This old beam measures 15 inches on each side, and is six and a half feet long. Although pierced by two large bolts, it has a bright future...
The excitement associated with reclaiming old lumber never seems to fade. In March my friend Jeff pointed me towards a discard pile at a local construction site, and with the company’s blessing we were able to pick out a selection of beams with some good life left in them. The building was originally a factory built in 1870, so it was full of old-growth pine. The floor boards were a full three inches thick, and even with the grooves trimmed the finished blanks are still a healthy 5 1/2″ wide. Some re-sawn sections can stretch to seven inches wide. There had been a fire, and most of the wood was coated with a thick layer of soft wax. Although this is likely to affect subsequent finish work, it also has a preservative effect. I used one of the beams to make this custom mantel (below) for a friend’s new home. There was some tear-out on the top face of the beam that needed patching, so I decided to try my hand at making an inlay. Since this was for a book artist and a newly married couple, the imagery suggested itself.
The finished mantle. Cracks and nail holes, visible on the top face, have been filled with black pigment. The front face is clear with perfect, rift-sawn grain.
You can get a glimpse of the tight annual rings here, and the shift from the pink heartwood to the blond sapwood.
This is the finished inlay, which serves as both a meaningful decoration and a practical patch. Everyone should have at least one book on their mantel, right?
The first step of the inlay process was to clean up the tear-out around a large nail hole, which is visible here in the center of the recess. I used a piece of cherry as the book cover.
I needed a couple of book-matched pieces for the pages, of course, and was pleased to be able to trim this spalted maple in such a way as to reveal the "heart" at the top of the book. After inlaying these two pieces, I cut two slices of pine with suitably curved grain to create the dimensional effect of the stacked pages (see finished inlay, above).