Did Aldo Leopold actually build a Leopold bench?
Got hunting property? A lake cabin? A suburban pond off your backyard? Heck, a patio?
Then you need a Leopold bench. It’s named after the renowned wildlife professor, conservationist, and author of A Sand County Almanac. Every outdoors person worth a patch of big bluestem could use Leopold’s namesake bench for relaxing and sipping a cup of joe while watching spring migrants hustle up nesting territories.
Minnesota Outdoor News printed the design plans for a Leopold bench on Page 16 of the May 22 print edition. My youngest son, Jameson, and I tested the plans last Sunday, and despite my marginal handyman skills, it turned out well.
Sturdy and simple to build, the aesthetically pleasing design doesn’t intrude on outdoors scenes. In fact, I’d argue any reasonable chunk of prairie landscape or pond appears incomplete without one in the foreground.
Practical, too, the back-open design lets you use the back rest as a place to rest your arms for binocular viewing (or maybe resting a shotgun during turkey hunting?)
But one wonders: Did Aldo Leopold ever actually build a bench with this design that bears his name?
Alanna Koshollek is the evaluation coordinator for Baraboo, Wis.-based Aldo Leopold Foundation the site of Leopold’s famed “shack” where he and his family restored an abused farmstead and where much of his writing occurred.
Photos, Koshollek said, show Leopold late in his life sitting on a bench similar to the one Jameson and I built last weekend. But no two benches in the images look the same, and no one has a specific bench plan that Leopold wrote down.
Back in the 1940s along the Wisconsin River, Leopold would make do around the shack with lumber and other debris floating downstream. For that reason, no two benches were exactly the same, Koshollek said.
“People replicated this basic design based on images from that era,” Koshollek said. “The Foundation has been told by his children that he’d often sit backwards on a bench like this.”
The Drieslein boys used thick, green-treated lumber, and the 31/2-inch bolts (per the plans) barely stuck through both boards. I upgraded to 4-inchers, which as you can see from the final image, were almost too long once we tightened everything up.
Also, if you use green-treated lumber, expect the final product to be HEAVY – probably much heavier than the driftwood versions the Professor and his kids built in the 1940s.
Between lumber and hardware, we probably had $40 in materials, and I used the project as an excuse to upgrade my circular saw. (An early Father’s Day gift according to my adoring bride of more than 24 years.)
If you build a bench, by all means, share an image on the Outdoor News Facebook page, or email to me to share in our print edition.