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From humble beginnings…

What makes me want to make and create things, more than anything else, is that enchanting feeling when we turn some unvalued, ordinary and mundane into something special. Why exactly it feels good, I don’t know, but I guess it is somewhat universal for people to want to change and arrange things to their taste, all be it a culturally specific one.  As a unique and unruly thing, with its own vitality and ‘personality’, wood can surprise you.

And it has to be said, I am becoming a huge fan of being surprised by the process of transforming discarded timber, reclaiming it and giving it new life, making it special. This is a post about making that transformation (and making an oak bed along the way).

I had a bunch of these oak posts, originally supports for the road’s crash barrier that was near our house, and discarded by the council who were replacing them with steel ones.  After a square up on the bandsaw and a quick plane on one side, they are looking like they will make quite ideal bed legs.  Yes they are cracked, but they are still very sturdy, and the cracks add interest.

The aged slanting tops of the posts are too nice to remove.  The organic lumpy silver reminds me of beach barnacles, and makes a real contrast to the smooth finish of the post’s sides.   (That’s a nail set in the photo that I was using to punch some old staples well below the surface ready for plaining).

The Bed Rails

After a good bit of sniffing, digging and scratching round with Martin at the local sawmill, I end up with a load of muddy, dejected looking, out-in-the-open, non-stickered scraps of what we believe to be oak. For what it is this is the kind of wood that comes cheep, as it is less ‘useful’ to people with all those knots and splits and character and everything…

I got a good load of it: a piece for the two long rails, the foot and head rails and a piece for the headboard.

There are a few small bits of grit and plenty of dirt so it needs a good thorough clean up before it sees any kind of metal tool. I am using my almost complete ‘dust sniper’ (more on that some other day) with a brush head attachmet to do a first clean.

Cleaned up and on the bench I can see exactly how ‘all over the place’ the roughly sawn boards are, but that is just perfect for me.

I am not going to plane this baby flat. For one, I don’t have a planer (a big floor standing one that could go a good job of flattening out something like this anyway). And for two, the changes in thickness really accentuate the beautiful grain pattern hiding under there.

Cutting the tenons on cupped and wavy craziness will not be easy, so I did flatten them slightly at the ends.  Anyway, dealing with the unique  irregularities like the split in this post, which runs alongside the edge of the mortice, adds interest ;)   The majority of tenons in this project have to be made specifically to fit individual mortices.

The next order of business is to measure and mark up for cutting.  You might think there is a lot of waste going on here, but these off-cuts can be used in future projects, and were ‘free’ because of the splits and notches and bits anyway.  At first I tried to cut it with my friends circular saw, which rapidly indulged in some blade binding action and just wasn’t working.  So out with the trusty festool jigsaw – a useful tool for volatile wood that likes to jamb blades.

I always like to make the magic handsaw feel wanted…

A combination of hand plaining and sanding (with a soft sanding pad to get into the concave features) is starting to reveal some nice oak, and fantastic grain patterns.

(Note: on re-reading this, I realise I may have given the false impression that I was not using any power tools. In fact I used an electric hand planer and an electric hand sander.  Incidentally, the old 86mm electric hand planers seem to be quite poorly thought of for fine woodworking. Comments on forums, for example,  bemoan their messiness, lack of control and tendency to make big groves in the work. Personally, used with proper vacuum extraction, I find them the cleanest way to take material off. Using a bosch one, I get literally no mess, nothing- no dust, no shavings, no splinters – it all goes straight into the dust extractor. OK, longer than expected note over. )

A lot of tinkering, stripping down and rebuilding of the bandsaw is beginning to pay off.  Here I am cutting the shoulders of the not insubstantial tenons – this bed will be strong!  This is a nice easy one, some of the others had to be made much more irregular…

Glueing up the bed head.

As we want to have the option of moving this bed in the future, only the head and foot of the bed will be glued up.  The rails will fit (tightly) into mortises and two bed bolts will secure them in place.

The corner of the posts is taken off with the jigsaw set-up for a 45 degree cut.  This is to allow room for the mattress corners.

The Slats and their support

I had some nicely sized scraps of oak left from the composite door project which are glued onto the rails as slat supports.  I only glued them on after assembling the bed and checking I was happy with where the mattress was in relation to the top of the rails, until then they just had a few screws.

Reclaimed wood like this makes some nice slats (it didn’t take anywhere near as long as I thought it would to de-nail this, which was a nice surprise).

After a thorough check over for any remaining metal, the bandsaw is used to rip it in half and then down to slat size. It is only construction grade pine, but then it is just for the slats.  Our mattress maker recommends slats are spaced no more than about 1.5inches (and that there are no peas left on them).

The Headboard

The headboard is starting to shape up, and has some fantastic character – looks a bit like solar flares, coming from a star in the bottom left, which eddies and swirls towards the right (which will be the middle of the headboard) where there is some oak burr.

I use a few coats of 50:50 PVA and water mix to seal part of the headboard that has some interesting weathering. If I was in a cautious mood I would cut this off, but I looks quite nice so it stays.

Here I am working out how to fit the headboard. We don’t really want it fixed permanently, because this would make for an awfully big and heavy head section, which would be very hard to transport.

Ok so we haven’t made final decisions on how we want it yet. Currently it has two dowels holding it into the left bed post and just rests on the other.  The plan is to have a bedside table on the right, that will come down from the headboard – which is why it sticks out so much.

So yeah, personally I think it looks great, but has not settled on the positioning – or fixing method.  Those exciting secret magnetically activated fixings would be quite cool, but I don’t think I can justify their price.

Next stop: bedside table land…

Responses to From humble beginnings…

  1. oak doors

    That looks superb!!

  2. Bongo


  3. Jan Horn

    This the reason why I do Woodwork. To change a piece of “scrap” wood into something nice.

  4. Dan

    FANTASTIC. Instant bookmark.

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