Building A Rustic Bench: Hand Worked Walnut Looks Lovely


| 1/24/2011 9:13:00 AM


GRIT Editor Hank Will at the wheel of his 1964 IH pickup.The new mudroom addition needed a bench to facilitate the putting on and taking off of boots so I decided that building a rustic bench with hand-worked walnut would fit the bill. Actually the idea to build a rustic bench was partly mine and partly my Partner In Culinary Crime’s (PICC). Not quite a year ago, we happened upon a sawyer in Missouri who specialized in supplying the premium gunstock industry with American Black Walnut blanks. And it just so happened that he had several huge slabs of walnut on his trailer that were inferior for the gunstock trade, but my PICC and I saw big potential in the pieces – so we struck a bargain and hoisted three of the 200-pound slabs into our pickup truck, which is where they sat for about 3 months before we unloaded them in the barn.

 This rustic walnut bench is perfect for the mudroom. 

Fast forward about 7 more months and last Saturday I found myself  voluntarily evicted from the house because it was my PICC’s book club day, which explained all the bread baking and cooking that ensued before I headed out to chore the animals that morning. I am actually allowed in the house on book club day, but I don’t really feel comfortable there – it’s not the books that make me nervous, it’s being the only guy near what is so clearly not a guy event that makes me nervous.

So, after feeding the animals and moving the cattle and corralling the donkeys, I was wandering around the barn dreaming of a hot cup of coffee when I spied the heavy walnut slabs all akimbo right where I slid them off the truck. And as I turned to see what kind of bird was fluttering up in the rafters (a dove of some sort) I noticed a nice straight walnut log that was about 10 inches in diameter and 20 inches long. It hit me like a Eureka moment! I would saw down one of the slabs and rive out four legs for it from the walnut log and make a serviceable, if not beautiful mudroom bench. I looked forward to the physical nature of the work, because it was about 16 degrees in the barn.

Rustic Walnut Bench before sanding 



The walnut slab was sawed out from a large crotch using what must be a giant band saw mill – it was pretty uniformly 2.5 inches thick and contained both sapwood and heartwood figuring. Luckily one edge was more or less straight and so I cut the 30-inch wide piece down to about 16-inches wide and trimmed it to about 4-feet in length. I did some definitely-not-UL-approved things with my table saw to make that happen – not recommended. The sweat I worked up cutting the walnut stemmed from the physical nature of horsing 200 pounds of lumber around and the adrenaline rush of keeping one’s digits intact doing it.

Hank Will_2
1/26/2011 9:20:08 AM

Hey KC -- I am pretty good at staying out of trouble, although I can step squarely into it now and then. And even though the temp was low in the barn, the physical nature of the work and lack of wind made it pretty comfortable. I was down to my hooded sweatshirt at one point. I like to joke about the safety stuff, but I am quite safe ... sawing with gloves on isn't recommended though and sawing big slabs without an outfeed table isn't either. But sometimes you do what you have to do while being extra careful. :-)


Hank Will_2
1/26/2011 9:16:56 AM

Hey Dave -- Winter and woodworking really do go together for me. I just love shop time when it is cold outdoors. Even wehen I was in graduate school in Chicago, I had a shop in the basement of my apartment building. I did some repair work for the landlord. Anyway, they pulled out the coal boiler and had the chimney checked and it checked out OK so they let me hook up a pot belly stove to it -- I chased myself out of there a few times burning my scraps and sawdust. Talk about warm. I'll get some heat in the barn shop one year. When the mudroom and window replacement is finished, I will actually build myself some tool cabinets and a pellet or wood stove. I am careful with the tools ... very careful actually, but sometimes you have to push the limits a little out of necessity.


Nebraska Dave
1/25/2011 9:58:46 PM

@Hank, glad to see that you put your alone time away from the girls event to good use. It's a mighty fine looking bench. Winter is kind of a wood shop kind of time when nothing's really happening outside. Man you really need to figure out a way to heat up your shop area. Just be careful with those non UL approved things. I know we guys all do them from time to time. Just be sure you keep all your parts in tact when your finished. Have a great Kansas woodworking day.