Ultimate Guide to Commercial Outdoor Furniture

ultimate guide poster

Looking for park benches for a public garden? Or interested in a job in outdoor site furniture industry and need some basic knowledge?

We created this guide to help you learn more about the products available in the site furniture industry for both professionals and non-professionals.

The list below provides you with the coverage of content, to elaborate on each section,  step by step. Also feel free to jump to a specific topic that interests you the most by clicking the link.

01
DEFINITION

What is site furniture? 

Site furniture, or aka commercial grade site furniture, are stationary or movable objects to support activities mainly in public or shared areas. The furnishing items include but not limited to park benches, outdoor chairs, picnic tables, bike racks, bollards, planters, signages, fences, trash bins, recycling containers, cigarette ashtray, outdoor canopy, advertisement panels, light poles, outdoor lighting fixtures, etc, which are primarily for practical purposes rather than decorative purposes. 

People often fail to distinguish patio furniture, portable furniture and site furniture. They have huge differences and serve different purposes. 

Patio furniture are referred to as outdoor furniture for home or any small scale spaces. They are not designed for locations with great amount of visitors. Patio furniture could come with movable waterproof cushion, and regularly are not fixed to the ground.

an example of patio furniture
An example of patio furniture set

Portable furniture, as its name denotes, are furniture made of lightweight materials for short term events, i.e., an outdoor festival, party or farmers market. The products are effortless to move around and assemble, easy to store, and economical to purchase, which include but not limited to folding chairs, folding benches, folding picnic tables, plastic crowd control barriers, etc. 

folding table and chair
An example of portable furniture: folding tables and chairs

However commercial grade site furniture are generally in favour of places with large groups of users, and capable of both indoor and outdoor environment, in the meanwhile they will last for a long period of time. It’s normal to find site furniture that’s a decade old. Therefore site furniture are much more superior than other types of outdoor furniture, in regard to quality and durability.

Now, you’ve learned what site furniture are, but you may still feel at loss, or confused when facing thousands of products. Actually they all exist for a reason, in other words, every site furniture have their own advantages and serving purposes. Then what are the advantages and how they are achieved? In the following sections, we will introduce you the major elements of site furniture in various aspects, and then you will become an expert on site furnishing industry.

02
MATERIALS & PROPERTIES

When developing a high quality site furniture, the materials will be our bread and butter. The physical properties of materials will monumentally affect the manufacturing difficulty, assembly and installation, lead time, maximum load, comfort of use, durability, environmental protection, and obviously cost. 

In this chapter, we will explain why certain materials are selected for specific purposes.

First of all, here are a list of materials that you could possibly find in all types of site furniture.

  • Acrylic
  • Cast Iron
  • Cast Aluminum Alloy
  • Concrete
  • Mild Steel
  • Wood
  • Plastic Wood Composite
  • Recycled Plastic Lumber
  • Rubber
  • Stainless Steel

Acrylic, chemical compound Poly Methyl Methacrylate, is a plastic that’s widely used as an alternative to glass, thanks to its lightweight, transparency, and translucence with addition of colors. Glass are brittle and heavy. In the contrary, acrylic is more elastic than glass, and can  sudden impact and safe in the case of site furniture in outdoor spaces. Acrylic can only be applied as outer shell for weather proof, or as an decorative feature, such as top of a shelter and protective insert in an advertisement panel. Acrylic is cheap, easy to handle, stable color, weather proof, but it is not stiff enough as a structural material, for example, it can’t be used for a seating panel of a picnic table, or frames of a outdoor bench. Therefore usage of acrylic is limited to few occasions of custom made site furniture.

Cast Iron, is steel alloy with high carbon constituent that is greater than 2%. It’s properties are heavy, high hardness and corrosive. But it’s capable of extremely heavy load without any deflection. Cast iron is 100% recyclable and cheap to make. It’s usually used as bases of site furniture, for example, bench legs, umbrella bases, bases of signages. 

Cast Aluminum Alloy, is aluminum predominant metal, with additions of alloying elements, such as copper, tin, zinc, magnesium, etc, in order to strengthen properties of aluminum. Aluminum alloy is stiff, light weight, corrosion resistant, and 100% recyclable, which makes it favourable for making all parts of site furniture. Unfortunately, aluminum alloys are expensive to produce, so it’s often used as structural parts of site furniture, for example, legs of recycled plastic benches, lighting fixtures and outdoor signages. Since aluminum alloys are light, site furniture made of aluminum are required to be bolted down on concrete ground or walls for security in extreme weather conditions.

Concrete, is heavy and weather proof, but very brittle. Concrete can stand high steady pressure, so it is frequent to see concrete to be used as base of picnic tables, base of park benches, base of bollards, base of garbage bins and base of outdoor umbrellas. In recent years, concrete is less preferred as its heaviness and brittleness rise difficulty for handling, easy to crack, inflexible to shaping, and expensive to ship.

Mild Steel, a type of steel containing carbon content around 0.05-0.25%, with high stiffness and ductility is the most extensive basic material in the field of site furniture manufacturing. It’s usually used as structural frames, for example, frames of picnic tables, supportive beams under seats of recycled plastic benches, internal frames of recycling stations, etc. Thin carbon steels, such as steel sheet metal and steel bars that are 2-3 mm thickness, and steel rods with 10-15 mm diameter, are also used for seatings, table tops, outer shells of garbage bins, and any other surfaces. Technically, the whole site furniture can be made of carbon steel, thanks to its ease of formability, strong and stable physical properties. It is also 100% recyclable. Site furniture made of carbon steel are almost non-destructive. But the heavy weight and corrosive property requires more time and labors for cutting, welding, polishing and powder coating. Additionally, the prices of steel were not stable in recent years, which may confuse the customers from time to time. 

Wood, another basic material that is capable of making all parts of site furniture. Trees are a renewable source of materials. Wood is strong, flexible, and able to withstand all kinds of weather conditions. Nevertheless, it is life cycle as a raw material is very short, since under the exposure to heat, humidity and cold climate, wood tends to crack over the time. Sometimes, mould, bugs and even mushrooms can be found on wooden site furniture, in which case more cares need to be taken in order to maintain a good shape of them. On the other hand, the fading color, cracks and wear are favored by some architects and designers for the beauty of nature.

Plastic Wood Composite, is a composite of plastic and real wood grains. It inherits the advantages of both plastic and wood, e.g., ductile, durable, smooth surface, no corrosion and cracking, stable colors under sunlight, and maintenance free. Plastic wood composite is a new material introduced to the site furniture and outdoor renovation industry in recent years. It is harder and plastic and softer than wood, and so durable that many backyard decks and balcony floor tiles are made of plastic wood composite. The disadvantage of this material is high price and limited supply in the market.

Recycled Plastic Lumber, is lumbers made of recycled plastic, with additions of colors to mimic wood textures, and the most common types of plastics are High-density polyethylene (HDPE) and polystyrene (PS). Plastic lumbers are softer than wood and plastic wood composite, so there are metal frames to hold up the lumbers. The soft touch of plastic is comfort to sit and lay on. Plastic lumbers are also chemically stable, corrosion resistant, 100% recyclable and maintenance free.

Rubber, or more precisely rubber pads, is used on free standing site furniture, to protect the contacting points between site furniture and ground. Very little amount of rubber is consumed in this industry.

Stainless Steel, a high end material that can be used in all aspect of site furniture, and face only one problem that is the high cost. The cost of manufacturing stainless steel site furniture can be double or triple that of a steel or aluminum site furniture. It occasionally requested to be made for very salty / corrosive places, such as by the beach, or simply for the high end elegant look, for example, in a shopping mall.

03
STRUCTURAL DESIGN

You learned from the above of what materials are used to build a site furniture, and in this chapter we talk about designing site furniture with different materials properties in mind.

Experienced designers and technicians know not only how to select the materials for each part of the site furniture, but also the overall size, number of supporting frames, number of screws to secure the parts, etc. With different requirements from customers, our experts will adjust these parameters to make sure our product is safe, comfortable and convenience to use, aesthetically appealing, economical and durable. 

It is impossible to discuss all aspects of structural design, so here we show you three examples of circumstances of how to accomplish a proper structural design. 

Case 1. We had a customer ordered recycled plastic park benches SPB-109 to be 8’ long. Our standard length of this bench is 5’ or 6’, and comes with 2 legs. Even though there are steel frames across the length of the bench supporting the plastic lumbers underneath, when force is applied to the center of the bench, the resulting moment is too high and will bend the seat eventually. Our designer not only used a thicker steel bar attached to the bottom of lumber, but also added an extra leg in the middle of the bench, and the safety of final product is much more promising than that without the extra bench leg.

Commercial Recycled Plastic Park Bench SPB-109 Image 1
8′ long recycled plastic bench SPB-109, with extra bottom support

Case 2. The standard size of our garbage receptacle SPT-C15 is 42” in height and 22” in diameter, and total storage volume is 28 gallon. It’s originally made of 3 mm (1/8”) thick steel bars, welded and powder coated. As you can see from the picture below, two thirds of the shell could be opened to allow maintenance of the garbage liner. The door was connected by steel hinges that’s welded to the trash container. One of our customers wanted the same overall shape, but larger diameter at 25” and size of the door to be half of the cylinder, and total storage volume to be 50 gallon, which would increase the weight (approximately 80% more) of the door and higher load on the hinges. 

In short, we need to accomplish a solution to heavier larger sized door, but the size of hinges can’t be bigger, as they will overhaul the seamless shape of the trash receptacle. 

Our structural engineer came up with a simple solution that reducing thickness of steel bars on the door to 2 mm (1/16”), so that the original hinge was still strong enough to hold up the door safely, the opening is bigger, and the cost remained the same. Just by looking at the exterior, it was hardly to tell any differences from the original design.

Case 3. An landscape architect contacted us to custom make a backless surround tree bench. We designed a modular recycled plastic bench with concrete base, which enabled the architect to freely position the modules and form a unique layout. 

Modular Park Bench 1
Modular Park Bench 1

Another customer wanted a Gather-Up bench with back support, so that the bench built up a closed environment and was able to gather up about 15 people. We modified our existing park bench SPB-310 to form a curved inward modular bench, and four modular benches can complete a circle (see picture Modular Park Bench 2).

Modular Park Bench 2
Modular Park Bench 2

These two examples show how simple modifications and modular structural concept can enhance the flexibility of adapting park bench to specific purposes. 

Other custom structural modifications, such as a loveseat sized bench, lowering the seat height to make a Buddy Bench for kids, shrinking the overall size of a picnic table for kids, etc, are relatively common and easy. 

04
MANUFACTURING PROCEDURE

For better understanding of the craftsmanship and how to achieve the best quality, here is a brief list of general manufacturing procedure:

  1. Color matching, if applicable
  2. Ordering raw materials, such as steel sheet panel, plastic wood lumbers, etc.
  3. Fabrication of parts
  4. Welding / laser cut, if applicable
  5. Smoothening, including sanding, polishing and Poly-Putty Base filling
  6. Zinc spraying
  7. Powder coating
  8. Assembly (only applicable to trash receptacles); Assembly of some recycled plastic products
  9. Labelling and packaging

05
EXTERIOR FINISH

Upon finishing welding and polishing, structural parts made of mild steel and cast iron are required for powder coating for rust proof in all weather conditions, which will extend the life cycle of outdoor furniture. Following is the general powder coating process that Sunperk Site Furnishings applies, and other facilities may have slightly different procedure. However you could have a peek on the basics of powder coating.

Powder coating is a dry finishing process, which uses finely ground particles of pigment and resin that are electrostatically charged and evenly sprayed onto electrically grounded parts. The charged powder particles adhere to the parts and are held there until melted and fused into a smooth coating in a curing oven. Before coating, the parts to be coated are first prepared similarly to conventional liquid coated parts. Sunperk Site Furnishings has a fully equipped processing line for these steps. Following is the procedure of powder coating from start to finish.

sunperk-powder-coating-process
An illustration of layers of surface coating

Pretreatments

A complete pretreatment process will consist of: Cleaning, Rinsing, Conversion Coating, Seal Rinsing, and Drying and Cooling, which has been converting to environmentally friendly methods and materials in conjunction with the general industrial trend. The well-selected pretreatment processes can achieve these objectives. Not all of these methods work on all surfaces. The pretreatment will vary depending on the required final use of the substrate. One significant advantage of Sunperk’s pretreatment is that we have an extra step of Zinc Spraying, which can be viewed as an additional layer of protection of corrosion resistant and better adhesiveness of later coatings. This is a secret of long lasting site furniture from Sunperk Site Furnishings, and sometimes it is not applied by other manufacturers.

Powder Application

Electrostatic Powder Spraying is the method for processing this step. The extreme cost of the equipment exchanged our advantages compared with other coating methods:

  • Difficult shapes can be coated
  • Film thickness can vary
  • Simple and low cost for automation
  • Color can be changed relatively simply
  • No pre-heating of components required

The electrostatic spray process makes use of electrically charging the powder particles. The powder is delivered by a powder pump and a transport airflow system to the electrostatic spray gun. As the charged particles come close to the grounded work piece, electrostatic attraction causes the particles to deposit and adhere to the work piece.

Quality & Testing

To polymerize the powder applied to the substrate, we must heat both to a high temperature for a few minutes. This is the curing process. It is important to note that for any particular powder coating application, Sunperk Site Furnishings has technical specifications and quality standards to be met, which refer to specific tests and testing equipments. During the powder application process faults can occur, as with any other process. If the part cannot be utilized in a less critical or sensitive situation, it may either be repaired or scrapped. The possible rework actions include Sanding, Touch-up, Recoating, Double-curing, and Stripping.

As a manufacturer of high quality outdoor site furniture, Sunperk Site Furnishings offers a highly durable and superior finish for all of our metal collections in order to provide our valued customers a great outdoor experience. And most importantly, our quality powder coating is renowned for being environmentally responsible which contains no VOCs and solvents.

06
PERFORMING ASSEMBLY & INSTALLATION

Assembly of site furniture is relatively easy, as there are only few large parts for every final product. For example, a metal bench comes with 3 sections that are 2 benches legs and 1 seat panel. If the site furniture comes with many parts, such as recycled plastic picnic tables that have lumbers and over 50 screws to be fastened, the parts will be pre-assembled prior to delivery. Trash receptacles and recycling containers don’t even require assembly.

Majority of our products are heavy, so for safety and anti-theft, it is highly recommended to secure our product on the concrete with provided stainless steel ground (expansion) bolts. What concerns customers the most is the installation of ground bolts on concrete. It is required a electric drill to prepare holes on concrete ground, and probably a rubber mallet for easier insertion of the ground bolts. For a more comprehensive understanding of installing the ground bolts, please refer to the following video.

We recommend these tools for all assembly and installation of site furniture: cordless electric drill, wrench, rubber mallet and cross head screwdriver. All assembly should be performed on the original cardboards, to avoid damage from the floor.

07
HOW TO SELECT SPECIFIC SITE FURNITURE

In above chapters, we gave a general idea of site furniture, from production to installation, which were more focused on the perspective from a manufacturer. Based on the knowledge we have, in this chapter, we will tell you how to choose site furniture from each major category from a customer’s perspective. The most in demand products are picnic tables, park benches, and trash receptacles and recycling stations, and we will talk about them as the key topics.

7.1 Selecting picnic tables

Confused about what commercial grade picnic table to go with? Here are some tips for choosing.

Functionality

Functionality is the most vital aspect of a commercial picnic table. Seating and comfort for all who visit your space is a priority. Functionality includes number of seats, ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) / Handicap / Wheelchair accessibility, availability of a backrest, availability of an umbrella hole, and the overall size of the picnic table itself. The sizes of picnic tables matter for locations with confined spaces.

Layout

Layout options consist of 2 primary choices.  First consider 2-sided or surrounded seating. Picnic tables with surrounded seats save space when compared to the 2-side seating layout. But the 2-side seating is more relaxing. Next consider the position of the benches, they can be fixed or free standing. With the surrounded seating option the maximum number of seats is six, and the seats are all fixed to the table by steel tubes. Picnic tables with free positioning benches can be set to the preferred spacing at installation.

Materials and colors

Sunperk offers a variety of material from which to choose, including: perforated steel panel, flat steel bar, mesh steel, wide and narrow recycled plastic lumber. The materials are customizable for all of our picnic tables. For example, you can choose the perforated panels instead of recycled plastic lumbers for one specific model. Colors are fully customizable too. There are an unlimited number of material and color combinations for a picnic table that’s tailor made to your choosing. It is always recommended to use two different colors of frames and seats tops / table tops.

7.2 Selecting park benches

Don’t worry if you are absent minded about which metal park bench would suit your project. Below please find a guide to help you choose.

Functionality

The most vital aspect when selecting a seating solution is how functional the commercial metal park bench will be.
The first decision you should make is whether the bench needs to be with or without a backrest or armrests. Consider whether either or both of these would compromise the purpose for which the bench is needed. Would a backrest or armrests adversely affect the situation and conditions where the bench is to be sited?

For example, if the bench is sited next to a wall, there would be no need of a backrest, but it would probably require armrests on the two sides.

Alternatively, in places like bus stops and fast food stores, where there is a high flow of customers who are not expected to stay for long, neither a backrest or armrests are likely to be needed.

When choosing metal benches, your imagination and spatial sense are all important.

Style

The appearance of metal benches is affected by a number of factors: the general shape, the layout of the seating, the pattern or shape, and of course the color.

General Shape

The general shape is defined by whether the bench has a backrest and/or armrests. If the bench has these then the seating solution is likely to give a more comfortable feel and a more relaxed seating experience.

Public benches are popular spots to have a break, but where there are crowds, there are potential conflicts. It is welcomed to share the benches with everyone rather than lie down on the benches and take advantage of people’s kindness. In addition, some places are locked down at night and visitors are required to leave, e.g., financial district, schools, or a observation deck on the top of a mountain as the above photo indicates. One other major concerns from our customers are skateboarders who glide on everything.

In these cases, our customers appeal to the simple solution of dividers, so that users won’t be able to lie on the benches or cause any damages, and in no possibility that they would sleep on the bench overnight within your property. Especially in the cold winters of northern cities, it is extremely dangerous to stay up outside.

Ski resort and skateboarding park sometimes intentionally provide park bench and picnic tables as features to glide on, in which case the armrests are to be opted out.

Height of benches could be lowered to fit the height of children in places like schools and playgrounds. This kind of bench is so called Buddy Bench.

Layout of the Bench

The layout of a metal park bench may include a large single seat capable of seating a few people, or separated seats suitable for individuals.

An example of a single large seat is one into which three people can easily fit. This style of layout tends to encourage people to share the spaces as well as contributing towards making the site more friendly and peaceful.

Separated seats, on the other hand, are more ordered, and allow people to sit separately. Sometimes they are so ordered then can be reminiscent of a queue.

Patterns of materials

The patterns of metal benches are many and varied. The choices available are:

• Perforated steel panels

• Mesh steel

• Steel round bars

• Steel flat bars

• Laser cut steel panels

It is worth remembering that the more material metal benches use, the steadier and heavier they will look.

7.3 Selecting trash receptacles & recycling stations

Sanitary is one of the most important requirements of a public area. It not only affects the experience of users, but also public health, which is why governments, municipal boards and property managements invest money on the trash receptacles and recycling stations, and labors on maintenance. In this section, we will be introduce you to the key features of trash receptacles and recycling stations for consideration at purchasing.

Layout

If you browse the internet for photos of garbage containers, you will find out that the majority of shapes of the overall structures are cylindrical and cubic. They are either containers with single compartment, or a station with few compartments. It is also possible but uncommon to use multiple stand alone units to sort garbages into different categories that usually are food wastes, recyclables and other wastes. 

Hardwares

Since trash receptacles and recycling stations involve collecting garbages, storage and maintenance, in various environment, there are a number of hardwares that are attached or embedded on the main structure, such as handles, auto close top lids, rain proof doors, step-to-open shutter, animal resistant doors, ashtray, locks, liners, advertisement insertion panels, decorative fixtures.

Custom logos are mandatory for recycling stations, to indicate categories of garbages for each cabinet. Following photo is an example of screen printing logos on a recycling station. Screen printing is long lasting and won’t fade over time.

logos on recycling container
Custom logos on a recycling container

Materials and textures

The materials used on garbage receptacles and containers include but not limited to 

  • Perforated steel sheet panel with patterns of dots, square, stars, etc.
  • Welded steel bar
  • Welded steel rods
  • Recycled plastic lumbers
  • Stainless steel panel
  • Laser cut sheet panel
  • Stone

Certain suppliers sell plastic garbage receptacles. We highly doubt the durability and capacity of load. Please be cautious when purchasing any fully plastic constructed outdoor site furniture, which could hardly be labelled as commercial grade.

Over time, we will be polishing this guide to make sure you are updated with the latest knowledge of site furniture industry.