If you might have wondered why things got quiet on my blog, I’ve spent all my spare time this past month building new benches for my bonsai. September is a good month for doing this in the Portland area because the weather is not too hot and the rains are still a month or so from setting in and making work outdoors miserable. I should also explain that the design I decided to go with requires digging two foot holes and setting four by four posts in concrete; I first saw this style of bench at Ryan Neil’s Bonsai Mirai garden. I really liked how the benches looked–functional and rustic, without upstaging the bonsai that sat upon them. This is the same sort of thing we want to see in a bonsai pot, a bonsai stand and really anything involving the presentation of our trees. I’d like to thank Tony McNeal, who built Ryan’s benches, for taking the time to come to my yard and share the details for building these benches. I tried to take before, in process and after photos (as of writing this, there are two left to finish) Please feel free to ask any questions in the comment area of this post as I’d be happy to share the details.

It has to be said when it comes to something like this, a lot of thought has gone into choosing what type of bench was best for my situation; you will see from the photos my yard is not level and it would have been extremely difficult to stack cinder block and expect your benches to come out level. And I didn’t want to level the hill either as I like the character of the yard as it slopes away from the house. Let’s get on with some photos!

before benches

This is the view of the new setting for the proposed benches; I have a 1/4 acre lot and this is the west side of the yard. It receives sunlight all day and I figure it would be best if I go that route and add shade later if needed. The downside of siting trees here is the slope of the hill which can be better seen in the next photos.

before benches

The first step was to lay out each bench with two stakes and nylon twine stretched between them. I used the dimension of the lumber to determine the length of each bench; twelve feet long is a common dimension, so I laid out four at twelve feet and one at ten feet. The pink flags you see are where the posts will be; they are on four foot centers, so there are three posts per twelve foot bench.

benches in progress

A shot after the post holes were dug to a depth of two feet, six inches and the bottom of each hole was filled with six inches of gravel. The bottom of the post will not be in contact with soil and rot from the bottom will be less likely. Then sackrete was tamped in around the four by four pressure treated post half way up the hole. Water was added and topped off the rest of the way with the sackrete. Tony advised bringing the concrete above ground level so water doesn’t pool around the post and will prevent rot at the interface of the post and ground level. The four by four posts come in various lengths and Tony recommends getting eight foot length posts…I’ll point out soon why eight foot and not six.

benches in progress

 

Here you can see the slope of the hill I’ve been dealing with a little better…

benches in progress

 

A shot from the base of the slope. My Bungalow style house was built in 1922 and was apparently the headquarters of a raspberry farm. It turned 91 this year!

benches in progress

 

Moving right along now, I ran a chalk line along each set of posts that was to be a new bench. The height of the new benches is 42″ and each post was cut to the new bench height. The cross pieces are 28″ long and are two by four pressure treated lumber. The forty five degree brace was made from what was cut from making each post 42″. There you have the reason for using eight foot posts for this project! I used three inch screws specially made to be used with pressure treated lumber; regular screws will corrode and fail in pressure treated lumber.

benches in progress

 

Next come the bolts–I used 3/8″ x 8″ carriage bolts for the job. A nice touch that says “these are some serious benches!” Seriously though, I like having the option of  sturdy benches that will take a heavy load.

benches in progress

 

One down, four to go! I started with the bench furthest from the entry to the display area to trick out and get the glitches worked out. I used five, two by six pressure treated boards not rated for contact with the ground for the bench tops; I have seen wider boards used but was advised by Tony the wider the board, the more likely it is to cup or warp with time.

benches with trees

 

And here they are with some trees…I just couldn’t wait 😉

benches with trees

 

Another shot with trees. Notice the difference in the height of the posts? That shows the amount of slope I’ve been dealing with. Photos really flatten things out and you don’t get a good feeling for things like that.

benches with trees

 

The back bench with trees

benches with trees

 

It’s possible to see from this angle the varying heights of the benches as they follow the slope. A subtle, terraced effect.

lodgepole shohin

A lodgepole shohin found its way on the bench…

lodgepole on rock

This is another lodgepole I collected and planted on a chunk of lava close to where the tree was growing.

black huckleberry

 

A black huckleberry sporting some fall color.

J. shovelii

 

The first tree placed on a new bench, J. shovelii, a little something that’s been around since 2000. It’s been on that shovel 12 years now 😉

spruce group

 

I’ll leave you with an Engelman spruce group I wired recently; more to come about this group including before, during and after photos. I hope fall is treating you well…

 

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