Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Woodland Treasures

While waiting for contractor build estimates (in a previous blog), I began a decorating board to get ideas for color pallets and furniture. I wanted to focus on certain pieces to decorate around. One of those dream pieces was a natural wood coffee table, a signature piece that speaks to me every time I see it. That set me on the path to researching and finding the right custom woodworking shop.

The first step was to learn as much about wood from the area as I could. Of course, I am no expert, but I did find information to set me straight. There are many beautiful wood patterns, colors, and local woods that make choosing difficult.

One of my favorite kinds of wood is spalted pecan; I have a knitting bowl made from a fallen pecan tree that is spalted and marbled. The worm holes and added hollows were filled in with turquoise. Spalting is due to fungal decay from laying around or from stress wounds. The unique pattern of discoloration is considered a prize as you can see. I love the winding black lines and worm holes!


The butt\stock of my skeet gun is a lovely English walnut with dark mineral lines and marbling

known as marble cake. Wood like this is hard and smooth to touch and a joy to show off. There are     different woods for different uses. Guitar wood is another specialty, and it comes in grades that cost incrementally more as the figures are rarer. Grade 6 flamed maple is a favorite for this kind of project because it has a bold grain pattern with undulating heavy wavy lines like tiger stripes. and can just pop when on display. It looks like you could put your finger into the waves; the depth of the patterns are fascinating to see.

Movements in figured maple are described as: curly where the growth rings most of us are familiar with also display a kind of random 90 degree rays pattern, fiddleback with a more uniform pattern with rays running perpendicular to those growth rings, and quilted maple which has circular or oblong rings with blister or bubbles that can shine like bling. It has depth and movement as you examine it in the light.

Quilted blisters are so beautiful!

 I wanted a thick piece of live edge maple for my coffee table and took a particular fancy to burls.
Burls are one of the coolest treasures you could hunt for, and you have probably seen them before knowing what they were. Some knarly knots can make a tree seem strange and hauntingly so if you are in a group of burled trees.



Since bark generally runs up and down, you can see a burl’s bark looks like popcorn and/or pins and pollups that run across the tree. Some grow large enough and with fabulous grain variations that make them worthy of tables, veneers, and furniture. Finding a tree that has two limbs or trunks growing together known as a drudge or a bond can also make a special find as well. A drudge piece can make for an interesting shape. Smaller burls are sought after for the beautiful bowls they can make out of them.

Burls are similar to a scab, and these are really from a fungus that the tree is trying to mend over. Other injuries to the tree may also form burls. Sometimes tree harvesters leave the stump of a cut tree to regrow over many years to assist in that’s process. They will cut off all the skinny and dead twiggy protrusions to find rings and pins or bark inclusions which make for some interesting and unique interior markings, lines, and maybe even some spalting.

I found a custom wood working shop (AjE Custom Woodworking in Franklin, NC) who showed me a fabulous thick maple Burl in just the shape I was looking for. These scarce gnarly burls have a feel of long ago; a real forest gem found right there in Franklin. Adam estimates the age to be about 150 years old! He is a real artist and creates amazing pieces. I know he laughed when I said I was worried about the cracks I see in many of these larger pieces. Cracks are just the nature of wood.

For my table, Adam made exquisite little bow ties (also known as keys, Dutchmans, or butterflies) to enhance the anomaly and secure movement over time. He hand chisels the exact shape of the bow tie into the wood then pounds them in place and finishes sanding to his specs. I am proud of my heirloom table and its history and very happy to have found Adam Emery.

I will have to ask if Adam does Shou Sugi Ban, a Japanese burning technique used to preserve wood. That will be for the next visit.

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Long Hard Journey to Building a Cabin, Part I

Being a child of all things earthly, I spent hours in the parks exploring sally bugs, crawfish, frogs, watching beavers in the rivers, studying birds, and identifying other delightful creatures. I always said I could hear the trees communicating. I still embrace my inner child when hiking in some of our greatest national parks, and I’m glad I did for getting older has a way of slowing us down. Now, the forests call me back, and in particular it’s the forests of the Smoky Mountains. There, one can just breath in the tranquility that abounds in those earthly smells and sounds in a stillness that one can only experience deep within Mother Nature’s theater.

My husband and I have worked hard to begin a new journey as we near retirement. We wanted to build a cabin in a mountain forest, and just finding the right parcel of land has taken years of looking. There are so many things to consider, and seeing a number of properties entails time and travel, but it pays off in the end. Mountain roads, steep climbs, gated or non-gated communities, finding sites with water, how far from hospitals and a city, wind mitigation of higher elevations, are just some of the key considerations when looking to build in the mountains. We endured and found our own private piece of heaven in Franklin, NC.

Google Earth allowed us a super visual of just where our property was and what was around us. We bought near the Appalachian Trail and about 20 minutes from town. We chose a gated community where it felt welcoming and safe. Each property there must be three acres or more and cabins must be 1200 square feet or larger built with natural looking exteriors. An annual fee is collected for road maintenance and community upkeep like a walking path to the falls. Keeping the roads accessible together as a community is a savings. Here we feel both isolated in nature and connected to amenities not so far away like a Lowe’s, a breakfast spot, shopping, and people in general.

During the third year we continued the learning process that goes along with owning land. Trial and tribulations in finding a builder who is willing to work with you as absentee owners can be daunting maybe because it takes time to email, chat, and visit with them. Due diligence on your part like working with your realtor, banker, surveyor, architect, and lawyer helps that process along. Asking lots of questions and listening can go a long way. Talking with community members give yet another perspective as they’ve been there and suggest building with a smaller footprint and incorporating designs to be well insulated, fire safe features, and the conveniences of a larger fuel tank and generator. We wanted to be good stewards of our forest land, so we read up on any articles we could get our hands on. All the suggestions helped with planning a place that will be comfortable, estheticaly pleasing, and weather tight.

With the help of our local realtor, we contracted for the initial cuts into our acreage. Ed, my husband, and his brother, had explored the property more than once and through seasonal changes, so they were comfortable with the general outlay. We are building together, but on a divided parcel of several acres. An site map with contours provided the best direction to lay the road. We hired an professional water dowser with a divining rod to work his magic and give a general area to a water source; this was backed up by an electronic dowser: both put a well site within five feet of each other’s spot. Keeping as many trees as possible, the contractors cut trees and dozed through making a winding park like path to the chosen building site. Then trenching for utilities, electricity and water, to the site was finally completed.  I apologized to my tree friends for disturbing their peace, but I felt they’d understand. Driving up the newly graveled road for the first time was such a joy! It was as I’d hoped, a park like feel to our readied property.

Mountain life is definitely a slower pace and well suited to our goals of being sunbirds...leaving the beaches in Florida for the cooler summers in the hills. It’s the journey that counts, so they say, but I am so ready to have a destination built and ready for arrival.