Treasure from Trash

(The turtle underneath the table, by the way, was something I found in my brother’s things. I think it’s a piece that my dad brought home from his trip to Central America back in the early ’70s.)

Two years ago, I found a rotting tree stump in the campgrounds at the Sherwood Forest Faire. I knew when I first saw it that I wanted to make a coffee table base, so I enlisted a friend to help with loading it on the trailer. Below is what the piece looked like when I found it.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure exactly how I would turn that into a coffee table base, or if there was enough good wood underneath all that rot, but I thought it was worth a shot.

Once I got it home, a few hours with a chainsaw, my trusty angle grinder, chisels, and a wire brush, and I was sure I had something worth keeping. Here’s what it looked like once I’d stripped the bark and got down to the solid wood underneath most of the rot.

It took another day of finer work with chisels and assorted other implements of destruction before I had it in the basic shape I wanted.

Most of the work I did to this point was just removing rot, and cutting off protuberances to get the basic shape that I want. That’s the fun part: peeling off the outer layers to reveal the beauty underneath. Nature provides the shape; I just refine it a bit.

I like the rough work mostly because I can see quick progress. Once I get to this point, I know what it’s going to look like. I’ve solved the problem, proven that I can realize my vision. After this point comes the slow work of making sure that the base is steady, leveling the top, smoothing the shape, sanding, and finishing. It’s work, and painstakingly slow. And sanding a piece like this takes a very long time. As with many things, the hard part is finishing the work after I know how it’s going to end.

So I put the piece aside for a year and concentrated on other projects. I came back to it in the fall of 2017, finished the sanding, and put a finish on it. Then it sat in the garage until last month when I pulled it out measured it, and ordered the glass.

My intention, once I completed the rough work, was to finish the piece and sell it. But Debra, who was a bit skeptical when I dragged this thing home, saw the potential and said that she wanted the coffee table for the living room. One of these days, I’ll make a piece that I can sell.

I now understand why pieces like this one command such high prices. The wood is free, but the amount of work and the cost of custom glass work make these things very expensive to produce. But it’s a one-of-a-kind piece of functional art that will last several lifetimes.

I have several more such pieces in various stages of completion. I really need to finish building out my workshop so I can complete them.

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