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Hidden Beauty of Reclaimed Wood

It was just a bit over a year ago that I added some pieces of recycled/reclaimed Florida Live Oak and Eucalyptus to my wood selection. A lot has happened in that year. From the Oak, I turned some small live edge bowls. With the Eucalyptus, I turned bowls and bowls that are also tea light holders, as well as a few other items like shaving kits and pens. What I thought was just a passing fancy, using what would have been discarded wood, has now turned into a passion.

Reclaimed Eucalyptus wood bowl
Eucalyptus Bowl with tea light candle holder in the center.
Reclaimed Florida Live Oak Natural Edge Bowl
Live edge Florida Live Oak Bowl (Bark retained on the wood)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since those early days, I have expanded my search for reclaimed and recycled wood to work with. I call it Urban Harvesting. Wood that is otherwise headed for the dump or even the burn pile is what I seek out. Even wood that has outlived its purpose in one form or another, I look for and seek ways to transform it on my lathe. Random logs and planks that to most would seem unsightly and even ugly are what I find. The only drawback is that my storage space is limited.

 

Currently around my work area I have a number of different species: Florida Red Maple, Sycamore, Slash Pine, Australian Pine, Florida Live Oak, and Eucalyptus. I even have some Northern Birch from my home state of (upstate) New York that had fallen during the winter. And some of my new wood was gathered from Hurricane Irma this past September.

Recalimed wood wating to be used
Various woods in my shop

Inside each piece of wood is a secret waiting to be revealed. It is hidden away beneath the bark just waiting to be exposed.

What makes this wood even more spectacular is that it isn’t perfect. The hidden beauty that lies beneath has flaws and imperfections which add to the character of the finished piece. Yes I could go to a local lumber yard and buy a perfectly milled piece of wood. And it, too, has beauty in it; from the grain, the color, and the texture of the wood. Just like life isn’t always perfect, neither is this wood. From discolorations, inclusions, crotch wood where several branches met in the trunk, to spalting where bacteria in the wood left unusual patterns and grain in the wood.

All this forms to tell the story of years where the rain fell in plenty. It speaks of years when there was little to no rainfall. Winds that blew and did its best to bend branches as the tree battled the elements. It speaks of lightning, heat, freezing temperatures, and insects and disease.

Reclaimed bowl blanks
Portions of the logs cut and ready for the lathe.

Once I put the wood on my lathe and begin turning it, slowly but surely removing the rough exterior, what lies beneath is exposed to the light of day. All the hidden beauty that lies beneath is brought out. As I work with my chisels and the shavings fly and the wood transforms like a butterfly that was once a caterpillar.
There are times I have a clear vision of what I want the wood to be when I am done. Other times the wood seems to have its own idea of how it wants to look.

Regardless of that, in the end what is born of it, is something unique.

I have found a passion in this wood that others would discard. My limitations are only bound at this point to the amount of wood I can store at a time and the size of the wood I can turn on my midi lathe.

 

In these series of pictures you can see the evolution from a rough log and how a portion of the wood becomes two bowls.
Click on the first image to view a full sized gallery.

 

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In the Shop: Birch Tealights

As all good things in the shop do, my latest project started with an idea. Could I make candle holders? What would they look like?

For my first few attempts, I’m sticking with tealights, and I’m spending time with the birch I got in December. I love the grain in general, but right now that it’s spalted, I find it more beautiful than before.

With the weather warming up as the Florida summer looms, I’m not sure how much more time I’ll get in the shop to play around with new ideas. For now, I’ll enjoy the outcome of my latest endeavor.

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This set has a natural edge to it and is meant to look like a couple of mushrooms. Tell me you see it. The other set I’ve done reminds me of upside down flower pots. I’ve got video of me making them – actually, stripping the bark from the birch – but no real pictures yet. I may have to fix that.

I’ve enjoyed making them, but (for now) it’s labor intensive and a set can take me most of the day out in the shop. Of course, that’s a part I enjoy so I’m definitely not complaining.

So that’s what I’m doing in the shop right now. In case you’re curious, yes, a tealight really does fit in the holder.

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3 Types of Reclaimed Wood I Use

I get teased around here for looking for reasons to buy a new tool. (That might be true.) But my last purchase – a chainsaw – was necessary. I’d found a local tree company who hated getting rid of the wood when they cut down trees and were too happy for an eager woodworker to take some off their hands.

Every so often, I load the chainsaw in the back of my RAV 4, grab a tarp, and go find out what they have. So far, I’ve gotten oak and eucalyptus wood with birch brought to me from out of state. I don’t think these are the only reclaimed woods I’ll work with, but they’re a good start.

Florida Oak

Often called Florida Live Oak by the locals, I’ve got a big stack of oak in the shop that I really enjoy using. It’s a nice, solid hardwood that can be difficult to work with because of how hard it is. When you get it going, turned oak makes beautiful pieces. I’ve used it in everything from pens to bowls. By far the most interesting thing about oak, to me, is the interesting bark patterns that show up when I turn natural edge pieces like some of the bowls I’ve made.

Birch Wood

My dad lives in upstate New York and at Christmas time I asked him to bring me any wood he had and couldn’t use. What I received was a huge stack of birch. It’s a cool wood to work with because the color is different from piece to piece, from white to a light tan. Sometimes, you can see the color change in a single piece of wood. Birch is a wet wood which means that when it spalts, new colors are added to the grain which changes the appearance of the wood and adds an extra dimension to it. So far, I’ve made a box and tea lights.

Eucalyptus

Okay, to be honest, I haven’t actually had a chance to use my stash of eucalyptus yet, but I’m looking forward to it. What I find fascinating is that eucalyptus is so diverse. The oil can be used for respiratory problems, in aromatherapy, and as an essential oil that I use in my homemade pre-shave oil (yes, I make that, too). All that makes me wonder, what kind of wood have I got here? I’m really excited to try it because the pieces in my shop have really interesting branching patterns which should translate into unique grain patterns.

I’ve always felt better when I re-use something or find a new use for an old thing rather then throwing it away. Using reclaimed wood lets me take something unwanted, forgotten, and destined for a wood chipper, and turn it into something useful and beautiful. I still love the exotic woods and the acrylics I use, but using reclaimed wood makes me feel good.