A garden bench prior to being restored

Finding a Vintage Bench

As with other used furniture, you can look at auctions, flea markets, garage sales and antique stores. Keep your eyes open, as once the boards begin to rot and need replacing, people are often motivated to sell them.

We acquired six of our seven benches from an online classified advertising service. By targeting benches that are in a deteriorated state – rotten boards, peeling paint, rust, etc. – we’ve been able to get them for a reasonable price.

A garden bench prior to being restored

Reinforcing the seat while restoring a garden bench

Restoring a Vintage Bench

Most need a total restoration, so start by taking the boards off. Since the bench has likely been outdoors in all kinds of weather for many years (possibly decades), some of the bolts may be rusted, making them a challenge to remove. Apply some oil to loosen them. (We once had to use a hacksaw blade to cut through a bolt that we couldn’t loosen.) Keep any nuts, bolts and screws in case they can be reused.

All of the benches that we’ve acquired have two iron bench ends. Some have a back that is made mostly of metal and some also feature metal support pieces. The metal pieces are relatively easily cleaned up using a wire brush to remove any loose paint or dirt. Next, wash the metal with a mild soap-and-water solution. Rinse with clean water. Apply two coats of a quality metal/rust paint.

Now that metal has been cleaned and painted, you can prepare the wood. If using scrap wood, cut it to the desired measurements. We put rough-cut wood or wood that’s a little too thick through a planer and then sand to a smooth finish and to round any sharp edges.

Reinforcing the seat while restoring a garden bench

Three garden benches before being restored.

Keep the original boards so you know how long, wide and thick the new boards should be. We try to make the new boards for the seat thicker than the original boards so they will last longer. If the back of the bench doesn’t contain any metal, you can also make these boards thicker. However, if the back features a large piece of cast iron, you usually have to keep the new boards the same thickness as the original ones.

The author’s garden benches before being restored.

The same three garden benches after restoration.

I prefer to use cedar, which contains natural preservatives that resist decay, moisture and insect damage. We restored one bench using pine boards finished with four coats of a quality indoor/outdoor spar urethane.

Sometimes the nuts, bolts and screws can be reused, but occasionally you’ll need to purchase new ones. This modest expense is worth it, especially if the original ones weren’t in good shape.

The same three garden benches after restoration.

Restored garden bench beside two metal chairs and a metal table.

Durable, Eco-Friendly and Versatile

These benches are eco-friendly for a couple of reasons. The cast iron parts of the bench are long-lasting. And while the wooden parts of the bench have much shorter lifespans compared to the cast iron, wood is a renewable resource.

Another reason I like these benches is because there are so many places where they can be put to good use. We have a network of trails at our 25-acre home, and benches strategically placed along the trails allow us to rest and smell the forest! We’ve also located benches next to a pond (a good spot to observe wildlife), near our barbecue and under an oak tree just outside our front door. The next time we make an outdoor rink, we’ll situate one beside the ice so we can put on and remove our skates in comfort! We even painted one bench to match our metal patio set, effectively doubling the seating from two to four. And of course they look great – and offer a relaxing place to rest – in the garden!

The author restored this vintage bench to match his metal patio set.

Restored vintage benches.

A Final Word

Restoring a garden bench to its former glory isn’t a particularly difficult or expensive project and the pleasure you receive from transforming an old, often decrepit piece of outdoor furniture into a useful one that looks brand new is satisfying.

Text by N. Glenn Perrett

Photographs by Lynn and Glenn Perrett

N. Glenn Perrett and his wife Lynn live on Mulmur, Ontario. Their book Southern Ontario’s National Parks was published in 2019.

Tools for This Project

SA152 - Drill Brush Corner

Drill Brushes


09A0174 - Knotted-Wire Wheels (2)

Knotted-Wire Wheels

(Set of 2)

$4.70 $4.50

BR204 - Rust Erasers, set of 3

Rust Erasers

From: $8.00

05K5030 - Cornering Tool Set

Veritas Cornering Tool Set


15Z0205 - Set of 2 Bow Sanders (Sm. & Lg.)

Bow Sanders

From: $26.90

68Z8110 - Preppin' Weapon Sanding Block

Preppin' Weapon Sanding Block


55K9351 - 80x Mirka Gold Sandpaper, each

Mirka Gold Sandpaper Sheets

From: $1.15

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