Free Time is Creative Time Potting Bench Build

Coronavirus isolation changed a lot of creatives’ otherwise full calendars. If you can’t do all of your regularly scheduled forms of creative expression? You still need creative outlets. We would normally have meetings, travels, and resulting stories to tell. But with the world on pause, our lives still go on. We decided the gift of free time is creative time. We just changed the form of expression.

Our yard and garden are showing the added love of concentrated creative energies. Lori wanted to add a potting bench. But she didn’t like the cost versus design choices of any purchased option. Especially when coronavirus prevents seeing in person before buying. Instead, Lori set herself to build an Ana White design Farmhouse Potting Bench for our kitchen garden. And Dan helped. A little.

Ana White’s version from the website plans. Stained and interlaced x-braces.

Forth of July Weekend Project

Nighttime Pinterest browsing inspired Lori. Ana White is one of our favorite YouTubers. We love Ana’s story from Alaska. And her projects, both big and little. Still waiting for more on her Simple House build. And Ana is an influencer for Iowa-based friends of ours, Kreg Tool. Dan’s Kreg pocket screw jig justified his involvement in the project.  The Farmhouse Potting Bench looked doable from standard dimensional lumber with mostly simple chop saw cuts. It’s ranked as requiring intermediate skills. We were up to it.

We ordered the required 2”x6”, 2”x4” and 2”x2” from our local lumber yard on Thursday morning. Woodford Lumber delivered it by Noon. Lori had the parts list cut to size and ready to assemble by mid-afternoon. Dan added an extra pair of hands to hold pieces in place for assembly. By suppertime, the potting bench came together.

For long-term weathering, we checked the cup of the horizontal boards. And placed the crown or outer curve of the end-grain facing up.

Ana White Farmhouse Potting Bench basic dimensions.

What we learn with pleasure we never forget

alfred mercier

Creative License

We did make one design change from the plans. The Farmhouse series of Ana White plans feature an x-cross brace in the side panels. The plan allows for two ways to build the x-brace. First, interlaced 2x2s. Interlacing requires a pair of matching nesting notches halfway through each 2×2. Or, second, cutting one of the 2x2s to continue the same visual effect. Fastening the cut 2×2 looked awkward in Ana’s video. Instead, we chose a third option. We placed the two braces side-by-side.

Any way you do it? This is really the only tricky part of the build. The cross braces should fit tight. They are not just decorative. Their strength comes from compression. It requires cutting the correct angle and cutting a bit long or proud. You can always trim a tad. You can’t make the board longer if you cut too short. It is amazing how much additional stability the x-braces add in compression.

We were careful to be consistent in placing the outside brace canted forward for symmetry.

We secured the tops and bottoms of the x-braces with hidden screws from below and above. The top screws are hidden by the countertop.

And we followed Ana’s advice to secure the countertop 2x6s from below.

We used Kreg pocket hole joints on the backside of the two upper horizontal braces that join the two sides.

Our assembled Ana White Farmhouse Potting Bench. Before sanding and finishing. Note the side-by-side x-braces.

Fast Build, Slow Finish

The build was a half-day project. Just a few hours. Finishing always seems to take longer. First sanding. Thank God for the electric palm sander. Then finishing.

Color choice is in the eye of the beholder. Lori probably took more time choosing the colors than anything else. But, since free time is creative time, that’s okay. Take your time. On your projects? choose finishes that work for you.

Color Art & Science

For finishes Lori chose:

  • Varathane® Carbon Gray semi-transparent wood stain. This for the frame. Carbon Gray has a hint of blue that complements our pine trees and the garden green. And we have a portion of the cabin finished with a sky-blue fiber cement siding – appropriate to the nautical lake environment. The remainder of the cabin is stained cedar shake siding. And unlike paint, with this semi-transparent wood stain? The wood grain shows through. Adding character. We first applied Varathane wood conditioner to the soft white pine. Varathane says this isn’t necessary with our stain. But our experience is a wood conditioner produces more consistent (less splotchy) stain results with softwoods.
  • Cabot® Cedar Wood Toned Deck & Siding Stain. This for the top shelf and countertop. We had stain leftover from doing our cedar shingle siding. Using this for the work surfaces ties the potting bench in with the cabin’s cedar shakes.
  • Varathane® Spar Polyurethane Satin-finish exterior marine-grade, water-based. The finish topcoats are marine-grade polyurethane. We used water-based for easy cleanup. Exterior marine-grade is different than interior-grade poly. It’s designed to take water and sun exposure.

With sanding, the various coats, and drying time? Finishing took another two days. Finishing is always the tedious part of a project. And this is one where we practiced divide and conquer. Veni, vidi, vici. Four hands working on finishing meant we got each full coat on faster.

The Free Time Reveal

Finished project showing the semi-transparent stain against our pines and hostas.
Our potting bench’s current home. It’s in between the side door and the gate to the kitchen garden.

Creative Options

Since free time is creative time? Like a basic recipe, Ana White leaves room to apply your own spin to her basic design and how-to-instructions.

What might we do differently? We used framing grade lumber. It this was going to be more indoors fine furniture? We’d opt for higher-grade lumber like ash or hickory. But that’s obviously way more expensive. And this was a budget project.

We didn’t use pressure-treated lumber because we wanted to stain. Painted pressure-treated would be even more durable. But you must let pressure-treated wood dry out sufficiently to hold paint. This can take months. We were trying to do a weekend project. Not create another unfinished task.

Framing grade lumber isn’t always pretty. We had to toss one 2×2 because it had a severe axial twist. The lumberyard exchanged it for a straight and square one. Hazards of not picking out your own lumber from the rack.

We don’t mind the exposed screws on the frame. We did a few joints with Kreg pocket hole screws for strength. But you could eliminate exposed screws entirely by doing more Kreg joints. If this were intended for indoors, it would be worth the extra detail and effort.

Lori still plans to add some hanging hardware for hand tools. And maybe a bottle opener.

Round number? It was a $100 build for materials.

Love the Result

It was a good creative experience. We’ll do more Ana White plans. Dan is eyeing building kitchen cabinets for a new kitchen. And Ana White has well-thought-out plans. More Kreg jig time. Dan says his Kreg Jig is one of his all-time favorite Father’s Day gifts. It gets a surprising amount of use.

Option Three — side-by-side cross x-brace.

The Fourth of July build was a good use of coronavirus-induced free time is creative time. With coronavirus running around, it may be a while before we get another trip in like our January trip to Seaside, Floria.

Lori led the build and did the bulk of the work, but the teamwork was fun. We can have fun staying at home.

And the Farmhouse Potting bench is a great addition to our kitchen garden. Lori the gardener finally has her outdoor workspace for repotting. And by building and finishing it ourselves, she got her exact vision. And saved some money. Little things add up. And make for a better world. Even when the world is circumscribed to home. Or maybe especially when.

1 Comment

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  1. Thanks for the information. It’s very helpful.
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