It was a cold wet morning. My mood was melancholy. The sun had not yet come out. I was setting up the woodshop for the work of the day when I tripped over a stack of cedar scraps on the floor.
“Damn, I need to get that crap out of the way,” was my first thought.
I took a deep breath, felt the crispness of the air and allowed my self a second thought. The strips of cedar were not crap they were beautiful. It seemed wasteful to break them up and stack them on the woodpile to be burned. This was especially true because we found our ability to make wood scraps far outweighed our rate of burn. The woodpile had gotten out of hand.
“What do you guys want to be?” I said to the cedar scraps assuming their gender was male. I took a sip of coffee that had been neglected in order to keep the pace of work. Slowing down is hard. My thoughts departed upon a new path. What had been waste moments before now had value.
I opened my sketchbook and turned to a new page. Stacking some of the small scraps made a prototype something like a child’s log cabin. Light came through the spaces between slats. As my mind imagined my hand marked the page.
“Light and wood are great friends,” I thought bounding happily into the design logistics of making a lamp.
The first attempt was to drill holes in each slat after they were cut to length and use vertical dowels to align all the pieces. This proved to be tedious and unnecessary but errors are the bedrock of design. Then I devised a three-sided jig that would allow the slats to be glued and stacked vertically. After stacking, the entire lamp could be compressed with clamps to bond the glue. Design is often as much about how to make, as it is what to make.
Larger scraps of cedar are used for the base and top. A simple light socket is screwed to the underside of the base and can be unscrewed to replace the bulb. That simple solution to replacing the bulb that is otherwise not accessible took a long time to figure out. We so often underestimate the difficulty of doing something simply.
One of my favorite tools in the woodshop is the badass one and a half horsepower belt sander. She’s a beast! Apparently it’s a female belt sander.
Once the glue is dry the uneven ends of the slats and the blobs of glue visit the belt sander. The operation is great fun because something rough becomes clean and refined in a few dusty minutes.
120 and then 220 sanding follow the rough shaping and the lamp is smooth to the touch. My fingers revel upon the monolithic surface made of many cedar slats.
The last and most rewarding step is to rub pure Tung oil into the lamp. The oily cloth makes the colors and patterns of the wood jump and pop. All that’s left is to wait until evening to turn the lamp on and watch the light play with the wood. A glass or two of wine helps with the wait.
Making something beautiful out of material that was destine to be waste is a wonderful way to spend a day.