Circular bench tough job

23:55, Feb 26 2013
Erogenous Zones
MAMMOTH TASK: Cable Bay furniture maker David Haig and volunteer helper Arnd Seibert with a circular wooden bench they made for a garden display.

Take half a dozen types of wood, three months' work, more than 1000 screws, and there you have it - a five-metre diameter park bench.

Actually, it's not that simple. Ask Cable Bay fine furniture maker David Haig. He knows.

Haig finished creating a five-metre diameter wooden park bench last week, with the help of German volunteer Arnd Seibert.

The inward-facing circular seat is destined for the Ellerslie International Flower Show in Christchurch.

It will sit in a garden designed by an English garden designer and horticulturist, who works across Europe, the Caribbean, and Asia.

Andrew Fisher Tomlin was Britain's garden designer of the year last year, and is the convener of the judges at the Ellerslie International Flower Show.


He contracted Haig to design the 5m bench, to go around an established oak tree in Hagley Park, which the woodworker said he created from a concept drawing that the garden designer had sent him.

"It just caught my attention as a really different way of approaching what a park bench could be. It's honouring the tree, and is a little introspective, meditative, and sort of calming," he said.

Haig said creating the bench was not as meditative, however, as the geometry was demanding and dimensions needed to be precise.

The bench also had to be durable, beautiful, comfortable, and transportable.

"The design was probably the biggest challenge. It [transporting the bench] has been a headache, because it's so big. I'd need a crane to lift it, if it wasn't built in four segments."

Haig said Seibert, who he met at the Centre for Furniture Craftsmanship in Maine in the United States, was a "huge" help.

The young Berliner had the repetitive job of screwing down 256 red beech slats on to the frame, at the end of the bench's construction. He used 1024 screws.

Haig said the 16 frames were made from "meaty" Californian redwood, which was locally-sourced from Plankville Sawmill in Richmond.

The "lovely" wood came in 4m lengths, and was cut into shape using a band saw.

The frames were put together with traditional mortise and tenon joinery before Christmas, with help from fellow Centre for Fine Woodworking tutor Mike Hindmarsh.

Haig said the next challenge was to flesh-out the frame with connecting pieces made from both steam-bent and band-sawn lengths of white oak.

He had access to a "huge pile" of what he thought was seasoned English oak, which his mate, Ken Heraty, had milled from storm-felled trees from Isel Park four years ago. But he soon discovered some of the wood was red oak, which was not as durable.

Haig then had to order some American white oak from importers, but it had been kiln-dried, which killed its steam-bending properties.

He reconditioned the wood by soaking it in an old bathtub, with salt water from the ocean, for 24 hours. The steam-bending went well from there.

Haig used large dowels made from heart walnut by another woodworker, Peter Field, to connect the pieces.

His final touch was little "feet" made from side-grain totara, soaked in a copper solution - to protect the bottom.

"I decided the ground-level end grain was going to be very vulnerable. I want this to be around in 50 years," Haig said.

The Ellerslie International Flower Show and Fisher Tomlin will be gifting the bench to the Christchurch City Council after the show, to be located in Hagley Park or the new city centre.

The bench seats 32 people, and Haig said making another one was a daunting prospect.

Haig said he would now get back to making domestic-scale indoor furniture for a while.

"I have done all sorts, but this is the single biggest piece I have made by a long shot. I don't know what the council's plans are. I just hope they find a really nice place for it," he said.

The Ellerslie International Flower Show runs from March 6 to 10.