The Artful Codger

Bubinga DetailI have to admit that I like art. A beautiful photograph, a lovely piece of sculpture, or a well-done painting – I have all of those in various places in my house. Of course, one of my paintings is of pointing dogs, another of an old train engine – they strike my fancy. As the saying goes, art – like beauty – is where you find it.

The reason I bring this up is that, a while ago, I found a really interesting looking piece of wood – it was cut from the outer aspect of a huge bubinga log. The tree was a monster, almost 400 years old, and for that reason, this piece – which contained bark and exposed sapwood – was able to be sawn flat. The shape of the bark remnants and the graphic nature of the exposed wood kept bringing me back to the piece … but I could think of no really good way to make use of it. Then it struck me: it looked like an abstract painting. So I bought the piece of wood, took it to my workshop, and got busy.

Sanding BubingaFirst, I cut it into a nicely proportioned rectangle with clean square edges. I wanted the highly geometric shape and edges to set off the organic shapes of the surface of the wood. Then, I got out my 4 x 24 belt sander and started smoothing the exposed wood patches while leaving the bark alone. I finished up with a random orbit sander, taking the smoothed areas all the way up to 320-grit sandpaper.

Wall ArtTo finish the piece, I started with amber shellac right out of the can, thinned 25 percent with denatured alcohol. I brushed it onto all surfaces (bark areas included) of the piece and allowed it to dry (I used Painter’s Pyramids to hold it up as the finish cured). Following that, I applied a coat of sprayed-on shellac, de-nibbed the sanded surfaces with steel wool, and sprayed on a final coat of the shellac.

To mount it to the wall, I plowed a groove with a 3/8″ dovetail bit so that a heavy-duty screw sunk into a wall stud could hold up the piece. (It is a pretty heavy chunk of wood, so it really needed to be well-supported.)

Once it was hung on the wall near my dining table, I confess to feeling pretty darn artistic. And in the brief time it has been on the wall, I have had several compliments on the piece. So, perhaps my retirement gig should be in the field of art instead of woodworking … or maybe not!

Rob Johnstone
Editor in Chief

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