Working with history

This past week I have been processing the wood for the tool tray, vice, and plane stop for the new bench. For most woodworkers this part of the process my seem dull, or something they loath considering 98% of it is reclaimed and still has the original finish on it. For this it means scraping off said finish (constantly sharpening glue chisel), fussing with the bite of the scrub plane ( something I loath), constantly waxing the soles of all planes due to the dryness of the material. When all these processes and finicky details are putt together I would normally would say it isn’t worth it, but not for this stuff. In scraping off the finish I know that I am scraping off over 100 years of mental health history; scraping off abuse, pain, and a haunted history. I acquired this wood while demoing old sections of the Cherokee Mental Health Institute. The hospital was opened in 1902, housing the criminally insane, mentally insane, and drug addicts. The building is beautiful, in full Victorian elegance.

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The wing were the wood came from

The history of this building is fascinating and the craftsmanship put into it is jaw dropping, but let’s get to the wood itself. All the wood for the building was felled on or near the site using a saw mill similar to this one located in Perham MN.

Saw mill located in Perham MN.
Saw mill located in Perham MN.

I could go on in further detail about this mill, but that’s another story for another day. The pieces that I am using on this bench build were used for the door top trim, the thickness is 2″ and were set into the plaster walls for 3.0 doors. They feature a beautiful Roman Ogee and did feature a center decorative raised section (this section I sawed off for ease of dovetailing and a smoother looking vice chop.) The original finish was shellac and oil based and held up very well over the years of abuse.

Stripping the shellac and re-planing.
Stripping the shellac and re-planing.

 

With all this in mind as I stripped off the layers of shellac I often think of this as the wood’s retirement; taking it and putting it to use in a young woodworkers shop as he grows in his craft, building furniture for his young family, eventually training his son and daughter his passion.

 

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