One summer afternoon not long ago, my wife and oldest daughter had gone out, leaving me to mind the little ones. We decided to make a fire in the fire pit and roast hot dogs for supper. We lit the fire and sat back in our lawn chairs.
Soon, though, I got to thinking that I’d rather not have the buns, hot dogs, and condiments just sitting on the ground. For one thing, little kids don’t always watch where they step. For another, the ants are really good at finding food this time of year. If only I had some sort of low bench or table to put everything on.
Then it struck me. I could build one! We had just started the fire, so I told the kids the plan: I would build them a little table in the time it would take for the fire to burn down to coals. We would build a simple “staked” bench: four legs stuck into tapered holes in a single-piece top. And it would be a race!
I went down to my lumber stash and pulled out a short, thick plank of knotty cedar that I had kept for years. (I had picked it up for practically nothing at a sawmill in Texas before we moved to Alabama.) In my firewood pile, I had some short cedar logs that I had salvaged when I helped a friend clear some brush at his house a couple years ago. The sapwood had all rotted away, but the heartwood was perfectly intact. I sawed the log into four sections on my bandsaw and then brought the pieces up to the workbench.
Using a drawknife, I shaved the weathered surface off the leg pieces, and oh my! The cedar heart wood underneath was beautiful! I almost hated to use it for roughly shaped legs, but the fire was burning down, and I had a bench to finish. I roughly tapered one end of each leg and shaped a round, tapered tenon with a tenon cutter–essentially a giant pencil sharpener (shown at right). The cedar shavings smelled wonderful.
Then it was time to bore and ream four holes in the bench’s top. Using a sliding T-bevel as a visual guide, one of my daughters and I bored four holes with a brace and bit. Then I quickly reamed them out with a taper-reamer to match the tenons. I put some adhesive in each hole and pounded the legs in tight. (The top cracked a little bit on one end, so we reinforced it with a couple strips of pine nailed to the bottom on either end. My son bent over a nail or two with his little hammer.) I sawed the legs flush, flipped it over, and there you have it: a staked bench!
It was ready just in time to roast the hot dogs.
And the marshmallows, too!