Thick, rustic hardwood slabs tell the life story of a tree – the more imperfections, the more beautiful and interesting the wood. Working with this wood is my passion, and the very reason I chose to pursue creating specialty hardwood furniture. I love every step in the process: my search for great logs, and the milling of those logs, the moment when the logs’ heartwood is revealed.
It’s hard for me to describe what it’s like seeing a freshly milled and heavily figured wood slab cut for the first time – a big surprise and just so exciting to see. I’m talking about big trees, short and stout. They live in suburbia, city centers and alone on edges of corn fields. Here in Southeastern Pennsylvania most of these big trees that are sought after for furniture making are hardwoods: the Maples, Oaks, Walnuts, and Cherry. These are the species most known for their gorgeous figuring, trees that are a hundred years old or older, majestic but, for whatever reason, must be cut down. These are trees that have grown shorter with massive trunks and limbs and often have scars from natural occurring injuries such as from lightning and wind. Their limbs are expansive, creating huge crotches. These are the trees with amazing grain patterns, knots, and splits.
I believe there are few natural materials as beautiful as wood. I also believe the intense figure of wood is nothing short of the purest form of nature. Much effort is put forth processing this wood–often these old trees carry remnants of their past such as barbwire or nails. Careful sawing not only best utilizes the wood but also saves saw bands.
There are so many species of wood available with their own beautiful character, especially our local hardwoods. For me, much of what I look for is black walnut, if for no other reason, for its rich color tones and extraordinary grain patterns as illustrated in the Walnut photos below. Yes, Black Walnut is known for its intense figuring but also for its customary imperfections, its knots crevices and splits – b. walnut is also fairly easy to dry without concern for warpage.
The walnut table top shown below is a great example of what I consider to be very rustic, live-edge table – minimalist style with a robust feel. The table top is a solid 34” wide by 74” long flitch with a 2/3rds split. The split was sandblasted then fitted with Ash Wood Bow-tie Inlays – the split itself is filled with solid transparent epoxy. Off to the right and left of the split are knot crevices which are also filled with epoxy. The edges of the slab are lightly sanded as to not take away the worm trails left behind; these add a tremendous amount of character. The photo of the Windsor Live-Edge Settee shows contrasting dark b. walnut live-edge seat, with White Ash spindles, arm, and legs. The Settee’s b. walnut wedged tenons add sophistication and interest.
Maple is another wood that is typically heavily figured, making it very interesting. There are a number of Maple species and here in Southeastern Pennsylvania the Red or Silver are much sought after. An interesting aspect of Maple is the by-products – “Ambrosia, Spalted, and Wormy Maple.” All of these terms describe a specific condition. Ambrosia Maple has been infested by the ambrosia beetle. The beetles bore into the tree, and with it bring fungus that discolors the wood. “Spalted Maple” describes Maple that has been allowed to begin the initial stages of decay and then kiln dried (preventing further decay). Shown here are beautiful examples of Spalted Silver Maple, which have been planed, but are unfinished. I look forward to using them and creating eye-catching pieces of furniture.
Perhaps the most important aspect of working with this special wood is that we are saving it; we are saving it. All of this wood comes to us from tree service companies that removed the trees due to storm damage or because they had become a structural risk. These big old trees are unsuitable for fine furniture manufacturers because they are too large in diameter for typical sawmills. If we’re lucky, we find these big logs before they become firewood. Transforming these rough cut wood slabs into exquisitely finished pieces of natural beauty is, in my opinion, the ultimate tribute to the tree they came from.
Once finished, the eye-catching furniture will find its rightful space and become the dominant piece in a room to be used and admired. What better way to utilize this beautiful salvaged wood.