Benches designed for outdoor use, particularly those designed for use in public areas or as street furniture, are built to exacting standards to provide maximum practicality and durability. Even so, the choices you make when choosing your outdoor benches can dramatically affect their long-term durability and lifespan, and this is especially true when choosing the type of battens fitted to your benches.
The battens are the horizontal slabs, arranged in parallel, which form the seating surface of an outdoor bench. As you can imagine, they will endure a pretty substantial amount of punishment during their working lives, so choosing battens made of strong, durable materials is key to getting the most from your investment. The following materials are commonly used for bench battens, so you should take stock of their individual pros and cons before deciding which is most suited to your benches:
Cheap and cheerful, steel is generally one of the least expensive options for creating bench battens -- despite this, their durability against impact damage, heavy loads and deliberate vandalism is beyond compared, and a bench with well-maintained steel battens can be expected to last for years. Steel is also a very versatile material for batten construction, as it takes well to a wide variety of paints, protective powder coatings and other coatings, which both increase the durability of your battens and can make them more aesthetically pleasing.
However, the main problem with steel battens is the same problem encountered by any steel structure intended or outdoor use -- rust. Protective paints and coatings can protect your steel battens for rusting for a surprisingly long time, but they will need to be renewed occasionally as they wear out to prevent your battens quickly falling victim to rust and corrosion. Keeping your steel-battened benches under some form of shelter is a great way to extend their useful lives.
If you desire they strength and durability of steel, but don't want to deal with keeping your battens free of damaging rust, stainless steel can be an excellent option. This variety of steel contains small amounts of other element (such as chromium) which prevents it from falling victim to rust and corrosion, even without the added protection of weatherproof coatings. Stainless steel battens can therefore be left uncoated, creating a striking bare-metal look that is very easy to clean.
Unfortunately, this rust resistance comes at a price, and stainless steel is considerably more expensive than ordinary mild steels. It can also be slightly more difficult to source stainless steel battens, although most good street furniture retailers keep a limited supply at the very least.
Wooden battens may seem like a significant step down from steel in terms of durability, but this is not the case -- timber bench battens are subjected to highly effective treatments (such as pressure treatment and preservative oil coatings) that render them extremely weather resistant, while providing more than enough load-bearing strength to accommodate even the heaviest of users. Many timber bench battens receive further protection from epoxy surface coatings, which prevent the wood from becoming waterlogged and create a smooth, easily cleaned surface.
However, the quality of a timber batten depends largely on the quality of the wood it is made from, so you should speak to your batten supplier about what type of timber the battens are made from before you purchase them. Some cheaper timber battens are made from less durable and weather resistant woods, such as plantation-grown pine, which may become damaged and worn more quickly than you expect.