How to Make: Cross Country Jumps & Woodland Benches

So after I posted the photos of the (unfinished) hand made bench / cross  country jump on Twitter, I had several people ask me how I make them, whether I can make them on other sites and can I make different sizes and deliver them. The answer is yes, please get in touch and I shall be happy to help. These can be made any size / height / width (depending on whether you want one large trunk, or several smaller trunks). Ideally around 3ft – 4ft diameter is about the minimum if you are going to carve it (or have it carved) into a bench. I used three trunks in the photos below (the trunks forming the base are around 2ft diameter and 10ft long. The main trunk (bench) is around 4ft diameter and 10ft long. The idea being that you can sit on the larger trunk and rest your feet on the smaller trunk at the base to stay off the ground.

In terms of which timber to use, I’ve used many species (Oak, Lime, Poplar, Willow and Ash to name a few). If you want the bench or the jump to be ‘living’, so you get fresh growth and can turn it into a timber jump with brush or hedge on the top of it or behind it, use freshly felled Willow (which is what I have used in the photos below). Lime and Oak are heavy, but will last for years and generally won’t be moved by anything, as well as being hardwood yet easy to carve. Willow will grow, so needs maintenance, and is softwood, but can still be carved to a certain degree. Ash is another good timber, but tends to be used for firewood so I don’t use it often. In reality – pretty much any decent size tree trunk can be used provided it is solid and not rotten.

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I’ve written a quick ‘How To’ guide below, but you will need some form of lifting the logs (in my case I use a tracked excavator or a tractor front loader), a post rammer (of the tractor or excavator mounted variety) and a chainsaw. I have to say though, please don’t use any of the kit unless you are suitably experienced and trained and have the correct protection.

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To build one of the larger size jumps / benches, you will need:

1 – 4       Logs of various diameters and lengths. (I use whole tree trunks up to 6ft diameter).

4 – 8       6ft (1.8m) tall fence posts. (I use untreated chestnut stakes as I have a large stock of them).

Kit          Reel of 2mm galvanised fencing wire, 40mm fencing staples, 150mm decking screws, lifting straps.

Tools     Chainsaw, hammer, hand saw, fencing pliers, electric drill, crowbar, long screwdriver.

Plant     Tractor with post rammer and front loader (or excavator with post rammer).

First off, find a decent site for the structure. If you are planning on using it solely as a bench, then find somewhere with a nice view, or a feature to look at from the bench. I’ve sited mine on the banks of the river so it can be used to look down the river and across the water meadow, or as a cross country jump by riders using the track which follows the river. If you are planning on using it as a jump as well as a bench, then it needs to have a decent area around it to cope with the approach and exit (and the obligatory refusals). It also needs to be accessible by the vehicle you will be using to make it (or deliver it).

Secondly, decide what size you want it (height and width) – once the timber is cut it’s too late to change your mind. I generally do things in the order I’ve written them below, but a couple of the steps can be switched around and generally each site is unique (as I’ve found out):

1. Move the trunks which will form the base into position using the excavator / tractor and make sure they are pushed tightly together (sometimes a long crowbar comes in handy for this bit). It can be necessary to clamp the trunks between the excavator bucket and the grading blade / front loader and front tyres to stop them moving apart (see photo below right). Make sure they are relatively level (it can be necessary to dig some spoil out from under them to make them relatively level). Cut them to the desired length whilst they are clamped with a chainsaw. Putting a sloping cut on the end (cutting at an angle) with a chainsaw can add to the visual aesthetics. The off cuts are not needed (useful for firewood though).IMG_7515

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2. Drive two posts about 2ft into the ground along one long edge of the trunks, about 2ft in from each cut end (this will vary depending on how long your structure is). A tractor or excavator-mounted post rammer is the most expedient method of doing this. See the photo below. On longer structures it may be necessary to use more than two posts on each side. Don’t drive the posts into the ground too deep, around 2ft is all that is needed at this stage.

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3. Repeat Step Two on the other side of the trunks, so you should end up with the trunks firmly clamped together between four (or more) posts on each side. Sometimes you’ll need to use the excavator or tractor front loader to hold the trunks down to the ground while you do this, otherwise the vibration from the post rammer can shift them apart.

4. Cut a length of wire sufficient to go between each pair of posts twice (so four times the width of the longs, plus an extra 2ft or so). Run the wire across the trunks and around the pair of posts in a figure of eight fashion, finishing behind one of the posts. Twist the tag ends together in the middle of the wire (so in the mid-point between each post). Secure the wire on the back of each post with a couple of fencing staples over the wire and hammer them in. Don’t hammer the fencing staples in too hard – if you crush/crimp the wire under the staples it may snap when you complete the next step.

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5. Use a long screwdriver inserted in the middle of the figure of eight to tourniquet (twist) the wire together. This should tension the wire and pull each pair of posts together slightly, but don’t twist too much or you will snap the wire. The wire should sit flat across the top of the two trunks.

6. Drive each post in slightly more (sometimes this is best done by hand) to tension the wire. A couple of inches on each post is all that is normally needed. Then (if needed), you can cut the posts down and use two or four more posts to secure the main trunk, or alternatively you can use the existing four posts, in which case don’t cut them down.

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7. Use the excavator or tractor front loader to lift the larger trunk onto the top of the two base trunks between the posts (watch that you don’t bang any of the posts). It should sit more or less in the middle of the two trunks that the base has been made out of. For safety I always leave the front loader or excavator bucket holding this trunk in position till I have it secured (there is potential for it to roll off).

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8. If you want the main trunk to be on one side of the base, so the other side can be used as a footrest, then drive two more post into the ground just inside the first two posts. These posts need to be approximately 3ft in the ground. Use an electric drill to wind 150mm decking screws through each post to hold the main trunk in position and ignore Step Nine. Alternatively, if you want the main trunk in the middle of the base, halfway up the side of the log edge of the main trunk, in line with each pair of posts, bore through from one side with the chainsaw (bar horizontal), making sure you have a ‘through and through’ letterbox slot all the way through the main trunk.

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9. Drive two more posts into the ground on the other side of the main trunk. Cut a length of wire sufficient to go between each pair of posts twice (so four times the width of the trunk, plus an extra 2ft or so). Run the wire through each letterbox slot and around the pair of posts for that slot in a figure of eight fashion, finishing behind one of the posts (SEE NOTE BELOW). Twist the tag ends together behind one of the posts. Secure the wire on the back of each post with a couple of fencing staples over the wire and hammer them in. Don’t hammer the fencing staples in too hard – if you crush the wire under the staples it may snap when you complete the next step. (This set of wire and staples should be above the first set you did to secure the base trunks on the posts). See the photo below.

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10. Drive the posts in further to tension this set of wire. Cut the posts down to the desired height (below the level of the bench, but above the staples securing the wires). Avoid hitting the wire with the chainsaw. The wire should be tight enough to prevent any movement of the logs.

11. Use the chainsaw to cut the top of the main trunk flat (or carve into a bench). Be aware of the depth to which you can go when taking the slice off the top due to the wire / decking screws in the log.

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12. Sit down and admire your handiwork!

If you want to make it look really nice, ramp some soil all around the trunks forming the base to disguise the posts and the wire, this can then be planted up with colourful flowers.

STEP NINE NOTES: I always advise boring through the trunk with the chainsaw and wiring through the trunk rather than over it. This not only conceals the rather unsightly fencing wire, but also reduces the potential for injury to horses and riders from the wire. I appreciate that not everyone will have a suitable size chainsaw to bore through a large diameter tree trunk. How you do this step is at your own risk. A wood auger can also be used to bore though the trunk.

If you are just using one large trunk to create the jump / bench, then just use the following steps: 2, 3, 8 to 11. It is possible to carve the bench off-site and then transport it for installation. Below are some images of a bench I carved from a large Lime tree trunk, which was then delivered to Fobney Meadow Wetland on the edge of Reading, Berkshire to provide a feature in the perimeter walk. It was approximately 12ft long, 4ft 6in diameter and 1,400kg in weight and delivered using a Land Rover and trailer. Feel free to rest a while on it if you are down there…

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I hope this helps people. There are many variations on building these that I have used, so please feel free to change it around slightly or ask questions!

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