The park benches in our church courtyard were in sad shape. Sad probably isn’t the best word. More like sobbing-your-eyes-out shape. The wood slats were crumbling or missing entirely and only the rusted bolts and layers of black paint were holding them together.
When my ever-loving wife, “Queenie” (not her real name), saw the benches she tipped her head back ever so slightly and pronounced, “We are not amused.” She let it be known that they should be tossed in the rubbish heap, which for park benches is the equivalent of “Off with their heads!”
But one of them had a nameplate reading, “In Memory of Elizabeth” and the deteriorating benches were threatening to take that memory with them.
Since the benches were sitting on an ipe (pronounced “ee-pay“) deck, I decided to rebuild them using ipe slats so they would look like they belonged there. Ipe is a Brazilian walnut hardwood. Very hard. Very dense. Very heavy. This makes it an excellent wood for outdoor furniture and it requires very little maintenance. It is so dense it doesn’t absorb much moisture and most sealers just sit on the surface because they can’t penetrate into the wood grain. A very, very thin layer of hardwood oil is the only thing they will take.
Since you can’t just walk in to your local Lowe’s or Home Depot to buy a few feet of ipe, I found an excellent source for it online at AdvantageLumber.com. They manufacture “sustainably harvested” exotic hardwood, which is important when using wood from Brazil (or anywhere). The salesman was helpful and knowledgeable. Highly recommended.
Most of the bench slats were 2″ wide with another three that were 1″ wide at the top and bottom. AdvantageLumber had 1 x 6 ipe deck boards on sale in 4′ lengths so I ripped them into a pair of 2″ slats and a single 1″ slat. The math worked out pretty well for the number I needed of each size. Ipe sawdust is a very fine yellow powder that looks like pine pollen and gets everywhere. I should have hooked up the Shop Vac for dust collection while I was using the table saw. I also should have worn gloves because unfinished ipe makes for hard, sharp slivers. Don’t ask me how I know.
Then I ran the new slats through the router to round over the sharp corners. (This time I remembered to hook up the vac and wear gloves.)
I chose type 316 stainless steel carriage bolts to attach the slats to the wrought iron bench sides because I like the look of the round caps and they will last forever. Every slat needed two holes drilled for the bolts so I set up a jig on the drill press to position each slat at the right distance from the end and centered width-wise.
I bought a new cobalt drill bit for this project because the web said ipe can dull ordinary bits.
There is some debate as to whether you should sand ipe because sanding will make the surface even harder and less able to absorb the protective oil finish. Since people were going to be sitting on these benches I decided it would be more important to sand them so as not to snag Grandma’s bloomers. Continue reading Park bench resurrection