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  • Writer's pictureAdam

New life to old wood...

So this July we’ve been really busy in the shop, and it hasn’t been too related to our tags. This might be a little boring for some of you, that’s ok, just look at the pictures then. I spent most of the month working on a special project, a desk. Some of you may know I have a great job managing a veterinary clinic. I have graduated to having my own office at the clinic. OK actually my current desk is needed by more critical, front line care providers, so I’ve been moved to an office a bit away from the hustle and bustle of the practice. SHHHH I secretly am craving a little quiet for concentration.

I asked if it would be ok if I built my own desk. Which in hindsight might have been a bit of an odd request however, I had been eyeing this reclaimed rock maple boxcar flooring, and this was as good a reason as any to convince Jamie we had to have some of this dirty old beat up wood. She was thrilled. <that was sarcasm

The wood I had been looking at was in Nashville. Now-a-days boxcars are made of all steel for the most part. So the old wooden floors are getting a little harder to find. They are usually salvaged in a few places across the US. I tried for days to try and convince Jamie a road trip to Nashville would be AWESOME! Apparently 12 hours in the car with me isn’t as appealing as I think. She couldn’t wrap her head around driving 6 hours, loading wood, and driving home.

I guess I was having it shipped. The next day I asked the practice owner if he wouldn’t mind if I had a delivery sent to the practice. Of course he said, “no problem.” So with a green light from Jamie, and a green light from the boss, I quickly made that call to place the order before someone changed their minds. I couldn’t help but worry what the reaction would be when a semi showed up and I have to off load 500# of lumber on my lunch break. Thinking better of it I had the freight rerouted to a freight depot in South Columbus.

Somehow I convinced Jamie to join me on a trip to the south end to pick up my freighted railcar flooring. We arrived at the freight depot. The man exclaimed “I don’t know what you’re doing with it, but that’s some big a$$ wood.” I’m sure it was a little bewildering, it looked like black, filthy, bowling ball lane. He was probably wondering, “who the heck would pay to have that garbage shipped across the mid-west?” He asked, ‘where my rig was at,’ obviously thinking I had a box truck or something appropriate for the cargo. “It’s a dbl cab Tacoma in the lot around the corner,” I replied. He either let out a little giggle or a pfft under his breath, in response. They graciously loaded the palletized planks in to the back of my 5ft truck bed with a forklift.

It was home. The wood was black with dirt, it had deep gouges from decades of wear, even some burn-in rubber from the forklifts that once loaded and unloaded cargo. The wood sat in my garage for a week or two as I couldn’t quite figure out how to tackle it. It was a little bigger than most of my ‘normal’ projects, and I had a bit of an investment in this wood so I certainly didn’t want to mess it up. Have no fear… my buddy Alex from 614Woodworks lives a few streets over. His MO is typically heirloom furniture, so it’s always a little ‘beverly hillbillies’ when I bring some dirty, not square, mess of a project to him. I’ve taken some pretty jacked up stuff to him, including a completely delaminated, water destroyed, maple bench top. I left it there hoping not to have to drag it home and out to the curb. He completely sawed it apart re-jointed, glued it up, and had it looking like a million bucks. It now serves as work surface in his shop.

Alex and I proceeded to walk around this pile of lumber for 30 minutes or so before coming up with a game plan. Joining wood can be tricky, you need really tight tolerances and perfect 90 degree mating surfaces or things can go south when you try to glue the boards together. A few cuts with the track saw, a few cosmetic accommodations, and I have three planks ready for glue up.

The next day I rushed home from work I had picked up some pipe clamps to add to the ones Alex graciously gave to me, and I was ready to glue this up. Of course doing this in Alex’s shop is very different from doing it in my small, not as impressively equipped, shop. I got my joints all goop’d up with glue and…. Uh OH nothing lines up like it did yesterday, now there’s glue that is drying and stuffs all kinds of wonky. After unleashing a several-minute long assault of creatively linked swear words and one text to Alex, “I blew it.” I calmed down and used a dead-blow hammer to pound it into square. It was finally a table top slab. It was glorious with its off center yellow strip, and it’s deep character worn into it.

Jamie made fun of me. I went out for a couple of days just to look at it. Once I had a few hours, I got to work. I knew I had lots of work left to do. The top had several 5/4” holes in it where the bolts that mounted it to the railcar originally were. I was all set to drive some generic dowels in there and call it a day, however, thanks to some input encouraging me to seek out some maple (matching species to the rest of the top) dowels, a minor detail, but a very nice touch. I found some maple dowels, cleaned out the top of the holes, and filled them with the maple dowels. Hours and Hours AND HOURS of sanding later, only the deepest of black gouges remained. The original varnish that coated the top was reduced to a few mere tiger stripes of yellow against the light bare rock maple. The plugged holes seamlessly married the desktop surface, as if they’d always been there.

Now to the finishing. I spent days in the shop looking at this table top, and running my hands across it’s surface. I had ruined an earlier project with Polyurethane, which ultimately provides significant durability but makes your work look and feel like it’s coated in plastic. After much back and forth, and research I decided to try a Hard Wax Oil (HWO). HWOs have a penetrating oil and a wax. I was a little skeptical and also worried with the remaining original varnish I might cause some adhesion issues. HOLY SMOKES I love this stuff! No issues going over the old finish. It applies super easy, dries overnight, and man does it feel nice. Maybe some of you will find that weird. Jamie sure does, I tell her to feel the table every time she walks by it. There is something about how a good finish feels that almost invites you to touch it.

Well, here it is and I am so very happy with the end result. I have made something that will last a few generations (hopefully someone will be into it even after I’m gone). Imagine how many thousands of miles this wood has seen traveling back and forth across the United States. I know I will enjoy working on a table with the history and character that decades of service has worn into its surface.

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