Friday, December 31, 2010

Wooden Ties

A number of years ago, I had to buy a Christmas present for a nephew who had just become an investment banker.  On an impulse, I tried to see if I could make a wooden tie.

My first attempt turned out very well; the tie had several joints so it would conform with your body and flex as necessary.

I had it finished well ahead of Christmas and wore it to a party as a joke.  When people realized what it was, everyone wanted one for a husband, uncle or father.

By the end of the night I had orders for about thirty ties and had to cram to have them finished for Christmas.

Manitoba Maple Wall Sculpture

Around here, Manitoba Maple (or Box Elder if you prefer the fancier name) is considered a weed tree.  It grows very quickly so it produces shade in a short time.  Unfortunately, it isn't very strong, and heavy parts tend to fall off regularly; particularly if your car is parked under it.

However, MM does have a couple of redeeming features.  It is the one wood here which can have red in it and it is very easy to carve (someone once compared it to carving medium cheddar).

The piece shown here was cut from a neighbour's tree which had been removed after blowing down.  The trunk was a mass of small burls and epicormic growths but I was able to cut a slab off the side and carve it into a wall sculpture.

The outside edges of the piece are exactly as it came from the tree; I simply refined, sanded and polished the surface.  A minister friend pointed out that the overall shape and the red centre gave it a "tree of life" appearance.

 That's what I love about this work; for all the sawdust and disappointment, there is the occasional "wow" moment.

Maple Dining Table


A co-worker and his wife (both architects) asked me to build an eight foot long maple dining table they had designed.  It was to have a double pedestal, each being a pair of bookmatched, wane-edge planks joined together on an angle. 

They wanted maple with "character"; spalting and interesting grain.

 I had some material from one of our own maples and agreed to tackle the project.

First, I built a torsion box to support the top and added the angled skirt as per their design.  The top was attached next and the pedestal legs last; the result is as you see in the photos.

Because I rarely work with kiln dried wood, I have to pay particular attention to shrinkage after construction as the piece adjusts to the climate of its new home.  In this case, it had been a wet fall and I was concerned that the maple had taken up some moisture while being built.

My clients placed the table in their dining room near the patio doors which faced west.  The afternoon sun shone in through the glass directly onto the table top.  A week after delivery, the outer edges of the table began to lift as the top dried in the sun and shrunk.

We held our collective breaths for about another week as the rest of the table climatized and the top returned to its original flat position.

Several years later, my clients still love their table and I have decided to use only (more stable) quartersawn boards for table tops henceforth.  I'm getting too old for that kind of excitment!

Horse Logging

A few years ago, I had an opportunity to obtain some sugar maple trees from a neighbour's woodlot.  They were old and in decline, but what really attracted me was how ugly they were.  They were crooked and lumpy and looked like their bark had melted and rehardened like wax running down a candle.  It was love at first sight.

Commercially, they were good only for firewood, but they had to come out as part of a sustainable forest management plan to allow younger, better quality trees room to grow.

With the assistance of a forestry technician friend and his team of horses, I was able to get the trees out and home to my sawmill.  There was a lot of internal rot but I was able to salvage some solid wood which will be used in a variety of projects.

This fall, I began using some of this wood in preparation for the Christmas gift season.  I'm happy to say that parts of these old trees are now one-of-a-kind cutting boards, salad lifters and chef's helpers rather than being tossed into the stove.

Maybe some of the lumber will be used in my next table or desk.


This is a new adventure for me as I am much more comfortable in my shop making sawdust. However, I had  been thinking about this for some time; just hadn't got started.

I've been invited to speak at a woodlot conference in Lindsay in February and preparing my slides has given me the opportunity to do both things together.