Woodworker Glenn Pafford decided to take a chance. He’d made plenty of countertops and cabinets from oak, mahogany and cherry, but never hemlock. He thought the knotty, grainy and cracked wood had lots of potential for character. Turns out he was right.
When a homeowner called Pafford’s Sprague Woodworking
shop looking for something unique for a kitchen island countertop, Pafford said he had just the thing. He put together a test sample of what the hemlock wood would look like after being sanded and finished, and the homeowner was sold. He ordered a 2¼ -inch-thick, 110-by-37-inch slab for a kitchen island countertop, shown here.
But Pafford had a lot of work to do before the slab could be installed. Here’s a look at the journey from reclaimed wood beams to showpiece countertop.
The more than 100-year-old hemlock wood beams came from an old mill building in Connecticut. Pafford bought the wood from the Jarmak Corp.
, a small family-owned and -operated reclaimed lumber supplier in Massachusetts. The company removed all the nails from the wood then dried the beams in a kiln and stacked it before delivering it to Pafford.
When the wood is in its rough stage like this, Pafford says, it’s difficult to tell what the finished product will look like.
Pafford allows the wood to acclimate in his shop for a week. He then goes through and selects the beams that will become the countertop. He looks at cracks, knotholes, burl marks, wormholes and nail holes and considers how these imperfections can add to the character of the finished slab. “Each beam can have completely different things going on,” he says. “Hemlock has more character in terms of natural color differences — blacks, yellows and browns. There’s lots of knots and burls, much more than oak. In addition to nail holes and cracks, hemlock has more individual character because it’s a more knotty wood. There are different things to look at.”
After he selects the boards, he planes down one side to create a flat and level bottom so the slab can eventually lie flush and securely on top of a base of cabinets. He leaves the top in its natural state.
Pafford then cuts the boards to length, straightens them out on a joiner, then glues and clamps the boards together, as shown here. He lets the clamped boards sit for 24 to 48 hours to let the glue dry.
Next, he removes the clamps and lays down the large slab. If he was making a countertop that needed, say, a sink, he would cut a hole in the slab at this stage. But for this project, he’s just creating a continuous slab, so he goes to work on the top with orbital sanders, beginning with 100 grit sandpaper and working his way up in stages to 220 grit to get rid of the older wood and get down to the newer stuff.
The orbital sanders allow the wood to keep its natural shape, with its rises and dips and waves. (You can see the gentle wave here on the end.) “You could plane both sides and have a flat top and bottom,” Pafford says. “But the homeowner wanted it as rustic and reclaimed as possible. If a person likes it more in its natural state, we try not to remove too much material.”
After sanding, he takes a look at the cracks, holes and knots and determines which need epoxy or wood filler to give it more integrity or cover up unwanted imperfections.
Finally, Pafford hand rubs a coat of tung oil on the top every day for five days. The tung oil is chosen for its ability to penetrate deep into the wood to protect it from water damage, scratches and dents.
The slab then gets delivered and installed, as shown here. Pafford says it takes five weeks from the moment a customer puts in a deposit on a wood countertop to the installation.
Pafford says he makes six to 10 reclaimed wood countertops every week and estimates that it costs $1,500 to $2,500 for a 3-by-6-foot slab, not including installation, and depending on the wood species and extra labor for things like cutting a hole for a sink.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to wood tops,” he says.
via See How Reclaimed Wood Beams Became a Stunning Kitchen Countertop