Although I'm too lazy to be a real upcycler/restorer of vintage furniture, when an old bench became free to a good home, exactly in the style of what I was looking for, I couldn't not take it. My 'garden' (small paved patio) needed some love and, more importantly, somewhere to sit. My bank account needed me not to be spending £100+ on a few slats of wood.
But taking on an old wooden bench - or any old wooden garden furniture for that matter - isn't easy if you like everything to be just so. As you can see, it was discoloured, had more than a few chunks missing including several big holes on one arm and generally looked battered and sad.
My heart aches a little just looking at this picture... which is why I went to such lengths to get it restored in the name of finally having somewhere to have a cup of tea in my backyard.
The good news is, if you ever find a piece of wooden garden furniture going cheap, it's so easy to make it into something stronger, prettier and more unique, with a bit of hard work and some decent paint. It really is a case of if I can do it, anyone can. I came at this whole project with the knowledge of one who knows nothing about these things, so spent some time googling best ways to go about it... if you know more than I do feel free to skip to the end result picture ;) The revamp was completed within the space of one weekend, working at it on and off.
Dressing up an old garden bench
1. Wash thoroughly
Get as much surface dirt off as you possibly can with water. Look out for cobwebs in every single corner (shudder). Either use a power washer if you have one, or a soaked cloth/kitchen towel and elbow grease will do. If you do get the wood properly wet, you'll need to factor in at least 2-3 days for it to thoroughly dry out, possibly longer in the cold weather. If your wood is particularly old or damaged, you might find parts of it have rot, like I did (be gentle). In this case, it will take even longer to dry out but do let it because if you paint over rot you trap the fungus causing it and the problem's only going to get worse from there (rot spreads!). The best thing to dry out rotting wood, I found, is to put it in direct sunlight and leave it there for several hours, until dry to touch.
2. Get sanding
Again, a power tool is only going to help. I didn't have one, just good old fashioned sanding paper and muscle (ha). Put the time into this step - you're trying to get rid of splinters and any bits of flaky wood that are going to fall off anyway. No one likes a splinter in the bottom. Make sure you wipe off the dust when done with a damp cloth/kitchen towel, you don't want to paint on that.
3. Repair holes
Before you start this step, it's a good idea to get some newspaper down underneath your object now. If your wood is old, then like me you might find some nasty chunks missing that not only look awful, but also threaten more splinters in future. Invest in a relatively cheap tube of wood filler and go crazy. Pipe it directly into the holes and use a flat knife, ideally a putty knife, to press it in and smooth it across the wood. I also found using my fingers helped get into really tough spots (it washes off, don't worry). Be prepared to fill the bad holes with more than one layer - and if you need to do that factor in the couple of hours or so you'll need to let the layer before dry. Once the filler is dry, sand down across the surface until it hopefully makes a smooth surface with the wood. At this stage it's going to look awful, but you're going to paint over it so don't worry.
4. First layer of paint
The above sanding and filling steps might take you the best part of a day, but if you're able to, get the first layer of paint on all over because it's always best to leave paint to dry overnight if you can. Make sure your paint is specially for the outdoors but I personally didn't use primer and for the colour didn't need to - this paint was very thick and pigmented and covered everything brilliantly. The above picture is of the first layer and you can just make out a tiny bit of wood poking through the end of the arm and patchy green on the leg, but one more coat and that's gone. Tip: paint the underneath of your object first so that any drips made that land on the top side can be corrected.
5. Second layer of paint
As obvious as it sounds! Only do this once the first layer is dry and again work from the underneath to the top.
6. Add a coat of polyeurethane protector
I haven't actually done this yet, but I'm going to before I put my bench out in the big wide world (it's currently under shelter). I know if I let the bench get too wet the rot will set in again, so it's worth taking the extra step to make sure it has a fighting chance of lasting more years to come.
And here it is, in a fetching shade of green I always associate with 'vintage'... This paint, by the way, is Cuprinol Garden Shades in Willow.
And a pretty bench deserved some pretty flowers... the first my garden has ever seen!
And this is my very own strawberry plant - I'm excited to see if these little green fruits ever turn into delicious red ones.
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