Monday, July 27, 2015

I Built a Garden Chair!

I don’t even pretend to be handy with tools. I can use a screwdriver, a drill, and when hard-pressed, a miter saw. Don’t even ask me to lift, let alone try to use, a chain saw. I built my own raised beds and pyramid-shaped trellises, with some assistance, but that is the extent of my tool usage. So when Longwood Gardens was offering a “Build a Wave Hill Chair” workshop in June, I admit I was a bit intimidated. Would I make a fool of myself by drilling backwards instead of forwards? Would I end up with a chair that looked more like something out of Dr. Seuss than a chair that you would find at the gorgeous Wave Hill garden in NY? I decided to take a chance.

To be honest, I have yet to go to Wave Hill. Hard to believe when it really isn’t a long drive for me to get there. However, I did see the Wave Hill chairs at Margaret Roach’s garden in NY when I went there for a Garden Conservancy Open Day. Margaret has several of the chairs throughout her garden.

They are surprisingly very comfortable. We sat in these chairs by the meadow garden for awhile.

You can either paint them, or let them weather to a gray color. These are obviously painted.

I thought it would be nice to have one of these lovely chairs in my garden. So I gathered up my tools, took a deep breath, and hoped for the best.

Our instructor was Dan Benarcik. Dan is a horticulturist, writer, public speaker, furniture builder and an enthusiastic, helpful teacher (there may be more he would add here, he seems like a modern Renaissance Man). He sells pre-built chairs and kits online, as well as doing workshops. He told the class that we may feel nervous and apprehensive at first, but he promised we would have fun and go home with a successfully built chair. He was right!

The wood is pre-cut to size and was set up in stations around the room. He also had three or four stations of wood jigs set up to help with assembly (I really should’ve gotten pictures of the jig stations!). Groups of us lined up at each station and assembled one part of the chair at a time. Believe it or not, this eventually becomes a chair...

The chair is held together with wood glue and screws. Hardly any holes were pre-drilled, we just drilled directly into the wood. Most of us ended up working in groups of two or three, helping to hold parts while the other person drilled. It really ended up being a team effort.

Each of us walked out of class with a finished chair and a smile on our face. I really had a blast and felt pretty good about holding my own with my drill. (In this photo you can see a metal jig that we used at one point.)

Getting my finished chair home was a bit of challenge in my small Scion TC hatchback with its shallow trunk. With some help from a Longwood Gardens staff member, I ended up getting it to fit in the passenger seat.

Family and friends have oo’ed and ah’ed over what appears to be some decent handyman skills, but I know the truth. It was all because of some pre-cut wood, jigs, a good teacher, and some team work.

Originally I had thought I might paint my chair, but Dan mentioned how it is more difficult to paint it and maintain the nicely painted look. I am all about not needing more to maintain in my garden, so I am going to let my red cedar chair age to a dusty gray. That way it will match the cedar garden bench and raised beds that are in the kitchen garden.

The best part of building your own garden chair is getting to relax and enjoy sitting in it with a refreshing beverage after a hard day of weeding.

So if you want an elegant, comfy garden chair, and a chance to impress your friends and family, take a chair building workshop. Thanks Dan! I absolutely love my new chair!

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