I have a photo of my mum with my eldest daughter Sophia. It was taken on one of the last (relatively) warm October days in 2003 when they both fell asleep in her garden: Mum on her rickety B&Q bench, Sophia in her pushchair. What I didn’t realise was that it was to be one of the last photos of Mum – she died of cancer the following February. This delightful photo really was taken in the autumn of her life.
The bench moved with us to Surrey in 2006. The wooden slats rotted and fell to pieces, we lost the cast iron back support and the whole thing collapsed. I rescued the bench ends and propped them against the shed at the end of the garden. One day I’ll renovate the bench, I told myself. When I get time. The ends sat against the shed for 10 years, getting greener and rustier.
As it’s not ALL all work and no play here at Arabic To Zoology Ltd, I finally got round to the renovation project, on the advice of reclaimed materials guru John Richins, owner of the fabulous NGS Chauffeur’s Flat garden. John is forever beautifully renovating old cast iron benches. His top tips were:
- Use decking timber, as it’s already pre-treated
- Make the bench no more than 4ft long – you don’t need a cast iron bracket down the back to support that length (or shorter)
- Bolt it together with galvanised coach bolts
- Fix the metal bracing bars underneath to stop the legs splaying outwards
How to renovate a bench
- Prepare the ends – I scrubbed them with a wire scourer and detergent to get all the algae off and remove loose rust. There were a few stubborn rusted-together bolts – we cut them off with an angle grinder. Then I painted the ends with three coats of dark green Hammerite paint.
- Prepare the slats – Friends had some lengths of old decking that they generously gave me. These were quite wide so we needed to run them through a circular saw lengthwise, and then cut them into accurate 4ft lengths. I sanded the sharp edges off and gave them all a couple of coats of Ronseal 5-year woodstain before we attached them to the bench ends.
3. Put it together – every bench has different fixings. The one below (John’s) has iron stubs that stick out, so it’s dead easy to position the slats, drill and bolt them.
Mine was a bit harder; we had to fit within ridges, chiseling the wood where it didn’t quite fit, then take pot-luck with drill holes that weren’t necessarily in the middle of each slat. We secured the bottom slat first to hold the ends up, then slid the slats down from the top. When the bench was holding together well and the slats smooth and comfortable enough to sit on, we drilled through from the back and bolted the slats each end with coach bolts. Finally, we bolted the bracing bars to the ends and screwed them to the slats underneath the seat.
The finished bench!
And here it is – strong, sturdy, heavy and really comfortable to sit on. The combination of hand-painted green Hammerite and reclaimed decking gives it an air of antiquity, even though it was originally a cheap ‘n’ cheerful B&Q purchase.
And as long as I remember to give the coach bolt nuts a squirt of WD-40 in the autumn and protect the bench against the worst of the winter weather, perhaps I’ll be able to doze off on it with my own grandchild, sometime in the future.