Friday, February 22, 2013

Brown Oak Burl Wall Installation

Recently, we had a client inquire about what we could do regarding a wall installation. Naturally, that quickly led Jeff to a slab from the infamous 300 year English Brown Oak burl log. If you aren't familiar with Lohr Woodworking's past creations from this tree, you should do yourself a favor and read about it immediately at: Jeff's Live Edge Gallery. The tree grew on the grounds of a castle in England for over 350 years as it fought against the acid of a beefsteak mushroom. Lucky for us , the result of this mushroom poison was a tree truck composed completely of burl. And if burl is nothing else, it is incredibly interesting and beautiful with it's intricate, detailed texture and color patterns.

Our big plan for this slab is for it to end up looking something like the photo to the left. Mounted vertically, the installation will maintain it's live edge, shape, and color. Honestly, what is better than when nature makes such a beautiful piece of art on it's own, grown canvas? It will be leveled off a bit so that it hangs straight and flat but, as usual, our goal is to maintain as much thickness as possible.


Day one of tackling the brown oak burl slab was to take to the edges with a selection of chisels. With about 50+ different chisels laid out in front of me and a protective glove on my left hand, I carefully chipped away at the bark around the edges of the piece. Because the bark grows at such an uneven and varying texture, I was very careful to avoid chipping away any of the wood behind it. We took away the outer layer of bark because over time, that layer would lose it's strength and flake off onto the floor. Also, the natural live edge of the wood as it aged and grew can be clearly seen with the flaking, loose bark removed.
After hours of careful bark removal, our next move was to begin to router down the uneven surface so the slab would be flat and level for hanging. We brought in the big guns for this router job; the biggest router sled you'll ever see. In past entries, I have shown photos and written of the router sled jig that allows for us and our students to level off pieces that won't fit through the planer (like table tops). In this case, we are dealing with a router sled jig that is 5x as big. The sled works the same way, it slides up and down the rails and we move the router back and forth taking off small layers until the surface is level.
To prep for this task, we have a wedge labeled with numbers to slide between the sled and the piece of wood so we can gauge how high or low the surface is with respect to the sled. As you can see by my number labels, this piece has some serious waves and varying thicknesses along it.

Starting with the highest thickness, we set the router and Rob began the job of running it back and forth along the slab. He did this for a good portion of the day today as he adjusted the router to be slightly lower each for each pass. This photo was snapped during the fourth or fifth pass and you can see the leveled areas versus the lower levels. In order to maintain maximum thickness, he won't router all the way down to match the lowest thickness but, he will get low enough that when we sand it, we have a reference point to work from.
And, at the end of today, the slab has made some significant progress! As you can see, the interesting, natural live edges are see clearly and the majority of the surface has been made level. With the removal of the top layers, you can really see the burl patterns and shapes.

I am extremely excited to see the progression of this piece as we ready it to be mounted on the wall. All the processes we use to work with this is completely new to me so I will be sure to document it to the fullest. I know that Jeff's live edge creations are some of the most interesting pieces in his collection so I am eager to see how they come about. I credit Brian and his wife for having such a marvelous idea requesting a wall installation of natural wood because this is going to be beautiful!

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