Reclaiming Some Inspiration!

Article - July 17, 2013

As woodworkers, we are not only posed with the challenge of engineering structures that are strong enough to support their intended purpose, we are also expected to make them attractive. Thankfully, the wood itself does much of the heavy lifting with the many colors and grain patterns offered up by Mother Nature. If you’re like me, you generally only think about fresh-cut material. If that’s the case, you might want to broaden your horizons by seeking out reclaimed stock. While fresh-cut wood can be beautiful, there’s something magical about wood that has experienced the natural aging process that occurs from long exposure to sunlight, air, weather, micro-organisms, plants, and bugs. An already magnificent piece of timber will evolve into something all-together different with a patina that is very difficult, if not impossible, to replicate with new stock.

Yesterday, I visited Porter Barn Wood in Phoenix, AZ to see what they had on hand. To be honest, I had no idea this resource existed until last year when the company decided to open their business to the general public. Having no reasonable source for reclaimed wood is exactly why I never considered it before. We don’t have many barns in Phoenix so much of the material comes from Northern Arizona and other areas of the country where old barns are plentiful.

truckload-barnwoodThomas Porter greeted me at his lumber yard and gave me a nice little tour. I’ll admit that in many cases, you really have to use your imagination to see the beauty that lies just below the worn and aged surface. After taking a look at a few finished pieces, I was sold. While I don’t expect to use this stuff a lot in my work, I do intend to make a few special projects that feature this amazing material. Thomas set me up with a nice little truck load and I wanted to share some of the highlights with you.

First up is something called “mushroom wood.” I can’t recall the species but apparently this is wood that is used on the bottom of mushroom-growing containers. The mushrooms are in constant contact with the surface and as you can imagine the wood is heavily worn. The end result is a surface that looks, oddly enough, like the underside of a mushroom cap. So even if this wood wasn’t created by mushrooms, I can see why someone might decided to give it that monicker. Below are examples of boards that have been brushed aggressively to clean out the gunk.

brushed-mushroom-wood-2 brushed-mushroom-wood-1 brushed-mushroom-wood-3

sandblasted-mushroom-woodThis is another example of mushroom wood, only this board has been sandblasted. As you can see, the end result is a much more soft and dull appearance when compared to the brushed version.

I have a number of other boards including some cool Hemolock pieces that have some serious potential, but they aren’t much to look at in their current state. So let’s skip to some of the live edge boards I picked up.

live-edge-walnutThis is a thick live edge walnut board. As you can see, it’s mostly sapwood. Most times we see walnut consisting primarily of heartwood with a few sapwood streaks. But this board represents something of a reversal of that typical pattern and it was intriguing to me. We’ll see what we can do with it.

Below you’ll see an example of Alligator Juniper. Look closely at the bark and you’ll see how this wood received its name. This particular slab is massive and features some prominent knots and grain changes. Can you imagine this thing as a table top or even a desk top? AWESOME!

aligator-juniper-2 aligator-juniper-1

I am seriously intrigued by the things Porter Barn Wood is doing out in Phoenix and this won’t be my last visit. I can’t wait to bring the video camera and give you folks a proper tour. Perhaps we’ll even get some helpful tips and tricks for working with this special material from Thomas and his crew. I’d like to thank Porter Barn Wood for their hospitality and excellent work in providing this much-needed service.