Plywood garden bench

Having moved last year, for the first time in my life I now have my own backyard! This is great, so last year I figured: I have to get some garden furniture. Preferably not all from IKEA or Leen Bakker, so it seemed like a good opportunity to try to make something myself.

I was inspired by someone who had made a sort of copy of the Eames Sofa Compact. This looks great and I thought about doing the same, but I decided to set myself an additional challenge: design a bench for two people made out of a single sheet of plywood.

I wanted the bench to be comfortable, so I first looked at examples of famous designs, including among others the Barcelona Chair and also the Sofa Compact. Some things I looked at were the angle between the seat and the back, and the length of the seat. Based on the data, I drew a few cross-sections, which I developed further by looking at how you could make them out of one sheet of plywood.

The next step was to test the bench. I had made some scale models out of foam board, to assess the design and see if the construction would hold. The design evolved further-for instance, I made the back side thicker so the backrest would stay upright. It also became clear that with one sheet of 18 mm plywood, the bench probably wouldn't be sturdy enough. So I modified the design and used a sheet of 25 mm. I had tried a number of different ways of assembling the parts and finally decided on a version where the backrest and seat are supported by two sidewalls and some kind of “beams” in the longitudinal direction. The beams, sidewalls and surfaces help keep the bench sturdy in all directions. In addition, the beams under the seat keep it from sagging. At least... that’s what some quick beer coaster-level calculations and scale models told me, so I was hoping this would work in full scale!

The parts for the bench were milled from the sheet of plywood using a CNC machine. This is similar to the scale models, which I had made using a laser cutter. I was able to order a sheet of waterproof Okoumé and have it delivered to Houtwinkel Zaag. It took me a while to assemble the bench out of the parts, mostly due to the move, but in early summer 2022 I was (finally) able to start. First, I lightly sanded and treated the edges of the parts. For this I had bought a can of edge sealant for plywood, but this turned out to be an (in my opinion) ugly gray color. I wanted to show the wood-and specifically the layering of the plywood. So I chose to treat only the beams with the edge sealer, and then stain them black. I treated the edges of the other parts with a combination of wood glue and water and then stained them transparently. Unfortunately, I don't have pictures of the assembly process, but it was actually as easy as with the scale models. Everything fit together perfectly. Meanwhile, I had searched the inernet for matching cushions. One of them, for the backrest, could be ordered from a garden store. I had the cushion for the seat made at Lef en Lief Tuinkussens. And it turns out the bench is plenty sturdy and sits two comfortably!

In fairness, I should add that considering the price of plywood, staining, CNC milling, having the cushion made, and everything else put together, I didn’t save any money doing this project, compared to ordering a standard garden bench. But mine is unique! And I learned quite a bit. Next time I would think about designing it to fit standard cushions, I would stain everything transparent, and not glue it together. But I'm proud of it anyway, so if you come to visit sometime and the weather is nice, sit on the bench in the garden!