Remembrance Bench – Je t’aime

Mandy recently lost her father Tony and I recently lost my mum. As a tribute to their lives and as a tranquil place to sit, we began creating a remembrance bench.

For years, my mum ‘Diane Rose’, used to sit on this garden bench in the Lake District, feeding the birds. Since then however, it has fallen into dis-repair. The wood has rotten and the metal rusted.

A few years back I managed to salvage a few Mahogany boards from the floor of a railway man’s hut. I spotted them when some workmen were clearing the sides of tracks. They would have been from the days of steam and were heading for a bonfire. At a guess, I’d say they were around 130 years old.

I don’t have an unlimited supply of these old boards and as you can see they aren’t in the best off shape. They are covered in tar, resin, oil and a century of rot. With mahogany being an expensive regulated timber resource, I had some really careful sanding to do. The thin green boards were the only survivors from the original bench.

The bench was originally softwood painted with a thin layer of paint, but the new bench will be waxed hardwood. Hopefully a century of seasoning will make the replacement hardwood a little more weather resistant.

Artisan Tools

Neither of us had done much woodwork since our early teens, 40 years ago, so as you can imagine we didn’t even own a chisel. We didn’t want shiny plastic tools because artisans have been using hand tools for centuries.

Therefore, we’ve been collecting woodworking tools on both sides of the channel at flea-markets, vide-greniers and brocantes. Several of these hand made tools are countless decades old and had been stamped with their makers initials. Despite being of a quality rarely seen today, sadly you can pick up bundles of the old tools for less than the price of a parking spot.

Obviously these old tools needed some care and attention, but had decades of life left in them.

Some needed sharpening. A sharpening stone, some oil, a honing guide and a bucket load of patience were required.

Faded Memories & The Evil Yellow Saw

Mark suffers from both short and long term memory loss.

The B&D workmate workbench that is being used to make the garden bench holds one of Mark’s few remaining memories of his mother.

As a small child Mark’s father was using a yellow circular saw to cut some floor boards. The saw hit this workmate and went into his father’s leg. Mark remembers sitting unsecured on the front bench seat of his Dad’s 420 Jaguar on the way to hospital. A 4 year old boy successfully used the column change gearbox, whilst his father applied pressure to his open wound.

35 years later at his parent’s shop Mark, was using exactly the same ‘Evil Yellow Saw’ and workmate. Inevitably when the two again collided, the blade went clean though Mark’s wrist. Whilst in his mum’s kitchen accessing his wounds, trying to pretend ’tis but a flesh wound’. His mother caught him and told him to remove his other hand from the wound.
‘You’re as bad as your father!’
The resulting mess meant Mark had to repaint her kitchen.
Mark received several stiches and surgery for severed tendons but still suffers permanent loss of grip.

15 years on maybe the jinx has been broken? The Evil Yellow Saw has been lost!

Cleaning the Mahogany Boards

During the cleaning of the floorboards it soon became obvious they showed signs of tons of history. There were saw marks, not from a circular blade but from a hand drawn saw. Each stroke had cut anywhere from 1/4″ to 1/2″ at a time. Given that mahogany is an incredible hard wood, that must have been a really rough blade drawn by some really herculean individuals.

Some of the boards had been close to a coal fire or maybe it was soot from steam engines. The remains of a hand forged wrought iron nail was also pulled from one of the boards.

The resin on the boards smells incredibly sweet, it may be pine resin or more likely bee’s wax but we recon it’s definitely natural. Within a couple seconds on sanding it completely clogged it sanding disc, so it had to be scrapped of with an old fashioned super thin razor blade.

The aroma from the arising sawdust smells really fresh, as if it had come from a recently felled tree..

With a quick brush over the boards soon come up a rich terracotta colour.

The Scary Planner Thicknesser

The original plan was to put the boards through a planner thicknesser, however having seen the board’s secret history we have changed our minds. Also, Mark doesn’t have a good track record with dangerous power tools and this one looks terrifying.

This almost new planner thicknesser was bought on an auction site for £1 + p&p. Unfortunately for the novice seller, it had been listed as ‘Wood plane’. New these sell for £520+.


We have both a router table and a hand held router but the two were cheap and currently incompatible. They can be made to work together, but until the new workshop is set-up we’ll stick to hand held.

We used an 8mm 1/4″ radius round edging router bit to smooth the boards. The splinters you get off mahogany are like needles, so use of this router has created an amazingly smooth edge in minutes. In days gone by you would have used an edging plane.

Learning To Carve

Neither of us can carve and our chisels are blunt. Our drawing skills aren’t much better either. What we wanted to achieve was three dimensional.

Mark’s mother’s middle name was ‘Rose’ so it seemed a fitting tribute to carve some roses into the slats of the bench.

Before hacking into the rungs of the bench, it seemed good practice to use a small scrap of mahogany to hone our skills.

As soon as drawing starts, it becomes obvious that pencil lines do not represent depth. Shading the design loses the crisp lines needed when carving; leaving a no win situation.

Polishing The Mahogany

The aging mahogany had never been treated oiled or polished. It was probably over a century old and had been subjected to everything from railway workers boots to leaking roofs. Obviously, it was extremely dry.

Wood Reviver

Some off the shelf products were used to breath some life back into it’s pores. The instant colour change was dramatic, as the wood sucked up a couple coats of the the oil. The oil left a slightly residue, so even after leaving them a couple days to soak, some serious polishing was required.

Beeswax Polish

To gain some real shine and a basic waterproof coating, we applied some beeswax. Beeswax doesn’t have the weather protection qualities of a high grade yacht varnish, so we’ll need to look after this bench.

Although the beeswax was a golden yellow it went on clear, to give the mahogany rich deep maroon colour.