A Complete Process

“Temporary? Put a date on it.”

I’d grown used to that phrase during the winter of 2007 and spring of 2008. When we first moved into Gypsy (our house) we set up a camp table for food preparation and to have a place to eat. Gypsy’s interior was nothing but bare walls. Not to worry, though. I’d drawn up plans for all the built-in components I’d soon be completing.

During the first months after we’d moved in I installed many “temporary” pieces of the interior furnishings. Plywood countertops, scrap-wood shelving, they were all intended to get us by for what I thought would be a short period of time before I’d find the time to complete the permanent built-in pieces.

Marion seemed to know better, though. Those temporary furnishings would be around for a while.

Yesterday, another piece of “temporary” was removed from the house when I completed the dining nook. Let’s see, the temporary plywood platforms (supported by scraps of oak flooring) and MDF table (photo above) had served us for five and a half years. Temporary? It’s a relative thing, right?

As with most things, the new dining nook has a story to tell. It began in the spring of 2009, a few months after moving Gypsy to this mountainside. A tall maple had been toppled by the wind down near the southern end of our land. When we headed down the road with a six-foot crosscut saw to buck it up, we were thinking heat. A tree like that would provide an entire winter’s worth of firewood. (We require only about ¾ of a cord of wood per year to heat Gypsy.)

We were very much the novice sawyers when we arrived at that tree. I hadn’t used a crosscut saw since high school days and Marion was following my lead. For the two of us, those first cuts were a lot of work. If any observers had been present I’m sure they would have found the scene quite comical. They would have seen Marion essentially holding on as she was being jerked this way then that at the end of a saw that I thought I could master with nothing more than brute force.  The picture of efficiency we weren’t.

By the time we’d made two cuts, separating the base of the tree into two six foot lengths, I stopped to look at the quality of the wood. What I found was a very healthy 70-80 year-old maple. It hadn’t been rot that brought it down, just strong wind. We decided that we’d set the lower sections of that tree aside for furniture.

We didn’t know any local sawyers yet. I began asking around, eventually finding someone with a portable sawmill in nearby Sharon, but I didn’t end up getting the logs sawn into boards until the following year. We didn’t know enough to seal the ends of those logs and that year was very wet. By the time I transported the logs for cutting, water had made its way into the first foot or so and some checking (splitting) had begun at the ends.

Once the logs were cut into boards I brought them back home and hurriedly stacked and covered them with a tarp under the maples in our middle meadow. Mistake number two. The tarp retained moisture and the boards, which hadn’t been stickered properly (held apart by 1 x 1 strips of wood to allow air flow), began to mildew.

That old maple continued to forgive me, though. A few passes through the thickness planer stripped away the mildew and the moisture damaged ends of the boards made their way to the kindling pile. What remained was some very nice furniture wood. We stacked it (properly stickered this time) inside the barn where it would sit for another year before making its way into the shop.

The pantry was the first recipient of that hard won maple, a project I completed last winter. Last year I also got started on the dining nook, but it was put on hold once the spring and summer schedules took over our lives.

Finally, this winter – five and a half years after those “temporary” seats and table had been installed, and nearly four years since we cut up that maple – our dining nook is complete.

The nook project included a last-minute addition, too. We had promised each other that we’d stop stacking things on the seats once the new ones were in place. Many of those previously stacked items ended up finding a home in the new drawers and cabinet, but we also wanted a place for things that needed immediate accessibility (mail, grocery lists, binoculars, etc.). I spent a few minutes at the drawing board and another use for our downed trees was in the works.

The year after the maple had come down, another tree fell, a 12-inch diameter white ash. (Every year we seem to have a supply of wood “delivered” to the ground by the wind.) I’d had it sawn into boards a few years back. That ash turned out to be a terrific wood for the drawer boxes in the new cabinet, so I decided to use more of it for this additional project. I re-sawed and planed two additional five-quarter planks into thinner 7/16-inch boards. They went on to become a set of shelves/bins which I’ve mounted to the wall above the cabinet.

There is something extremely satisfying about taking wood that was grown just outside the door and turning it into a finished piece of furniture. It’s very much akin to growing one’s own food. There is nothing about the process that goes unseen. The connections, from seed to nourishment, from tree to furnishings, are all made. It’s a process, for sure. It can take a long time (“Temporary?”), but it’s a process that I very much enjoy.