Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Living With Wood

Back in 1978 when I made a down payment on my little cabin in La Honda, it came with a garage that was falling down. Fifty years earlier, in 1928, the garage had been framed with beams of Douglas fir. Now the termites and beetles and ants and bees had turned the beams to powder.

The siding, though, was redwood. Rough heart redwood. Old growth redwood, I suspect, though not the prime cuts.

Bugs hadn't touched the siding, but weather had. After 50 rainy winters and 50 summers of blasting sunshine, the surface looked like garbage:
I was relatively new to the construction business, and sometimes weeks would go by when I had no work. And no money. I had two little children with a third on the way and I was trying to expand a 500 square foot cabin into a 1800 square foot house. We were living in the shell of the newly framed addition, camping out, cooking on a camp stove, no furnace, no water heater, no doors, washing dishes in an old clawfoot bathtub with cold water, burning construction scraps in the fireplace for warmth.

That garbage heap of a garage looked like gold to me. Having more time than money, I invested in a few sanding belts and set to work. I de-nailed, sanded, ripped, sanded again, and started testing stains. If you oiled the old redwood without any stain, it turned nearly black. Through trial and error, I created a mixture of stain that was partly white and partly red which seemed to restore the redwood to its original color.

I trimmed all the interior doors and window frames with that old wood. Now, 30 years later, here's how they look:

There's flat grain, vertical grain, and weird grain, sometimes all in the same board.

I used every scrap, for better or worse:

Using the same wood, I also built some bookshelves.

I could do better now.

I've got better tools, and I've got better skills.

I also have more money and less time.

Faced with the same situation today, I'd probably buy new wood.

We tend to be self-critical.

And it's intimidating to compare your own work to the gorgeous pieces people are posting on their woodworking blogs.

With this set of photos, though, people are probably thinking, "I could do better."

Well, so could I - now. But back then I did the best I could with the tools and the money I had.

I'm proud of what I did.

It's funky, but it's unique.

It's part of the house I built, the house I've raised my kids in, the house I hope to die in.

When I'm gone, somebody can rip it out and replace it with clean, uniform, nice new trim.

But not yet.

Not, I hope, for a long time.

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