Macrocarpa is a softwood that is very stable and looks and works like kauri. It is fragrant when cut like other cypresses. In New Zealand macrocarpa is grown in plantations or sourced from private properties.
This macrocarpa ‘garden couch’ was made in memory of my sisterin- law Eveline who died last year. It is for her memorial garden at Hohepa, Auckland where she lived and was cared for.
My brother-in-law Kim is an arborist here in Titirangi and about eight years ago he kept a macrocarpa (Cupressus macrocarpa) tree trunk from a job and had it sawn into various thicknesses. Since then it has been drying beside his home.
Macrocarpa withstands the elements well so it is ideal for this outdoor project.
There’s nothing new about the design of this seat, in fact it is quite basic, similar to many park benches, and quick and easy to build. What sets it apart is the comfort factor—it has a reclined slab seat and backrest with side-table armrests.
As a starting reference I used my Re- Made competition garden seat (AWR#49) which has the same armrest detail. The intent with this new seat was to provide a far more comfortable layback couch type posture.
We first cut the slab seat and backrest oversize, then with chocks and clamps experimented with various seat and back angles, front-to-back seat depths and heights.
When we established the optimum I took sliding bevel readings and measurements. The slabs were then trimmed to final size.
We left the waney edge of the tree at the top of the backrest for a bit of ‘flare’. Because the macrocarpa slab seat and back are in opposing planes they just have to be locked together to form a sound structure.
This then requires a minimum of components to complete the seat: four legs, two arm rests and four support rails. Only the arm rests (which are set level) have been put through the thickness planer for a beautiful smooth finish. All the other non-contact surfaces are left rough sawn.
Wherever possible holes are drilled using the press. First drill a 25mm dia recess the height of a nut and washers, then on the same centre a 10mm hole for the bolt.
A 25mm hole is drilled at 90? to the top of the angled back leg for a dowel to the underside of the arm.
The armrests have been planed and a 19mm radius routed to the front top and bottom and a 6mm radius all around the sides.
The legs are glued with waterproof glue to the underside of the arms. They are positioned with single custom-made 25mm dowels. These allow a little rotation so the front and back legs can be aligned in the same plane.
The haunches for supporting the backrest are shaped on the bandsaw.
Bolt holes in the legs for fixing the haunches are drilled by hand using the hole drilled in the haunches with the drill press as a guide. The support rail for the slab seat has been fitted then trimmed to line up with the legs. The completed sides are then fitted to the seat slab.
Kim’s idea of dipping the galvanised M10 bolt heads in green hammer-tone enamel turned a negative into a positive. They now look a bit like the big green speckled flying beetles we have here in New Zealand.
The front edge top and bottom of the seat slab are rounded over using a 19mm radius router bit. The slab seat and back are belt sanded with 40 then 80 and finally 120 grit.
The only tricky little detail is at the lower corners of the backrest, they are checked into the corners of the armrests. Guide blocks top and bottom are clamped to the back for hand sawing the angled checkouts.
The backrest with its tree edge top is drilled for bolts by hand using the holes drilled with the press in the support haunch as guides. Sacrificial blocks are clamped on to prevent the drill bit tearing out the back rest surface.
Hooray! At last I have used the set of very long brad point bits I bought at a sale when I first started woodwork.
I’m not a fan of using bolts in joinery, however in this semi-public piece they make for chunky and robust furniture. The problem with nuts and bolts is that after time the timber becomes compressed and/or shrinks and releases pressure on the washer and nut causing sloppy joints.
To sustain the pressure I’ve added spring washers and intend to check for tightness when I regularly re-oil the seat.
CD 50 Liquid Art is made here in Auckland. It is an oil which prevents the timber from cracking and warping, and protects from lichen and mould.
It will, however, allow the macrocarpa to age to a silvery grey with time. The endgrain bottoms of the legs have four coats of oil base enamel.
I had a small bronze plaque cast which was inset flush into the backrest.
Kim and Graham mill one of the slabs of macrocarpa into boards for the legs, arm rests and support rails.
Graham Sands is a photographer, graphic designer and woodworker who recently relocated from Western Australia to Titirangi, New Zealand.
His last story was a boxmaking project in AWR#58, Ark of Padauk.
Photos and illustrations: Graham Sands