Category Archives: custom furniture

memory and usefulness in red oak

Some friends had to remove a large pin oak from their back yard, as it was declining and would soon pose a hazard to their house.  They were sectioning most of the large branches and upper trunk for firewood, but were interested when I mentioned the possibility of milling some of the trunk for use in something that would last longer.  So began our adventure of brainstorming and design work, which appears to be leading us toward a coffee table and a console made from the quarter-sawn lumber.  Here are a few photos showing the transition from the original trunk to fresh sawn lumber.  The wood is currently air drying, but will be finished in a kiln this fall.

Here's the log set up on the portable mill, ready for the first cut.

When quarter-sawn, the oak reveals its striking medullar rays. There is a strong contrast between heart and sap wood, and some interesting irregularities within this wood.

We ended up with a generous stack of select cuts, most of which is 4/4 (one inch thick) stock. I kept a few pieces at 8/4 in order to have options for legs and structural members.

I'll be book matching consecutive cuts for the tops, perhaps maintaining a natural edge or two.

I’m not typically a big fan of red oak, but this one was cut effectively to reveal good flecking and a few pleasant surprises in color variation.  Last year I found a red oak crotch piece where two trunks had grown almost parallel to each other for several feet, and the grain went wild along the merging edges.  I turned two shallow bowls out of it, one of which is pictured below.

natural edge red oak bowl, 2013 (private collection)

detail of the burl, spalting, and bark inclusion

Opening a piece of wood is like unwrapping a present.  Further cutting, surfacing, and construction reveal qualities that shape meaning through function and aesthetic experience.  When this is coupled with a memory of the raw materials, a personal history that preceded the wood’s cultural usefulness, it presents a unique opportunity for a living memorial– one that can maintain vitality and relevance in daily life instead of sliding ever deeper into a mysterious past.

Regional Arts Commission Artist Support Grant

I was excited to learn that I received one of the Regional Arts Commission’s Artist Support Grants this summer.  My proposal was a request for funds to purchase a large-capacity band saw for use in re-sawing some of the reclaimed and green wood that I have been using so much lately.  Can’t wait to purchase the tool and seeing what takes shape in the studio.  Many thanks to RAC for so generously and effectively supporting the arts in the Midwest.  25 out of 185 applicants received funding– here is a list of the winners and a brief description of their project proposals:

July 1, 2013: Spring/Summer 2013 RAC ARTISTS SUPPORT GRANTS

Regional Arts Commission (RAC) Artists Support Grants are designed to provide direct funds for artists’ projects, needs, and creative opportunities in all disciplines. Direct support enables diverse artists of all disciplines to advance their careers. It is designed to be flexible and accessible and to encourage creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship and sustained commitment to artistic work. The awards to 25 artists for the Spring/Summer round ranged from $640 to $3000.

Alec Herschman (Literature) Published poet producing first book length poetry project and website. Funds for time and space to complete project.

Amy Loui (Theater) Attending classes at the International Theatre Lab in Austria with master theatre director Sergei Ostrenko in a specific technique to advance her work as an actor.

Bill Perry (Visual Art – Ceramics) Purchasing kiln and set-up materials in his studio for bird sanctuary project as well as advancing his other ceramic work.

Carlie Trosclair (Visual Art – Installation) First New York exhibition – Materials and expenses for a new site-specific installation in DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) area gallery.

Cat Mahari Johnson (Dance) Choreography and multi-media production of “the floor” based on the African American tradition of stepping.

Daniel Fishback (Visual Art – Painting) Painting workshops with master artist Todd Williams in Arkansas as well some supplies and materials.

Daniel John Kelly (Theater) Acquisition of green screen for video production projects with St. Louis students studying Shakespeare.

Denise Ward Brown (Visual Art – Installation) Production, equipment, and documentation about Civil War era soldiers re-interned at Jefferson Barracks using “Ken Burns” technique for film and art installations as well as for integration with a book about use of protective charms in African/African American cultures.

Grace Hong (Visual Art – Interactive) Materials, space, and equipment for creating an interactive arts project based on a game titled “ESC: Running into the Present.”

Ilene Berman (Visual Art – Installation) Design and fabrication of mobile art studio north of Grand Center called Room13 Delmar that is designed to engage communities.

JaNae Contag (Visual Art – Film/Video) Documenting (and transforming through film) vacant spaces in suburban and exurban American – particularly empty malls around the Midwest as “ghosts” of commerce.

Jessica Baran (Literature) Support for some of prize-winning writer’s travel expenses for her book tour for her recently published book of poetry, “Equivalents.”

John Sarra (Visual Art – Wood) Sculptor acquiring special saw as a way to increase capacity for using reclaimed wood in his work.

Joseph LaMarque (Visual Art – Multi) Artist will acquire metal sculpting equipment as well as instruction in its use adding to his skill set as a sculptor.

Kirk Hanser (Music – classical) Accomplished musician – part of classical guitar duo (Hanser- McClellan Guitar Duo) – will use funds for October 2013 European tour. He will play in concert as well as instruct in Austria, Germany and France.

Liam Cassidy (Multi-media – sound) Sound equipment for “Cheap Fun” – an innovative, artist- driven podcast featuring short stories.

Lois Ingrum (Visual Art – Photography) Equipment and production of continuing documentation of grassroots memorials as well as helping to expand exhibition capabilities.

Marilyn Robinson (Visual Art – Photography) Production of a DVD of documentation of Super Sunday celebrations in NOLA. These celebrate the uniquely New Orleans tradition of “Black Indians” – African American social/neighborhood clubs that create elaborate costumes for parading.

Mario Farwell (Music + Theater) Composing and production of new work – an original musical called “Starfest.”

Noah Kirby (Visual Art – Sculpture) Time, space & materials for new body of large scale collaborative sculptures for exhibition at National Ornamental Metals Museum (Memphis) in February 2014.

Rebecca Ormand (Visual Art – Film) Production of multi-media film using 3D and 2D techniques. Footage of St. Louis historic sites and building are the theme.

Robert Longyear (Visual Art – Metal/Multi) Materials and expenses for creating new body of work for exhibition at Indiana State Galleries.

Rosalind Early (Literature) Researching and creating writing pieces documenting the history of an Afro-Caribbean traditional festival called Odunde that has taken place in Philadelphia.

Sarah Paulsen (Visual Art – Animation) Stop-motion animation film production – examining all sides of the events leading up to and in the aftermath of Kirkwood City Council shooting. Working in collaboration with a group of “unintentional women activists” brought together after the death of Councilwoman Connie Karr.

Stephen Peirick (Theater) First production of new full length play “Four Sugars.”
The next round for RAC Artists Support Grants opens September 9 with an October 15 deadline.

All submissions are through . For more information, 314/863-5811.


reclaimed wood

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).

diamonds in the rough

This spring I was fortunate to come across a few good city trees waiting to be salvaged from dump sites.  The largest was this maple, pictured below.

The lumpy exterior suggested the possibility of a surprising interior, and I wasn’t disappointed.

One end of the section was a large crotch with honey colored heartwood and strong figure.  The length of the trunk was peppered with clusters of birds-eyes that show up on flat-sawn sections, while quarter-sawing stretches the figure into iridescent ribbons.  This was the largest chunk of a tree that I have salvaged to date, and since I was working alone it was necessary to section the wood into manageable pieces.  Fortunately, I can manage a large piece.  But getting them out of the truck is always easier than getting them into it.

I had been wanting to mill up some of the green wood that I’ve been collecting into slabs and planks, so this seemed like a good chance to give it a try.  Since a learning opportunity is also a teaching opportunity, I enlisted two of my students to help with the project.  It was an experiment to see how well short stock could be milled on a large capacity band saw rather than on a portable mill.  We were successful cutting book-matched slabs out of several sections of the maple, and the wood is now air drying.  It should be ready for use by the end of next summer.  Many thanks to Michael O. and Zach S. for lending a hand.

Some of the smaller sections were suitable for bowl blanks, and one of the resulting bowls is pictured below.  It is about 10.5″ in diameter, and the curvature of the bowl captures the transition of the figure as the orientation of the grain shifts.  As usual, the wood distorted slightly as it dried.  The slight distortion gave the bowl a graceful energy and played up the textural illusion caused by the curly figure.