Thursday, January 04, 2007

A friend brought me a clipping saved for over 30 years from the Wasington Post. The photo above is a box from my new book, and was made from black walnut that had been around the block and captures some of the spirit that Mr. Fenyvesi describes. The hand forged iron pull is from Horton Brassses.

Woodworking --Sunday March 7, 1976
By Charles Fenyvesi

There are worlds of difference between working with new lumber and wood that has seen years of service to man.

New lumber has the smell of oak-moss, leaf-mold, and sometimes violets. Its smooth, uniform surfaces speak of the glorious technology of gang saws ripping through the knots and gnarls of a thick log.

Old wood has a woodsy smell only when it is sawed. Then the heavy fragrances of rotting timber fallen long ago blend with the acrid odor, from the finish singed by the saw. There are also hints of the room once inhabited, as the blade unlocks secrets of a subterranean dampness or a wine spill.

The raw, often dewy touch of new lumber awakens projects dormant in the files of the mind. It takes steady character--or lack of confidence--not to be overwhelmed by the infinity of ways in which the treasures of a lumberyard can be converted into shelves or picture frames, paneling or a cradle. All plans seem feasible when the saw makes its first cut and the blade bids the hand to follow.

A project with second-hand lumber or cannibalized furniture means accepting limitations. Knotty pine or oak paneling rescued from a condemned house can be refinished or flipped around to make use of the side that once faced the wall. But the supply is limited, and the boards were cut to fit windows and doors, the fuse box and the furnace.

The wreckers' pile is a mine of two-by-fours and two-by-sixes (They used to be one-fourth of an inch thicker and wider before the 1940's.) Made of yellow pine or Douglas fir, they can be converted into benches and sofas, mantles and dining tables. They have the substantiality of furniture built to last generations and to survive wars and revolutions. Stained dark, they evoke the grandeur of Spanish castles: left in their natural light shade, they suggest the taverns of Central Europe.

New Lumber has not forgotten the green, growth of the forest. It has sticky resin--sometimes a pocket, sometimes a sheen--and juices which make it expand and contract, curl and cup, bow and warp. This youthful inconstancy can defeat the best plan and mock the skill of the most fastidious carpenter.

Old lumber is resigned to a life of service to man, and it submits to his will and whim. 1t does not move, it does not change. It is stable and mature, accepting of the time and space found. But occasionally, an old board lets out a sigh that sounds like a whimper or a bullet's report.

Finishing new wood means choosing from hundreds of stains. Plain pine can be made to look like rosewood; walnut can be turned into ebony. There are bleachers and darkeners. Varnishes do not seem like varnishes, liquid plastic that produces the effect of wood encased in glass.

The scrutiny of sandpaper reveals the original shade of old wood. Boiled linseed oil mixed with turpentine cleans the pores and gives a golden glow. There is no need for special stains: umber rubbed in with another coat of linseed oil brings out the grain and underlines every whorl, check and nick.

New wood looks like a topographical map. Old wood depicts history as well: coronations, civil strife and invasions. The ubiquitous nail holes have crowns, halos and lances that can be metallic russet or black. Discolored streaks and patches reveal where pictures once hung, the sunlight fell or the molding was. There are bruises and gashes, charred traces of cigarettes stamped out too late and tiny particles of ghostly chalk that seeped through from plaster boards into two-by-fours.

Used lumber is an inheritance that usually goes unclaimed. It becomes one's own when it is turned into needed objects. The rehabilitation project is an adjustment; the start is where others left off.

Fenyvesi was editor of the National Jewish Monthly, gardener, carpenter and essayist in 1976.

1 comment:

  1. ontheroad@horton-brasses.com2:20 PM

    Doug, I have barely scratched the surface of your blog but I must commend you. You articulately define the challenges of society as it relates to learning and child/human development and I appreciate it. I have spent years talking to people about how crucial it is for children to learn to use their hands; and how there should not be two classes of people in America: those that go to college and those that don't. Life is more meaningful when one uses all one's parts. All those parts work together and teach the concept of a whole being to the individual using them. What a loss we experienced when we redefined the pursuit of happiness and the purpose of childhood. Best regards, Barbara Rockwell, formerly of Horton Brasses