Tag Archives: reclaimed

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).

fringe benefits

Back in the fall of 2011 I started collecting green wood from dump piles around town, and since I kept coming across new species I was soon gathering wood faster than I could use it.  In order to keep the green wood from checking before I could mill it or put it on the lathe, I took to stashing it in large plastic trash bags underneath the tables in my shop.  Some of that wood is still hanging around, including a section of figured maple that gave birth to this beauty:

My friends Garret and Sarah had come down to the shop for a tour one evening, and as Sarah rounded a table she asked, “Is that a mushroom?”  Indeed.  It had to have sprung up very quickly, as it would have been difficult for me to miss for more than a day or two.

As much as I love edible wild plants, I’ve always been timid about wild mushrooms.  But thanks to the distinctive morphology and complimentary spray of spores, I was able to identify these as Oyster Mushrooms– good eating!  I sampled a small section, and after no ill effects proceeded to fry up a plate full the next day.  I’d guess that the total weight of the harvest was about three pounds.  I gave half of it to my friends (finder’s fee!) and dried the rest for use in soups.


corner cabinet

I built this corner cabinet as a Christmas present for Christine.  It is made entirely of reclaimed wood, but is particularly special to us because the door and face frame are made from our home’s original electrical panel box.  I’ve been holding onto it for 12 years, thinking about the most appropriate use for the large door.  I settled on the corner cabinet as a way to maximize space in our bedroom, which is dominated by large windows.  The latch and hinges are the original hardware, but I inverted the door in order to have the latch at a better height.    By extending the sides of the cabinet straight back from the face, I gained better shelf space and allowed the door to clear the window ledge when it swings open.  The color on the interior of the cabinet panels was suggested by some reclaimed plywood shelving, and I mixed a new batch of paint to clean it up.  Both sides of the back panels are painted.  I made a children’s table with a similar color scheme last summer, which you can see here.  I just like the way the aqua blue/green colors look next to the wood.

The cabinet has four adjustable shelves, and the rear pin can be dropped about four inches in order to allow the shelves to angle down, creating a "bin". This makes them handy for socks and small items.

The cabinet top is made out of two pieces of short-leaf pine.

New Work at The Chapel


orange lips and fingertips, acrylic and oil on canvas, 56"x62", 2012

On Sunday orange lips and fingertips (pictured above) made its debut at The Chapel, a gallery that operates in association with Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, MO.  I’m showing four recent paintings alongside folded paper works by Marguerite Corey and photographs by Sylvester Jacobs.  If you missed the public reception, you can catch the show again on November 11 or by appointment (info@johnsarra.com).  Each of these paintings addresses concerns of gain and loss by way of memory, consumption, and death, reflecting upon what we take and what we leave behind.

smoke-shaped forest, ink, shellac, and oil on paper, 22"x30", 2012

I thought that I had finished smoke-shaped forest back in May (see the post from May 8, below), but ended up reworking the painting in early October.  The rising embers seemed to resonate with the blowing/falling cheese puffs, and as a result this piece edged out the competition for inclusion in the exhibition.  It’s another meditation on gains and losses, a depiction of cleared land with irregular trees and stumps scraped into a burn pile while the city throws its own light up over the horizon.  I’ll need to post a future image including the frame, which I made out of reclaimed quarter-sawn red oak.  The distinctive medullary rays provide a contrast to the starkness of the image, and its reclaimed nature (made evident by a few nail holes) is intended as an argument on behalf of both use and preservation.