Thursday, July 30, 2009

Reconditioning Used Lumber

I wish I could write that my office remodeling project is in the can but it just “ain’t” so. To be honest I still have an easy week to ten days more work ahead of me. One reason this project has taken me so long is that I have spent a great deal of time reconditioning old wood. I’m one of those people who, when working on a project, will save the odds and ends that are left over and try to use them on future projects. Some scraps that are too damaged or small to reuse end up in my firewood box for the wood stove, but most of the wood is kept for future use. I also keep a lot of the old wood that I pull out of the house (another remodeling project, but that’s another story). The upshot is that I try to find a piece of “scrap” wood that can be made to fit my needs with just a little work. I’m sure that if I would drive to the local lumber yard I could buy some very nice, straight and nail free wood that would require a lot less work. On the other hand, the sliding doors, I will proudly explain to visitors, were cut out of the sliding doors that had once been in the house, and they were known to be at least 75 years old when I dismantled that closet.

The same is true for many of the other “parts” that have gone into the office project. One of the little details that will be in my completed office will be an early Twentieth Century glass fire extinguisher bomb. When we first moved into the house we found a number of these “bombs” in strategic areas and we had planned to save all of them but in moving them from place to place all but one have been broken. This last one will be on display in my office.

I am incorporating a number of other treasures into my office including two secured gun racks, several of my African mounts, spears and shields. I figure that it’s my office so I can make it comfortable for me—right? At least that is what I keep telling myself.

As for reconditioning old wood to make something new I don’t believe it is a step that far out of the hunter’s field to care about how we reuse wood but it enhances our outdoor experiences. If we consider who we are (anglers, hunters, etc.) and our place in the outdoors then we need to define ourselves in much greater detail than simply stating that we are anglers, hunters or whatever and then relying on others, such as Ortega and most recently Dr. Eaton. We need to define ourselves as participating in the stewardship of the outdoors, not merely benefiting from the efforts of others who manage the natural resources. By taking the time to recondition wood that would be tossed into the trash or burned it (not for heat) is, I believe, a step deeper into that relationship between each one of us and nature’s wealth that is the underlying truth of our journey into nature as hunters and anglers.

Some people argue, and I am sure that in a true cost to benefit comparison they are probably right, that the effort to recondition wood is actually taking up more that is preserves.
“Think of the calories you’ve burned pulling old nails, cutting out damaged parts, checking for bits of metal to avoid hitting a nail with a saw blade,” one friend commented. “Then there is the squaring and sanding needed to make the old wood workable and you realize that between your effort and the energy used by the power tools you’ve used more than you’ve saved.”

I disagree because there is the intrinsic beauty of the old wood when it is brought back to its past glory and that can be a powerful reward. There is also the knowledge that by not always buying new lumber products I am reducing the demand for new wood, even if I am only creating a drop in a rain barrel. For me the fraction of a breath of oxygen generated by a tree living for a few seconds longer because I recondition wood is a powerful incentive to recondition used lumber.

Perhaps I am this way because my mother had a deep love of trees and she would often recite the poem by George Pope Morris, “Woodman Spare That Tree.” (For the full poem go to:
Woodman, spare that tree!
Touch not a single bough!
In youth it sheltered me,
And I'll protect it now.
'Twas my forefather's hand
That placed it near his cot;
There, woodman, let it stand,
Thy axe shall harm it not!

The irony of her love for trees (she once faced down a crew attempting to remove a tree from public land) is that her father, my grandfather Sala, was one of the Italian woodcutters living along the banks of Bear Creek near Petoskey, Michigan. (Yes, for the readers who might wonder if there was any connection between EH and the Sala family—there was.) She passed her passion for trees on to me and I let it materialize in my desire to see an old piece of wood, abused by the elements, time and people, once again show off its colors.

Take care and think about those trees. glg