were trimmed to and oval, so not to split the top of the bench while pounding in the legs. Leveling the bench legs was simple enough. I placed shims under the legs to get the bench level. Used a 4" block of wood as a reference surface to draw a line all the way around the bottom of each leg, and then just sawed to the line. End result was a nice level bench, that weighs about 80-90lbs and will last for a long time outside in the garden.
In all it took me about 3-4hrs total to build this bench. Would of went faster if the wood was green, but I am not complaining. I got the wood for free and it was a very interesting experience. Maybe I just might use some Blue Oak in the future, but next time I think I will have it cut at a sawmill first.
P.S. My 4 year old daughter was there for most of the build too. She approves of the fit and finish of this most excellent garden bench.