Care of outdoor wooden bench

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    • #132044
      L. James Hansmann

      We have a wooden bench that has been outdorrs for about two decades and will probably remain there for the forseeable future. It has been suggested that we stain/varnish/preserve the wood with anything to help protect it from thw elements. It is used as a bench on occasion as well. It is ca. 1925 and from our RR museum.
      We have no funds for a conservator or for storage. What do you think?

    • #132052

      I’m not sure you want to know what I think, but you did ask. Let’s rephrase the request – which is one I get sadly often from museums and heritage bodies –

      Hello, we have an object which is valuable to us and fragile. We wish to keep it in a position which we know threatens its existence. We are not prepared to raise funds to look after it or consider alternative locations/uses. Please tell us how to beat both Mother Nature and Father Time (aka the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics) and enable it to be preserved for ever. P.S. We don’t like the sound of anything labor-intensive either.

      Does that sound familiar? I’m sorry if it sounds a little grumpy, it isn’t meant to be, but we do need to stop and ask ourselves what it is we want.
      How about a couple of questions that might help produce a plan of action ?

      How much would consulting a conservator cost ? A lot of times museums tell me they can’t afford a conservator, although they have no idea what a conservator can do or what they would charge.

      What is the bench made of and what is its construction? This can dramatically affect possible treatments and survival.

      How long does the museum wish the article to survive in its current form? If the museum is prepared for it to be disposed of after 3 – 5 years, then keep it out of doors and don’t worry. Don’t let people sit on it unless it is regularly checked for strength, though.

      Is the museum prepared to undertake regular maintenance? Any varnish or wood preservative applied to enable it to be placed out of doors will have to be reapplied or possibly removed and replaced.

      If the museum cannot undertake what is necessary for the longterm survival of the item, and does not wish it to be destroyed by its conditions in a relatively short period, has the museum considered finding it alternative ownership?

      If the museum really wishes to preserve the item I would recommend
      1) ask a conservator what it would cost to treat the item to give it the best chance of survival
      2) ask people in the museum: staff, the Museum Friends group (and even visitors) about alternatives – maybe someone can suggest a better location or help with storage
      3) ask the community what they would like to have happen to the piece and to fundraise for this. A bake sale can raise enough funds to pay for professional conservation, museum equipment, even a store.

      I hope this helps. Good luck with the bench.

    • #132051
      Ron Kley

      I don’t claim to be a conservator, but I susoect that a conservator familiar with the problems of wood exposed to weather might suggest impregnating the wood with a fairly high molecular weight of polyethylete glycol (aka PEG). It’s essentially a water-soluble wax. You’d need to dis-assemble the bench (unless you can find a heated tank big enough to hold the bench in its fully-assembled state.)
      There’s lots of information on PEG impregnation freely available online.
      If the bench is presently painted or varnished, it would probably be necessary to femove that finish in order to allow the PEG to penetrate the wood.
      It’s my guess, however, that this or any other treatment will do no more than buy time and reduce the rate of degradation. It won’t provide a permanent fix. Mean old Mother Nature will win in the end.
      A siden effect of PDEG impregnation would be a waxy/greasy appearance and feel to the wood surface. Folks sitting on the treated bench might find their clothing stained.

    • #132050
      L. James Hansmann

      Helena, you make me sound like I’m whining. Well, maybe I am just a little. Lots of good thoughts though. Ron, it is currently not painted or varnished, never has been. It is about eight feet long with cast iron on both ends for the legs as well as arm rests.

    • #132049
      Sharon McCullar

      This is what I like to call a sticky wicket, both because it is a pretty accurate description and because it usually makes my colleagues laugh and lightens the mood so we can think outside of the box for a bit.
      I definitely see an opportunity for some fundraising and community awareness building. It’s basically an if-then situation. If the public sees the value of the bench, then they will want to make contributions to see it conserved and protected properly.
      May I suggest looking at a shelter for the bench? Perhaps something with clear sides to discourage romantic encounters and some signage about the need for conservation treatment. This would not do anything irreversible to the object itself but may stave off further damage until a more permanent solution can be funded.
      Hope you can be successful!

    • #132048
      Sharon F. Corey

      Mr. Hansmann, I really enjoyed reading all about the Castle Rock Historical Society and Museum. What a cute building and a beautiful setting! I certainly do not have the credentials of the other participants here, but I did take and complete all the courses for Caring for Yesterday’s Treasures—Today and I am passionate about local history, museums and anything to do with old trains. I am sending a small donation for your conservation efforts, in particular as Sharon stated, “some signage about the need for conservation treatment.”

    • #132047

      And another thing… What is its value? Does it have historical or sentimental value? Is it accessioned? Or could you buy a another one like it? Some benches like this were made to be taken apart when the wood rots, which simply means that the old wood is taken out and replaced by new – in your case perhaps wood that has been treated to help lengthen its outdoor life. Maybe you could find a local hardware store or lumberyard that would help you out or at least give it to you wholesale in return for some nice publicity.

    • #132046
      Anna Weiss

      Mr. Hansmann,
      I’m a conservator.
      -My first piece of advice is to definitely not use any product or adhesive that you find online/recommended to you here, or in a local store, on a valuable piece to your collection. Even if a true conservator recommends it or puts it on their treatment proposal- In the hands of someone improperly informed/inexperienced, things can go bad, Very bad. (I especially wouldn’t use PEG in this setting- sorry Ron, I know you mean well).
      As a curator, I’m sure you can understand that you couldn’t curate an exhibition right without seeing the objects, or having an understanding of history, right? (Let alone a degree or two)

      -My second piece of advice is to contact the Denver Art Museum’s conservators for a recommendation. They’ll know what conservators in the area are fair and legitimately qualified conservators; maybe even some of them do work on the side and can throw you a deal; or a least goal fundraising amount.

      Every sentence in the Castle Rock Historical Society’s mission statement has the word “preservation” in it. (well.. it’s only 2 sentences…)
      If this is a piece worthwhile to the mission of the museum then I’d say that is fuel enough to raise the funds to properly preserve it 🙂

      Hope this helps. Message me if you need help contacting a conservator in the area!


    • #132045

      To reinforce one of Barbara Appelbaum’s questions, I think it would be a good idea to start out by determining whether the wooden elements of this bench are even original material or not. I have the impression that you’re talking about a typical park bench with wooden slats supported by cast iron end frames. If the piece really dates to the 1920s, there is a good possibility that the original slats have been replaced in more recent times (and, depending upon what species was used, perhaps more than once). If this is that case, “conservation” may prove to be a moot point, and replacement of the deteriorated wood may be an acceptable option.

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