A durable and well-made garden bench can make a stylish addition to any outside space. Choosing what material it’s made of depends on what kind of design you like and how much work you want to put into maintaining it.
For a refined, sophisticated look, an outdoor bench made of wrought iron or stainless steel would work well. If you’re also using your bench around a patio table, then something easier to move such as light wood, rattan, or wicker would be a good choice.
So let’s consider the relative merits of some of the best solutions available when it comes to the manufacturing material of your new garden bench.
There are multiple types of wood that with the right treatment are ideal for making outdoor benches:
Now a more sustainable option due to years of responsible planting, teak is in many ways the perfect wood for garden benches. Not only is it very strong, but its natural oil repels water – meaning your teak bench will last for years. This wood also benefits from a dense structure which means it doesn’t shrink or warp.
Another tough, dense wood that doesn’t easily warp – redwoods from the sequoia family are a little softer than teak (and therefore more prone to denting), but can be easily protected with an extra coat of wood seal. However, despite making lovely-looking and long-lasting outdoor benches, this wood is not an ecological choice as sequoia’s grow so slowly and are already overused.
The name given to over two hundred species of trees that are found in Asian rain forests, this wood is characterized as again being very strong, dense and durable – with great natural insect repelling properties like the other woods above. More sustainable than the other choices, it does have a tendency to go grey over time – a problem that can be counteracted by treating shorea with teak oil.
Often used to build boats – which is testament to its strength – Acacia is an abundant species that produces hardy, dense hardwood ideal for building outside benches. Its attractive golden brown color can be sustained with an annual coat of wood seal, and it’s ideal for making very stylish outdoor furniture.
A very attractive wood, cedar left in its natural state goes silvery-grey over time, so is great for garden benches that require minimal maintenance. With natural oils that discourage both insects and rot, cedar is lightweight but strong enough to withstand the elements. This wood can also be stained very easily, and will only need another coat once a year to keep the surface smooth.
Perhaps not the best choice due to their relative scarcity, however, cypress does have all the properties to make durable and lovely-looking garden benches. With natural oils to repel insects and stop rot, this dense species also goes an attractive silver color over time if left untreated.
Certain metals are a sound choice for outdoor benches – so let’s look at the best examples:
Lightweight and strong (especially if cast and molded), aluminum is virtually impervious to rust even in its joints, and can be treated with a polyester powder coating in various colors to further improve its weatherproofing properties.
Aluminum is also cheap compared to other metals and materials, and when combined with wicker and soft furnishings can create long-lasting and attractive benches.
Although heavy to move around, wrought iron is extremely durable and weatherproof if treated annually to stop rust. Protective rust seal must be worked into the seams and joints of wrought iron outdoor furniture to stop water ingress.
However, if you’re prepared to put the work in, then the ornate designs possible with wrought iron mean it can be styled into both classical and more modern furniture. You’ll need cushions though, as with all metal seats they can be a little hard to sit on for longer periods of time.
With excellent rust-proofing and weather proofing properties, the versatility of stainless steel means it can be made into a variety of styles when it comes to outdoor benches.
Unlike aluminum, which can be more lightweight in windy weather – stainless steel is heavier and more sturdy – although a polyester powder coating is again advisable to prolong its life. As with all metals – which can be uncomfortable and get hot in summer – it’s best to use stainless steel garden benches with cushions.
Resin & Plastic
Whether you’re considering synthetic wood, artificial wicker or recycled plastic – there is a lot to choose from when it comes to composite synthetic materials:
If you’re ecologically minded (aren’t we all), then it’s good to know your old shampoo bottles, kids toys and food packaging can be recycled and made into attractive garden furniture.
For garden benches, this means any color and style you desire is possible, and your bench will be hardwearing, rust-proof, and completely weatherproof. The only downside is that plastic can be a little lightweight in the wind – but it’s very cheap and you’re helping the environment, so it’s all good.
Fashioned from high-density polyethylene (HDPE), synthetic wicker looks like the real thing that’s been painted – but it never rots and is completely weatherproof without further treatment.
Available in any color and with UV protection built in so it doesn’t fade, synthetic wicker is perfect for your outdoor bench if you just want to leave it out and take the cushions in when it rains. Avoid the budget end of the synthetic wicker scale, however, which will mean cheaper polyvinyl chloride (PVC) options that are lower quality and can split and crack.
There are many other types of plastic and synthetics used in the creation of outside furniture and garden benches, much of it fashioned to resemble planks of synthetic wood – which is completely weatherproof and will last basically forever.
Such plastics include Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), Polycarbonate (PC) and the acrylic Polymethyl Methacrylate (PMMA) are all durable, weatherproof and can be styled into many different designs. However, all of these can be prone to scratching – which cannot be worked out or treated once present.
Organic wicker has to get a mention, because complemented with comfy, colorful cushions this remains an ever-popular style of outdoor furniture.
This surprising, as out of all the materials on our list, this is perhaps the worst for outdoor furniture making. Wicker is usually made from either bamboo, seagrass, rattan, willow or banana leaf – which are all prone to rotting when wet.
As an outdoor bench material wicker can work, but be prepared for a lot of maintenance. It has to be treated and painted regularly to keep the water out, which by its very design is fiddly and time-consuming – and if you miss just a tiny bit the water will get in and ruin all your hard work anyway.
I’d personally only use wicker under a covered patio or in a conservatory for these reasons – where it can be kept dry and out of the elements.
Stone & Concrete
If you’re after a rustic, traditional look – then stone slabs and blocks can be used to build attractive outdoor benches that look like they’ve been hewn from the landscape around them. My wife’s grandmother had a wonderful stone bench created with just one long stone slab – and with a few cushions it made for a comfortable and unique garden seat.
Modern concrete is a different proposition to stone though. If you’re aiming for a permanent bench feature, it can be poured into any number of shapes – and is pretty weatherproof especially if treated or painted.
Concrete can also be combined with other materials, such as wood, glass or metal to create some stylish-looking and durable designs – especially in the gardens of more modernist homes.
The only downside to concrete is that it can be prone to cracking if it’s not reinforced.
When considering what materials would be best to build our outside bench with, an honorable mention must go to some of the things we’ve missed – all of which can be combined with other materials in the construction process.
These materials include toughened and tempered glass, high-pressure laminates, turf and recycled wood – all of which have their place depending on the style and permanence of your outdoor bench.
One of the best outdoor benches I’ve ever seen was simply cut out of a broad old tree stump in my father-in-law’s garden – the kids loved it!
Summary (& My Choice)
Outdoor benches need to look great, but they also have an obvious practical use too – so they must be comfortable as well. In addition, the issue of maintenance is also important, as you don’t want to be fighting a losing battle every year to seal off your bench from the elements. This can get really time-consuming depending upon which material you choose.
Ultimately, what you need for your garden seat is a material that’s sustainable, attractive, impervious to rust, rot and insects – and completely weatherproof (and it needs to be easy to clean or maintain).
So in this context, if pushed to make just one choice I’d choose to make my bench out of acacia wood. It’s relatively abundant and decent value for money, looks great and will keep looking good with just one coat of wood seal every year. It’s also durable, weatherproof, rot and insect-proof – so what’s not to like?
Acacia would also give me that quality, traditional and welcoming warmness that I personally want from a garden bench – both in terms of design and functionality.
If you’re still unsure, this great video about patio furniture materials will help…