It started out as a simple wine closet, a small room to be built-in the corner of an unfinished basement. My customer has simple tastes and he really just wanted an improvement on his simplified (non) design that had left his wine collection in a closet under the stairs. In it he had a wine room cooler on the floor that was running with the exhaust pointed out the semi-shut door. I don’t think it really helped the quality of the air, but it could still qualify as a wine cellar, at least in very loose terms. No matter what you call it, it needed some sort of upgrade to take its rightful place in this custom Ladue home.
As I mentioned, he has simple tastes, but apparently his wife does not. On my second meeting with him, he pulled out a photo book with a lavish French theater that his wife had found and said that since we were going to build something downstairs and he had the extra room, he would like to add a theater to the mix. It was a giant jump from where we started, but I did not argue.
The theater room quickly took shape with our new directive, and the wine cellar followed, becoming equally involved and in a French country style, which called for the racks to have more of a furniture feel. The nine pieces, the arched entry door, and the two beams in the wine cellar where made from a batch of hickory logs that I recovered from a tree service a year earlier. It turns out that about twelve months is the perfect amount of time for hickory to get very wormy and nicely spalted.
Much of the racking in the wine cellar is traditional, with ladder racks holding the bulk of the collection, but each piece of furniture displays the wine in different ways, from individual bottles to entire cases. One of my favorite little details that I commonly use now in other wine cellars is adjustable shelving. I know it doesn’t sound earth shattering, but in a wine cellar the shelves can be used flat for case storage or offset with a tilt for displaying individual bottles. The shelves have a strip across the front which is flush on top and forms a lip on the bottom, which when flipped over keeps the bottles from sliding off and crashing to the floor. The tilted shelves are especially helpful for holding and displaying odd-shaped and larger bottles that don’t fit in the other racks.
Between the theater and the wine cellar is a spot for a poker table and a back bar made from rift sawn white oak cabinets and walnut countertops with art glass windows above. All of the woodwork around the windows is made from poplar that was stained dark brown and glazed with black for an antique appearance. The walnut countertop was built up to 1.5″ thick by laminating two layers of 3/4″ thick stock together. I have done this many times and it works great (click here to see how it’s done).
The theater itself involved a lot of trim details. The ceiling is broken into three sections with painted beams and large crown molding, while the walls feature a hand-crafted plaster finish and picture-frame moldings – all of which add to the French feel of the room.
From humble beginnings to this showcase of a job, things really changed. I would have never guessed that this is how it would turn out when we started.
On a semi-regular basis I talk to someone who would have used me for their last project, but they didn’t because they didn’t know everything I do. My woodworking customers don’t know I mill lumber, my milling customers don’t know I sell lumber, my lumber customers don’t know I do custom woodworking, and I blame it all on my inept advertising department.
I am here to change all of that with a new video that shows what is really happening at WunderWoods (when I am working). With the help of a few of my customers, I have put together a montage of the goings on in a three-week span of my daily work life. The clips are chronological in order, but random in their approach. One day I cut a tree, the next day I finish a piece of furniture – just like real life.
The bottom line is that if it involves wood there is a good chance I do it.
Thanks to Dwayne Tiggs from Crafty Naturals, Jermain Todd from Mwanzi, and Martin Goebel from Goebel and Company Furniture for starring in the video.
The following photos are of the finished products shown in progress in the video:
I want to have this blog be mostly educational, while at the same time entertaining. This one is more for entertainment.
It started with a call about having a tree milled. I talked to Ron (a first-time customer) on the phone to see what he needed. He said that he had a white oak that was down and another that he was going to have taken down, and that he wanted to find out about milling. We talked about sizes and basic pricing for my services and he agreed to have them milled. Ron told me they were about 30″ in diameter on the phone and didn’t sound at all excited about the size of the trees. In my experience that 30″ tree, especially if the customer isn’t gushing about how big it is, is only about 20″ in diameter. Still a good tree, but not that big.
I thought I would just stop by with my truck and load them up on my way to get another tree, assuming that I could get a couple of logs on my truck and have room for a few more. Well, I found Ron’s house at the end of a narrow lane, and all I could see in the clearing was log. Scratch that, logs – big logs. I knew that I was going to have to regroup after I saw the size of these trees. They weren’t the biggest that I have milled (I included a photo of that one too), but they have the most board feet for two trees. In total, the nine logs scale out (Doyle) to about 2500 board feet. My truck can handle about 900 board feet at a time if they fit perfect, but these were not going to fit perfect (more like just barely). I knew I would be lucky to get two on at a time, so I had to call in some backup. Did I mention that these were big?
Anyway, I have them back at the mill now and have started milling them. Most of them are going to be quartersawn, while the upper logs are going to be cut thicker for slabs to show off the curly lumber around some of the big branches. So far, two of them are milled and they look great. Oh, and big!
I have found a way to make myself worry less about woodworking and enjoy it even more. It all started when I got into doing more rustic work, especially on wine cellars, where perfection can look less authentic. Since I knew that the parts didn’t need to fit exactly, I used fewer jigs and did more freehand work. And, surprisingly, parts were still fitting together quite nicely. I stopped worrying about it so much and just did it. The entire process was more fun and had a much better flow to it. I would keep working instead of worrying about working or making jigs to help me work.
I was thinking of it more as woodsculpting. I was starting with a big chunk of wood and used various tools to whittle the wood away until a finished piece appeared. I used saws to remove wood in straight and curved lines, chisels to remove wood from odd angles, and even sandpaper to remove very small chunks. If something was too small I would glue chunks of wood together to make it bigger and then sculpt some more.
Now, as woodworkers we think of straight cuts as normal. Try to think of the straight cuts as a bonus and the freehand work as normal. Stop worrying about how to make a jig for every little move of your router and grab a chisel. You know where your line is, just find ways to work up to that line. Cut a tapered leg with a bandsaw (leaving the line) and sweeten it up on the jointer. No one is going to check to make sure that all your legs match perfectly. Use a scraper to make a small piece of moulding instead of buying a $50 router bit that you will only use once. Or, use a chainsaw to cut a thick chunk of wood at a steep angle, then straighten it out with a belt sander. There are plenty of places in your woodworking where mathematical precision isn’t necessary (ask anyone who has a 42” wide tabletop that finished at 41”). The key is that it looks good and fits together when you are done, however you get there.
I think you will find that when you start to think about your work as woodsculpting it will open up more doors than you ever imagined. It will give you more options, and make your woodworking less scary, more rewarding and enjoyable. And, if you do mess something up, don’t worry and just grab another piece of wood. After all, this stuff does grow on trees.