How to Build a Bench Around a Tree

Video Transcript

Video Transcript

RON HAZELTON:
You know, I'm really going to enjoy that backyard pond. Just sitting and looking at it and sitting and looking is what my next project is all about. I'm headed out to Vista, California to visit Barbara Nierman and Rich Mulbauer. They've got a project they'd like a hand with.
RICK:
Good morning.
RON HAZELTON:
How are you?
BJ:
Good morning. How are you? Welcome to our little piece of the world.
RON HAZELTON:
Oh well, thank you very much.
BJ:
I'm BJ, nice to meet you.
RICK:
I'm Rick.
RON HAZELTON:
Hey, Rick, how you doing?
RICK:
Good, good, thanks.
RON HAZELTON:
And who's this?
BJ:
This is Melody Blue and she has a pinecone for you.
RON HAZELTON:
Melody Blue and Mallory Sky, Rick and BJ's three year old twins welcome me with a pair of pinecones. Then we're off to the backyard to see the source of those cones.

Now that's a tree waiting for a bench if I ever saw one. You guys spend a lot of time out here in the yard?
BJ:
We do. We love to spend time in the backyard.
RICK:
It's our favorite place.
RON HAZELTON:
Okay. Well, what I'm thinking of probably is something that's circular, that goes all the way around the tree. Uses the tree maybe as a, as a back. Will that work for you?
BJ:
Okay. Oh, that would be great.
RON HAZELTON:
After drawing a sketch of the bench, I run it by BJ and Rick. So this will be a six sided bench, a hexagon. And self supporting. Have legs here at each joint like this.

To build a bench, we're going to first construct two sides of our six sided hexagon. Actually we'll make a pair of these. Then connect these two sections together with seat planks to form the complete bench. We'll start by cutting all the seat boards.

Each end needs to be cut at a 30 degree angle. All right, I've set up a power miter saw here. This is where we're going to do all of our angle cuts. Here's all of our wood. We'll be using redwood today.  We're here in California, why not? It's a great wood.

We clamp the first board onto the miter saw and set the angle for our cut. BJ can hardly wait to get started. You want to try?
BJ:
No.
[BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
RON HAZELTON:
Well not exactly.
BJ:
This is intimidating for me. Because this is why I'm married. So he does this stuff.
[BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
- right.
RON HAZELTON:
That's all over now. It's going to be a different, a different -
[BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
BJ:
I am woman, hear me roar.
RON HAZELTON:
After a quick lesson, BJ not only roars, she makes the cut.
BJ:
Awesome. I did it.
RON HAZELTON:
You did it and look at this.
BJ:
I did it, that's great.
RON HAZELTON:
Look at this, a perfect 30 degree cut your first time.
[BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
BJ:
Oh yeah, that looks really good.
RON HAZELTON:
Isn't that nice, nice and clean?
BJ:
Whoa.
RON HAZELTON:
All right, so let's cut a few more of these.
BJ:
Okay.
RON HAZELTON:
Right, Rick, you want to do the next one?
RICK:
Sure.
RON HAZELTON:
With our first row of seat boards cut, we place them around the tree for a test. Okay, oh that's great.
BJ:
Okay, great.
RON HAZELTON:
All right. We've got enough room, which obviously we do. We're going to, we're not going to have to worry about being too small. I also think this is probably a pretty good distance from the edge of the bench to the tree, you know, so you can lean back.

Our bench seat will be three planks wide. To cut the two remaining boards to the proper length, we lay all three boards side by side with quarter inch spacers in between. Then use a straight edge to extend the lines from the first board to the second two. After marking all our cuts, we lay the seat planks out on the patio to make sure we remembered enough of our high school geometry.
RICK:
Looks great.
RON HAZELTON:
Time now to build the legs. And it's going to be very simply - just two 2 by 6's like this and then across the top we're going to put a couple of 1 by 4's and we'll have six of these. Yeah, six. Right.

So let's lay these down to start with and I'm going to place this on here. BJ uses a nail gun to temporarily tack the 1 by 4's to the legs. Next, Rick drills clearance holes through them.

Very nice, okay. Great, guys. All right. Now what we're going to do is drop in - this is a carriage bolt galvanized. So we're just going to plunk these right in the hole here.
BJ:
Okay.
RON HAZELTON:
Okay. And we'll give them a little tap just to set them. We turn the legs over and add a washer and nut to each carriage bolt. Rick and BJ tighten the nuts with a socket wrench, making sure the washers compress the wood just slightly.

With all the legs completed, our next step is to attach them to the seat planks. We start by laying the seat planks in the patio upside down and standing the legs on top. Each leg is positioned directly over the joint where the sections of the bench come together.

Rick and BJ drive screwed diagonally through the legs and into the underside of the seat planks. This gives us just enough stability to turn the bench upright so that we can more securely fasten the legs.

- broken neck in a way, because it's not strong yet. So grab right under your corner -
BJ:
Okay.
RON HAZELTON:
We're all going to lift together. And then just gently, all the way over and on its legs. Now this will be much stronger when we put the next set of screws in, okay.
BJ:
[Affirmative].
RON HAZELTON:
The next set of screws will be driven in from the top, through the seat planks and into the leg cross braces. We counter sink the heads to keep them well below the surface. With the two sections complete, we place them in position around the tree, looking for the most level spots.

What I want to try to do is avoid having the legs fall on top of a root. Because I'd like to not have to cut the - the legs off and I certainly don't want to cut the roots of the tree. All right. So let's start here.

We dig away enough soil to allow each bench leg to rest on a flat and level surface.

This is where I earn my pay. That's California. I feel like I'm digging for gold here.

Once the sections are level, we place them exactly one seat board's length apart, drop in the remaining planks and secure them with screws. Our bench construction is complete. Well it's solid, looks good, you happy with it?
RICK:
It looks great. I'm really happy with it, Ron.
RON HAZELTON:
Good.
RICK:
It's going to bring enjoyment for years to come.
RON HAZELTON:
I hope so, yeah and those little girls will grow up with this. One more thing I'd like you to do. Some time in the next few days, put some sealer on here, will you?

The sealer will extend the life of the bench, keep it looking great and protect the top from getting rough.

Of course that will make it more comfortable as well. So, it was fun working with you and the whole family actually. This was really -it was a family project. Everybody got involved.
BJ:
I have apple juice for the twins and champagne for the -
[BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
RON HAZELTON:
Oh champagne.
BJ:
And that's the apple juice.
RON HAZELTON:
Oh apple juice, I don't want that.

And so we undertake what I'm sure will be  the first of many celebrations under the family tree. Got a favorite tree in your own yard? Why not circle it with a bench? You know, I keep thinking back to that pond we built today and  how much fun it is to create surroundings that make us feel good and raise our spirits.

Build a Custom Bench around a Tree to Gain Sitting Space and Garden Interest while Protecting the Tree

Design and construct a simple hexagonal redwood bench around your family tree--the geometry of building the hexagonal bench is easier than a circular bench yet provides equal sitting comfort and practicality from all sides because it is symmetrical. Build the bench in sections with leg/supports spaced to avoid the tree's roots and then assemble it around the tree.

Cut the Six Inner Seat Boards for the Inside Row
Step 1

Cut the Six Inner Seat Boards for the Inside Row

Plan the dimensions of the hexagonal custom tree bench to encompass the tree trunk without damaging it or impeding its growth. Set your power miter saw for a 30-degree angle and cut the first row (inner row) of seat boards.

Cut and Miter Remaining Middle, and Outer Seat Boards
Step 2

Cut and Miter Remaining Middle, and Outer Seat Boards

Lay two planks parallel to an inner seat board, separated with 1/4-inch spacers. On both ends, extend a 30-degree cutline from the first board across the other two. Cut six sets of inner, middle, and outer planks in this manner.

Cut, Assemble, and Secure Six Tree Bench Supports
Step 3

Cut, Assemble, and Secure Six Tree Bench Supports

Build six tree bench supports having two two-by-six legs sandwiched across the top by two one-by-four cross braces. Secure them with galvanized carriage bolts, washers, and nuts. Tighten the nuts with a socket wrench, compressing the wood slightly.

Join Two Pairs of Bench Seat Sections by Attaching Supports
Step 4

Join Two Pairs of Bench Seat Sections by Attaching Supports

Join two seat sections, drilling pilot holes beneath to screw a support directly over the joint and one at both ends of the assembly. Make two assemblies, reserving the remaining two individual sections for installation once positioned around the tree.

Turn Assembled Sections Upright and Countersink Screws from the Top
Step 5

Turn Assembled Sections Upright and Countersink Screws from the Top

Turn the two bench assemblies upright. They are not yet rigid, so drill countersunk pilot holes and screw through the bench top into the support cross braces below. The countersunk screw heads will lie beneath the surface and protect clothing.

Level the Tree Bench, Removing Soil if Necessary
Step 6

Level the Tree Bench, Removing Soil if Necessary

Level the two bench assemblies around the tree, leaving gaps of the exact length for the two remaining seat sections. If necessary, remove soil to level the ground for the tree bench, but avoid the tree roots.

Screw Remaining Bench Seat Boards into Exposed Portion of Supports
Step 7

Screw Remaining Bench Seat Boards into Exposed Portion of Supports

Drop remaining tree bench planks into position. Drill countersunk holes to drive screws through the bench top into the support cross braces below. Remember to leave a 1/4 inch space between boards to allow for wood expansion and water drainage.

Apply Sealer to Redwood Tree Bench
Step 8

Apply Sealer to Redwood Tree Bench

Coat redwood with sealer to extend the tree bench life, keep it looking good, and prevent the top from weathering and becoming rough. All these actions will lead to less maintenance labor and make the bench more comfortable as well.