Giving old benches new life

TCR/SCOTT BESTUL Duane "Dewey" Himlie showcasing two of his handmade benches. Himlie completed the woodwork and ironwork himself, as well as painting and staining.
By : 
Scott Bestul

Even Duane “Dewey” Himlie admits it was an unusual start for a business. “I was just taking a walk and spotted this bench that looked kind of old and worn, just sitting in a lady’s yard,” said Himlie. “I stopped in to talk to her and ask if she’d be willing to sell the bench. She did, so I bought it, brought it home, and just went to work bringing it back to life. That was four years ago, and I’ve been doing pretty much the same thing ever since.”

Area residents who’ve driven by D&D Car Wash on Highway 43 have probably seen some of Himlie’s work sitting nearby. From classic wood-backed benches to models sporting hand-painted ironwork depicting farming life or a hunting scene, Himlie’s benches are artistic and inviting. They also fill an important need, according to Himlie. “We live in a throw-away society these days. One of the reasons I like doing this is it that it saves something from the landfill that not only looks nice, but people can use it.”

Himlie’s bench business is a part-time endeavor that’s focused on restoring old benches. It also taps into his love of carpentry. “I think everyone in my family has some sawdust in their blood,” he laughed. “I’ve enjoyed working with wood as long as I can remember.”

Once Himlie has bought the bench frame, he first does any necessary restorative work on the metal. “Usually the metal is in pretty decent shape,” he said. “But if not, I’ll remove any rust or trouble spots with steel wool or a stiff brush. Once I’ve got the surface prepared, I’ll put on two coats of primer, which take a day each to dry. Then I apply two coats of paint, usually black, before putting on two coats of sealer. It takes three days just to get that part done.”

If the frame includes any decorative work, Himlie paints that himself. “One of my recent ones featured a farm scene with a tractor and a barn, a chicken and a fence,” Himlie said. “That was fun to work on. I also have a taxidermist buddy that has done some airbrushed scenes on a metal plate on the bench back. One featured bird dogs and pheasants, another was of deer. They turned out really nice! I’m exploring some other options, like etching, as well.”

The woodwork is the most familiar process for Himlie. “I buy some nice cedar boards with good character and grain,” he said. “Then I cut them to length, put a couple coats of stain on them, and finish with a couple coats of sealer.”

Himlie is on a constant hunt for old benches and gliders to restore and sell. “I’ve got people looking for me, and I never hesitate to approach someone who’s got an old bench in their yard,” he laughed. “It’s a fun way to talk to people and if they want to sell me a bench, well that’s good too!”

In addition to being a nice addition to a porch, deck, yard or garden, Himlie thinks benches have a nostalgic appeal as well. “I restored a glider bench not long ago,” he said. “And an older lady sat on it and rocked awhile and said, ‘This reminds me of sitting on my grandma’s old glider. It takes me back to when I was a little girl.’”

For more information on Dewey’s Benches, contact him at 507-251-5879.