Exciting times are upon the Chismar family. My wife Amy is branching out and starting her own massage business full-time. A stickler for decor, Amy requested my woodworking skills to build her a live edge desk for her new office. Of course I jumped on the opportunity for such an impressive project! The two of us made the short journey to Boards and Beams in Fairfield, NJ to shop some slabs. We spent about an hour examining what was available and selected an eight foot long sycamore slab, three feet wide at one end and about a foot and a half at the other.
We loaded the slab into my vehicle and brought it home. We didn’t have a place to put it, so we left it in the car for a for a few days (not a great idea) until I built a pair of sawhorses to support the slab while I worked on it outdoors. The weekend arrived, sawhorses built and the slab was placed on the sawhorses. Reluctantly I inspected the slab for likely warping from sitting in the car unsupported. To my surprise the slab was perfect. Whew!
I went to work creating two grooves on the underside of the slab at each end to attach lumber to prevent the slab from cupping. Over the next week or two the slab remained outside while I shaped and prepared the surface for finishing. The autumn weather finally turned and brought rain and cold, the slab needed to be moved into the house. With little room to place the slab in our home I decided the kitchen was most suitable as a temporary workshop.
A day or two passed and something didn’t look right. I grabbed a straight board and placed it on the slab. Yup, the thing started to cup. At the time I didn’t have the supports attached because the slab was so stable. The change of environment didn’t agree with the slab. In a hurry I purchased several one inch steel square tubes to create extra supports to halt the cupping. On the underside of the slab I cut a one inch wide dado across the grain every sixteen inches down the length of the slab. The square steel tubes were placed in the dados and fastened with lag bolts through elongated holes in the steel to allow the natural movement of the slab. The photo reveals the closest steel tube with elongated holes, the photo was taken before the holes were lengthened on the other.
I also inlaid the stem and leaf Innerstasis logo to the top surface of the desk. Two bow-ties were added to the slab as well to hold together a thin weak spot near the front edge. To accomplish this, both the inlay and bow-ties were traced on the surface and a router was used to remove the inside material. The inlay and bow-ties were then glued into place. The leg of the desk is a section of a cedar tree trunk a friend gave me from his yard. The cedar bark was removed and the surface was sanded before applying finish.
This was a fun project that required a few weekends of work to complete correctly. A bonus is the cupping of the slab has reduced to almost flat, thanks to the steel braces hidden underneath. One of the amazing things about woodworking is most of the labor occurs in the unseen areas of the finished piece. And this desk was not an exception to this rule.
Life has been busy lately but I’ve managed to knock out a quick folk art ‘ball in cage’ whittling. This piece started as a young sassafras tree I found uprooted by a storm. I collected up all the usable sections and took them home for safe storage.
As seen in the photo, I used a pencil to draw the spiral on the wood. Using only my folding pocket knife I whittled away the waste wood, leaving a section in the center to become the trapped ball. With the three spiral supports roughed out I used my pocket knife and a small rasp to shape the ball.
Happy with the form I separated the ball from the supports. The final clean up was performed with the rasp and a drug store emery board. When I find time I’ll add some oil to pretty it up.
This past weekend I put the final touches on the sycamore burl hall table. The sycamore wood was like a magic sponge infinitely soaking in tung oil. I seriously applied at least ten coats before the finish was even.
I waited a week to allow the oil to cure. Then I sanded the finish to prepare it for finishing by hand. I brought out the elbow grease and sweat and went to town with mineral oil and steel wool. Once the finish was silky to the touch with a soft luster I continued buffing with oiled thousand grit sandpaper and rottenstone for the final touch.
This table started as a log placed on the curb for trash. A few years in the making and a bunch of trial and error work but I think the end result worked out nicely.
Back in April 2012 Amy was walking our standard poodle Fleur in Glen Ridge, NJ a town very near where we live. While on the walk she came across a section of sycamore wood on the curb waiting to be removed on trash day. She sent a photo of the stump to me with the message, “Do you want this?” I responded immediately with an enthusiastic, “Yes!” When she returned home Amy jumped in the car and, with the help of neighbor, loaded the stump into her vehicle.
The stump remained in the driveway until September 2013 when I found some time to chainsaw the stump into slabs to expedite drying. The wood was riddled with hundreds of insects and critters of all shapes and sizes. I exterminated what I could with pesticides and sealed each slab in black plastic bags to bake in the hot sun to kill whatever remained. Somewhat satisfied everything was terminated I stacked the slabs in the loft of my shed.
In March 2014 I built a small side table out of the smallest of the slabs. This side table was featured alongside the remaining slabs at my 2014 Newark Maker Faire exhibit. The exhibit, titled Urban Lumberjack, was a collection of things I built from tree branches and stumps found during dog walking outings. My sister Joanne fell in love with the side table and even more so with one of the larger unprocessed slabs. She asked me to make a hall table for her with the larger slab – and has probably lost hope in the passing years.
Earlier this month I found myself caught up on weekend projects. I ventured out to the shed and removed the sycamore slab from the rafters and planed both sides to an appropriate thickness. The task is always more laborious than I think it’s going to be. This past weekend I added a second butterfly to the sycamore slab prevent a growing crack from expanding and cut mortises on the underside for each table leg. Lovely cherry wood purchased from a local supplier was used to make three tapered legs.
It seems as though the project will be complete soon. Time will tell. The legs need to be attached and all the surfaces require a thorough final sanding. Once everything is sanded and assembled the process of applying finish can begin. This project continues to be fun and challenging and I think I’m going to have a hard time letting this one go to a new home.
2015 is here, January is almost over and I haven’t posted one thing on my blog. Shame on me. In my defense I’ve been busy with home brew, home improvements and a zillion other tiny projects I’m trying to get in order.
One of the projects that’s been keeping me busy is making rustic candle table decorations for a very special, up and coming family celebration. On my hikes I’ve been selecting the best bits of wood with perfect bark and moss. Once I have it home I quickly dry it and cut the wood into interesting sections.
With a pile of pretty sections I plane a flat base on the bottom of each and remove a column of wood to fit the tea candle. This is a fun project, however finding ways to store everything in my small shop is not an easy task.
I’ve been busy in the workshop with whirligig parts for eBay and also organizing the many tools and wood inventory I’ve accumulated over the years. The limited space requires rearranging half the shop to make an area to work with each individual tool. I will give the workshop a complete overhaul one of these days, but to make room I need unleash my inner artist on some of the beautiful wood specimens I’ve personally collected from Mother Nature.
This particularly spectacular specimen I found in my stash while preparing for the Newark Maker Faire. With this branch I created an exhibit illustrating various ways wood is milled. My plan was to use the wood for kindling after the faire because planing such tiny pieces of wood is generally not worthwhile. The beautiful grain and imperfections charmed their way from the flames and into the workshop. One of the big problems with working with small pieces of lumber is figuring out what to build with it.
I allowed the wood to dictate the direction without taxing my brain exploring potential projects. After planing each board to an equal thickness I placed the boards on the bench exploring various combinations. I started joining pieces together without a specific destination in mind. I’ve titled the result of this process “hashtag coasters”. The four coasters can be arranged in various artful ways or used for beverages when the situation arises.
A storm fallen tree branch has culminated several years later as this piece of art representing hours of thoughtful work of hand and mind.
A friend expressed interest in wood grain and the processes involved in its construction. I shared a link to a Project Gutenberg EBook titled Seasoning of Wood by Joseph B Wagner, an excellent reference for anyone interested in wood and lumber. The response I received regarding the book included an appreciation for the images of insect damage to trees. Immediately my mind went straight to a small piece of sycamore I’ve had on my workbench for quite some time.
The wood is actually from the sycamore stump End Table (2014) is made from. Over the past months I’ve picked this piece of wood up to chuck it into the firewood bin; I didn’t have the heart to burn it. When I learned my friend was intrigued by insect damaged wood I went to work smoothing the surface and applying finish. Once the wood was all prettied up I packed it and sent it to my friend. Hopefully my friend won’t mind the wood cluttering up their space.
It’s official! Saturday, April 5, 2014 I am presenting an exhibit titled “Urban Lumberjack” at the Greater Newark (NJ) Maker Faire. Urbandictionary defines “Urban Lumberjack” as, “A city dweller who makes a habit of wearing plaids and flannel although he or she has little to no outdoor experience.” This flavor of Urban Lumberjack does not interest me.
Unlike the hipster variety, real Urban Lumberjacks utilize natural, raw materials from their urban environment. Storm damaged trees and curbside trash provides a bounty of supplies to a person with knowhow and willingness to work. Items I created from such treasures will include a side table cut from a curbside tree stump and a sculpture of Adventure Time BMO (Beemo) carved from a section of fallen forest oak tree. See you there!