I recently traveled to Galax, VA to visit with some old friends. While there, I had the chance to go by a little place that takes old barns, etc. that are about to be torn down and salvages the wood. They had the reclaimed wood sorted by species, and had pine, walnut, oak, cedar and chestnut. Most everyone has heard about “wormy chestnut” wood – they make flooring and paneling that has the look of wormy chestnut. The chestnut at this little place was the real deal. Very wormy. Very distressed. And it had a ton of character.
Chestnut is essentially no longer available, since almost no trees have survived the blight. It is hard to tell how the wood will come out when it is as rough as this lumber was. But I had a project in mind, and was thinking that this reclaimed chestnut might be the perfect material.
I didn’t have a lot of room to transport lumber, so I only bought about 20 board feet, some about 1 inch thick, and a couple of short sections of 2 x 6. Most of the nails had been removed, though I found a few more when I got it home. My planer blades also found one that I hadn’t, but those blades were due for replacement anyway. The photo to the left shows one board planed down, with the rest of the stock as it was. (Click the photo to see a larger image.)
My sister-in-law is a quilt maker, and she has talked about making us a quilt. She does beautiful work, and we spent some time on a recent visit with her looking at fabrics and patterns. She had mentioned wanting a quilt stand, so this seemed like the stock which would make a nice, rustic one.
I really like the Mission/Arts and Crafts/ Greene and Greene styles of furniture, and draw from some of their elements in my work. So, with that as a starting point, I evaluated the wood I had bought once it was planed and trimmed of unusable sections. My design had to be constructed from the wood available. I put pencil to paper early one morning and came up with a concept — even in the age of Sketch-up, I still like the feel of a pencil on a piece of graph paper. I can use Sketch-up, but it seems that I take more time on the technicalities of the program than I do on the design. With a pencil, an eraser, and a sheet of graph paper, my thoughts stay on the design, not how to portray it on a screen. After I have a concept on paper, I can refine it in Sketch-up and put together some more readable detail drawings.
I wanted to incorporate some of the “cloud” curves of Greene and Greene, and also the simple straight lines of Stickley, into a simple, straight-forward design. I also had one idea for making a “quilt square” from wood as a decorative element. I used only reclaimed wood with the exception of the quilt square. In addition to the chestnut, the little wedges in the ends of the through tenons are made from black walnut salvaged from an old piano.
When the sawdust had cleared, here’s what was on the workbench:
Chestnut is a very easy wood to work. It is very light, cuts and planes easily, and takes a nice finish. I used a garnet shellac for the first coat, and will continue the finish process with an oil finish.
I normally use Titebond III glue for most everything I build. This piece is held together with Hide Glue, the kind that can be bought already as a liquid in a bottle. It has a much longer open time, and with all the little tenons to be glued, that was important. With the intense heat only serving to shorten the drying time of Titebond III, I was afraid that the glue would be dry before I could get it all assembled and clamped.
The worm holes, nail holes and other distressed features give the piece a rustic look. The overall dimensions turned out to be about 35″ tall, 34″ wide, and 13″ deep.
To make the wooden quilt square, I cut and glued up maple and padouk woods into a block, and then sliced it into thin sheets on the band saw. This was my first attempt at creating an inlay like this, and I am happy with the results. The design itself is a traditional quilt pattern called a diamond star.
The through tenons ended up rotated 45 degrees, and the wedge was placed vertically to mimic the triangles in the quilt design. The cross pieces were trimmed to a hexagonal shape, with the last inch or so remaining square where the tenon formed.
A couple of years ago I built a steamer trunk from quartersawn white oak. (Click HERE to see the trunk) I may try to build a similar truck from reclaimed chestnut as a future project.