Becky Lamb says she’s always been a crafter of some type, but it was about 15 years ago that she started working with wood.
At the time, both she and her husband were teachers (she’s now retired from teaching, while he’s a school principal), and were living on a pretty tight budge. “I wanted to make my own furniture,” Becky said. “At first, I was having my husband make the furniture, but I got tired of waiting for his time schedule, so I had him show me how to use the tools.”
Whether it was a coffee table or a shelf, “I felt like I could build something better quality and cheaper. “ (And, with a move to a new house, she now has new projects.)
Becky started out using a handheld jigsaw to cut out hearts and shapes that she would paint and attach to other projects; now, her most-used tools are her 12” sliding compound miter saw and a random orbit sander. “I prefer to cut anything I can on [the miter saw] over using the table saw,” Becky said, while her sander sees a lot of use. “It seems like I have to buy a new sander about once a year,” she said. “I don’t know if I’m hard on them, or what.”
Part of this could be the type of wood Becky prefers to use for her projects. “I like using reclaimed wood; pallets, of course, and reclaimed barn wood. I like wood with character, that shows some age. I don’t like to buy the new stuff – I like it to have a history.”
For instance, she said, some barn wood “turns pink because of the cow pee,” or, sometimes, “you can see where there were pegs that kept the barn together, because there are square holes, or sometimes I find square nails. I love that.”
With pallets, “you can get nice pallet wood, or stuff that looks rough and weathered,” Becky said, noting that she has found pallets made from oak, hickory and other nice hardwoods.
For her book, Crafting with Wood Pallets (Ulysses Press, ISBN 978-1-61243-488-9), “I tried to do everything out of pallet wood,” Becky said. This presented some challenges, in projects such as a wine bar, where she had to figure out how to tilt the shelves and how to make the glass holders out of pallets.
“I’m more of a hands-on learner, so I tend to put it together and figure out things as I go along,” Becky said. “I don’t draw anything out, so have I to think out ‘this is the back, and there’s going to be a top on this shelf, so it has to be different measurements than the sides … I have definitely learned the old adage, ‘Measure twice, cut once.’”
Other types of projects she’ll build include taking her pieces of scrap wood and using them to make painted, hand-lettered signs; combining metal with wood projects, and “I like to repurpose something old that had a different use and incorporate it in with wood, like old sewing machine drawers that I attached to other wood as an organizer.”
For a finish on her projects, if it’s an outdoor item or something else that needs durability, like a tabletop, she’ll use a polyurethane finish. For stain, particularly on items that will be used with food, Becky likes the finish created by coconut oil. “I started trying it, and I liked it,” she said. But for many items, she will paint them – usually with an interior latex paint – then sand to remove some of the paint, then apply a stain over the paint and the wood.
The rustic look she achieves through these finishing techniques, her use of reclaimed wood, and her construction methods, Becky said, likely has a higher popularity in her state of Montana than in some other areas – plus, it’s a look she likes.
“I’m not a fine furniture maker,” she said. For example, “I don’t hide the screws. To me, they’re part of the rustic look” – as is her wood choice. “I hate to buy new when it’s all out there. In Montana, there’s barns falling down. It seems like it’s readily available.”