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Old House Woodworking Project: telling a new story with an old house

By: Mark Clement , Contributing Writer
In: Uncategorized, Old House Musings

In our old house renovation we’re working on our home’s heart.

When I take stuff out–notably old lumber–I hold on to some. It won’t be used to re-build, but over the years I’ve felt there’s something in there, in that tree that grew several lifetimes ago and has sheltered generations, including ours. A story perhaps.

So I collected some old studs and boards from our various projects and waited.

Our wedding photo's frame made from old lumber, complete with and (and world's floweriest) wallpaper.

Our wedding photo

Then, Theresa and I got married.

We took photos, of course. And when they came back–with my bride radiant in her dress, fluttered ever so gently by the ocean breeze passing us like the current of our lives–the story of the old trees told itself.

The lumber used to build our house was rough-sawn (not planed smooth like today’s). And for some reason the carpenters who built this house toe-nailed (drove nails at angles) just about every connection. I have no idea why. So when I dislodged boards from where they’d been holding up the house, there were wire- and hard-cut nails piercing through corners at odd angles while the lumbers’ entire surface is a splinter waiting to happen.

It has to be handled carefully.

Yet, inside this material is the most graceful wood grain I’ve ever seen in wood that supports walls and ceilings. Wonderful growth rings layer upon layer, year upon year. In it’s heart, it is young and hopeful, beautiful and strong. It is, you could say, alive.

So I took some choice pieces, knotty, worn and somehow ready for a second chance. It took some time and a lot of patience, but I figured out how to make a picture frame for our wedding photo.

Modern fasteners (I fastened everything with pocket screws on the backside of the frame) hold it together. But the only ones you can see are the originals. To most people, I suppose, it’s just four old boards–you know…”distressed.” But to us, it’s more than that. Like our life together, it’s original. No store sells this. And we made it. Ourselves.

Maybe I’m over-thinking it, but that frame and what it’s made of is an emblem of our history, of our home’s shelter, and perhaps of our future together. It’s an emblem of the risk it takes to make our home and our lives better. Of our story, one made timeless, however, not by what is old but by what truly is timeless: Theresa’s heart.

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  1. 2 Responses  to “Old House Woodworking Project: telling a new story with an old house”

  2. Aug 29, 2011
    I have often thought of using old wood in new projects instead of having that wood simply thrown out. It is not only a recycling strategy, but a sentiment for those woodworkers who have come before us. The buildings constructed many years ago were built, like other objects at the time, to last and that carries over to the building products used. Much of the used wood I see is of better quality than the new wood that is being produced today. I hope that I am able to put this idea into practice soon. Thank you for sharing your story.
  3. Jonny
    Aug 29, 2011
    I love collected salvaged wood and have also made pic frames and mirror frames from some classic old boards. When I first started working with barnwood, my problem was how to hide the fresh cut ends of all the beautiful boards. Now I know some secrets so I can finish a room in greyed out barn wood and no one can see the fresh cuts.