Building Harvest Tables and Giving New Life to Reclaimed and Barn Wood…
I am currently focused on building a Harvest Table for Blair and Creagh, a Seattle couple. Once I begin building a table I am consumed by the process so this is a good opportunity for me to describe my approach to building furniture.
My Harvest Tables are built out of reclaimed wood, which in this case means barn wood. Through out the years I have acquired wood from at least six barns. Most of this wood was from barns that were deconstructed and no longer exist.
My favorite wood came from a barn that was restored by my friend Doug S. The barn was built in 1864 by the Aldrich brothers near the present town of Dixie in what was then the Washington Territory. The Aldriches lived in small cabin that was not larger than a living room. Their barn was huge by comparison.
During the barn restoration, Doug could not use the barn roof sheathing boards because they were full of nails (as the roof was shingled two or three times). The sheathing boards were a full one inch thick, 12 to 18 inches wide and they were about 22 feet long. It goes without saying, but you can’t get wood that size any more.
One of the great things is that I was able to acquire this wood and the second great thing is that the barn was also restored in a historically sensitive manner. I realize that not everyone is able to restore these old barns. It is sad to see them crumble to the ground or be torn down.
The Aldrich Barn was built out of old growth Red Fir. One day I counted rings on the end of one of the extremely wide boards and it appears that the trees were growing at the time of the Revolutionary War.
The circular saw marks are clearly visible on the surface of the boards. I measured these marks with a yard stick and determined that they were cut by a six foot diameter saw blade. While steam powered saws may have been available in the east in 1864, I’m sure these boards were cut with a water driven saw mill. Further adding to this assumption is the fact that Dry Creek flows not 100 yards from the barn’s location.
Over time, this wood has taken on a wonderful amber orange red hue. The shingle nails rusted and a black ring formed around each nail hole. When I finish this wood, I sand it smooth but endeavor to leave as many saw marks and character as possible. I do not use any stain and I just varnish the wood, which enhances the qualities that the wood has taken on over time.
I can’t even begin to imagine what life was like when the Aldrich barn was built in 1864, 147 years ago, in the western United States. Walla Walla was officially established in 1862; it was the largest city in the Washington Territory; bigger than Seattle, Tacoma and Spokane; and the American Civil War would rage on another year. Telegraph communication with Portland, Oregon would not be established until 1870. I think that it is safe to say that it was difficult time and place to care for and raise a family!
I feel honored to be able to give a second life to this Aldrich Barn wood. The Aldriches originally cut this wood to cover the roof of their barn so that they would have something to attach their shingles to. I’m sure that they could never imagine that one day these boards would be made into tables and benches.
Using this wood for furniture conserves the energy that “Mother Nature” expended in “growing” it and that the Aldriches expended harvesting it and cutting it for their use. How Green!!!