Now that the outdoor season is finally here, we Minnesotans are migrating to our decks, porches and patios for dinners al fresco and relaxing until the moon — and the mosquitoes — come out. Furnishing those outdoor spaces with tables and chairs and accent pieces can cost a small fortune. But it’s possible to create the backyard retreat of your dreams at a reasonable cost if you have a few tools, clear instructions and some basic carpentry skills, said Michael R. Anderson.
In “Deck & Patio Furnishings” ($22.99, Cool Springs Press), Anderson shares his designs for 25 DIY projects, from seating to planters to dramatic fire features, along with detailed how-to instructions, diagrams, photos and lists of required materials and tools. A longtime art director for Handy magazine, Anderson strove to develop stylish, modern designs that don’t scream “homemade amateur carpentry,” he said. We talked with him about the best starter projects for rookies, the chair that took him a dozen tries to get right and what’s on his deck at his home in Chanhassen.
Q: How much can you save by building your own deck furniture?
A: I was walking through a garden center, and I saw this beautiful arbor bench. I thought, “Wow! That’s beautiful,” then “Wow! That’s expensive.” It was around $400. I thought, “I could build one of those, easy, for less than $150, and it would be a lot stronger.” Prices do add up.
Q: What tools do you need to get started, and how much should you plan on investing in them?
A: The basics are a hammer, a straightedge, a drill driver, a good saw — circular, if you can afford it — good measuring tools: a square, a level. You should be able to get started with less than $200. You don’t have to buy top-of-the-line stuff.
Q: How did you learn to build patio furniture, and what inspired you to write a book about it?
A: I’ve always been a designer, always enjoyed technical drawing. When I got into the magazine [Handy], I started learning about woodworking. When the magazine folded, one colleague went to Quarto [parent company of Cool Springs Press]. He approached me about doing a book similar to what we had been doing in the magazine — featuring new and refreshing deck and patio projects that the average person could build, using average materials from a big-box store.
Q: What skill level is the book targeted to?
A: Novice to intermediate. It’s meant to be an idea generator. I tried to keep things as elegant as I could, with the idea that people could do their own thing and make changes.
Q: What’s an easy project for a rookie?
A: The first ones [in the book]. The planter is a cool one to do. It’s a Japanese-inspired timber bench, loosely based on Japanese designs that I modified. It’s nothing fancy, and it’s relatively easy. It’s a good starter project. You can do it in a weekend and wow the neighbors.
Q: How about a project that only someone with skills should tackle?
A: The garden locker. It’s a little more intense for a novice builder — the parts and techniques. It’s at the other end of the spectrum.
Q: What DIY pieces are on your own deck or patio?
A: A dining table and bench, Adirondack chairs and a gas firepit. That was a complicated project because you’re building with metal, concrete and gas lines. Bringing all that together was challenging. Also some birdbaths and birdhouses.
Q: What creation are you proudest of?
A: Besides my two daughters? Probably the book itself. I did it in under a year — all the designs, the photography, the illustrations and the writing. It was a lot of work, and it was stretching all my creative gifts. Wearing all those hats was a challenge.
Q: What’s one project you’ve botched?
A: How much time do you have? I botched the Adirondack chair. I was trying to come up with something new. But I came up with one that was way too complicated, so I took it apart. I designed 10 to 15 Adirondack chairs before I came to the one I used.
Q: What are the most common mistakes people make when taking on a deck or patio project?
A: It’s important to know your skill level. If it’s something that interests you, take your time. Don’t rush through. It’s about enjoying the process.
Take a good, hard look at what you’ll be doing before you start. Do your research. If you don’t understand something, read up. Learn about tools and materials. Ask friends. There are a lot of places you can find information. It’s about being willing to learn.