From a barn to my apartment – the story of a plank of wood

A few weeks ago, my friend Catherine and I visited Longleaf Lumber in Cambridge.   While their speciality is flooring, their website had a lot of neat random antique wood items.  I decided it was worth a look.

I’ve been oogling the reclaimed wood tables I’ve seen on Etsy and Viva Terra, but they are all well beyond my price range. I’ve also been laughing at stores like Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn that sell “antiquED” wood tables – rather than actually using restored or reclaimed wood, they take new wood and beat it with chains to make it LOOK old.  This seems very silly considering the amount of ACTUAL antique wood that is available, but oh well – it’s over priced regardless.

Since my dad is pretty handy and told me he’d be willing to help, I decided it was worth trying to make my own table. Even if it came out horrible, my parents could use it for storage in the basement or on the deck, and I’d have a better understanding of why furniture like that costs so much.

When Catherine and I walked in to Longleaf, looking pretty clueless, the woman at the front desk immediately asked us if we needed help, and listened patiently while I tried my best (in very non-experty fashion) to explain what I was looking for.   She took us to a huge barn filled with more random pieces of lumber than I could have imagined.  While most of it was WAY too big for my project (mostly for flooring, beams, and larger construction projects), it was still neat to look around and consider all of the history stacked up and sorted by size and wood type.  There were pieces of barns, beams of old houses and factories, flooring and pews from old churches, and pilings from old docks, including lumber from the Charlestown Navy Yard.

I probably could have wandered around there aimlessly for a while just looking at everything, but the woman helping us had quickly found a few pieces that might work for my reclaimed wood table.  I decided on an inch thick piece of cherry, originally from a barn (I’m guessing the barn floor, based on the thickness and gouge marks on it).  I never would have found it if she hadn’t been helping us,  especially since I didn’t really know what to look for.

When we went back in to the office to pay (only 40 dollars, by the way!), I spotted a box of old shoe lasts from a factory in Lawrence.  Since my great grandmother worked in a shoe factory in Lawrence, I thought that was pretty cool – so I got one (for 1 dollar).  They were also selling cutting boards made from old church pews, with half of the sale price (10 dollars) donated to a food pantry, so I got one of those too.

Catherine was kind enough to model them for me, and also helped me put the wood plank in my car:

After purchasing 4 very simple legs at Ikea for 10 dollars each, and some sand paper for 8 dollars,  then waiting for a weekend that my dad and I were both around, it was time to try making a table:

First we had to saw off a little over a foot – partly because the plank was too long, but also because it had a pretty big crack on one end. My dad did the sawing because…well… if the power saw was in my hands, I could ruin a lot more than an old plank of wood.

Then we brought it outside to meet the power sander.  Dad helped, but I did some of this on my own.  The first few passes with the sander removed a cloud of dirt, then the color of the wood started to change and the gouge marks faded.

After sanding for 15 minutes or so, I wiped it off and brought it back in to the basement for the clear polyurethane coat.  My parents had some leftover from an older project, but it happened to be water based – which I would have bought if we didn’t already have some.  Though it requires more coats than oil based, and doesn’t protect quite as well against spills on the wood, it is far less toxic, easier to clean up after, dries faster, and is biodegradable.

After this coat dried, we sanded it lightly, and applied the second and final coat.  If I wanted it to be really glossy and better protected, we could have done a 3rd or even 4th coat, but I wanted this to look more natural and a little rustic.

Next,  the part I thought would be easy turned out to be the hardest part, and if I didn’t have my dad to help, I would have ended up very frustrated with a very lopsided table.  One thing I hadn’t considered about the very old wood – it was a little bit bowed.  Not enough to be visible by looking at the plank alone, but when we were lining up the legs, it was pretty damn obvious.  I didn’t take pictures of the process of making the legs even, because I don’t think Dad would have found that helpful.  🙂

Not counting letting it dry for an hour between each coat,  it took less than two hours and just about 100 dollars to make this table.  I could be biased, but I love it!!  In a few days, it will be in the new place!

So if you can’t afford the expensive version, and you know someone handy with a power saw, give it a try!

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