Building a Lutyens Garden Bench -- Assembly and Completion
This bench has sat around the shop, half-completed, for more than a year now. I guess there is something to be said about deadlines driving results and how you can lose inspiration in the middle of a long job. I also think the fact that it is a project built from purchased plans takes away some of the joy. I mean, you just read the instructions and you are home free, right?
The art nouveau lines, as elegant as they are, often point to less-than-elegant construction techniques. All those curvy bits have to be joined together and there is no way around some less-than-stable short grain appendages. That being said, the designer did the best he could with what ends up being a very nice piece.
First, once I had the skeleton of the structure built I ignored the plans and worked off story sticks and my own actual measurements. This is sort of a given on all custom furniture, but it is easy to forget when you get in paint by number mode. Plus, nearly every set of plans I've worked with have at least one error and this was no exception. To their credit, I seem to remember Taunton sending out an email correcting the errors in the plan.
Second, I replaced some of the tedious double dowelled tenons on the intricate back with more integrated domino joints. It feels more secure and it has little effect on the glue-up choreography. As with all domino/plate joiner work the most important thing to keep in mind is not "Is this perfectly centered?, but "Am I referencing the same faces when I use the tool. I referenced the bottom (using the bottom plate on the mft table to cut the rails; placing a stop to match the bottom of that rail on the stile.) and the front of the piece using one of the stops on the domino face. With a little concentration it went quickly.
The glue-up is complicated and you may want a patient assistant to ease the pain. I used slow-setting epoxy for most of the large joints and dominoes but Titebond III for the dowels. It was just easier to squirt glue into the round holes than coax the gooey epoxy into such a small space. What can you say about a fancy glue-up? As long as your marriage survives, and you arrive at the end with an assembled piece of furniture, it is best forgotten.
I used stainless steel screws, countersunk and topped by oak dowels to secure the seat slats and it will get several coats of Epiphanes Marine Varnish before it goes out in the Spring. I hope to knock back the gloss finish with some steel wool to get a less plastic looking finish.
I build bespoke furniture in the English and American Arts and Crafts tradition. I refer to my work as "vernacular" -- working furniture that is to be enjoyed and passed down to the next generation. I accept commissions for original designs as well as historically accurate mission, Shaker, prairie, and Cotswold pieces.