TURNING TREE TRUNKS INTO KITCHEN SHELVES

The timbers that hold up Underhill House were cut from trees on our 44 acres.  We were looking for trees that had the right dimensions, interesting forking patterns and were too close to their neighbors or not doing well for other reasons.  These “weed” trees made great timbers, but the part we wanted was often 20 or 30 feet in the air atop a rather thicker trunk.

We had a good use for the trunks too.

timbers-and-barnThey were sliced into slabs by a portable mill and stacked to start drying next to the building site.

Later they were moved to a nearby solar kiln for further drying.

timbers-in-barnThen they were brought home and stored in the barn till we were ready to use them as window trim and sills, bathroom counter tops, kitchen counter tops and a set of shelves for the kitchen. We have oak from trees stricken by oak wilt, some fine elm from an elm tree that was just succumbing, as most elms do by a certain age, to Dutch elm disease. We had some black walnut that was just growing too closely and some amazing cherry from a large tree that forked almost at the ground.  A year ago, one side of it went down, tearing away from it’s twin with a disastrous gash.  It feels good to salvage pieces like these.

Putting together the elm slabs into counters and shelves has been a particular joy.  We decided not to put cabinets on the corner wall because they would cut off the view for people working in the kitchen beside them.  Instead, Michael Donovan, one of our carpenters, has shaped some really gorgeous shelves where we will store our plates and bowls and drinking glasses.

We worked with carpenter Michael Donovan to figure out the shape for each shelf.  He cut and sanded them, and then I worked on finishing them.4-shelves

How we finished these slabs

We considered several finishes for all the horizontal slab wood in the house.  We explored oils and various water soluble finishes and settled on Ceramithane.

Our paint dealer, Phil at Premiere Paint in McFarland, WI, said he used Ceramithane on the counter in his store, where he has been sliding gallons of paint across it for three years, with no ill effect.

It is really neat stuff!

Ceramithane is a water-borne acrylic-urethane finish that cross-links, which is a chemical process that forms a very hard, durable coating.  It’s made by Graham Paint, a small company in Chicago.  Ceramithane contains ceramic microspheres that turn it into a hard finish. We are also using it on the wood floor in our loft and on our stairs.

Later Jacob taught me to go all the way across the slab with the grain in a narrow swath then do another  until I am done.  That allowed me to keep from having lines where brush strokes have already dried.

Since I did this, Jacob taught me to gowith the grain in a narrow swath then do another until I am done  top to bottom rather then working from left to right like this.  That allowed me to keep from having lines where brush strokes have already dried.

It is really bringing out the grain in this cherry slab.  It is self-leveling, which means the brush strokes are supposed to wmooth out and disappear.  They do, however sets up pretty fast, after which the self-leveling feature no longer functions, so it’s a little tricky to apply, but I spent a very enjoyable weekend finishing our kitchen shelves.  That was before Jacob Williamson of Alchemy Painting  showed me how to minimize brush strokes more effectively.

Any water-based acrylic will raise the grain in wood, so the makers advise that you wipe the wood first with a damp cloth then let it dry.  Sure enough it will feel rougher.  Before putting on a coat of Ceramithane, sand the wood lightly till it is smooth again.  With each coat, the wood grain will rise a bit more, so each coat needs a light sanding after drying.

We started with 2 coats of the high gloss Ceramithane because that is the hardest form, followed by a coat of satin Ceramithane because we didn’t want such a high sheen.  Because that still seemed a bit glossy, we rubbed in gently with fine steel wool.

hammeringThen Michael mounted them to the wall, which was also tricky.  He used wooden cleats against the back wall and steel rods driven into the timbers to support the bottom shelf and the highest shelf, which will be used to support a stereo speaker.

Those in between are supported by cleats and  metal tubes which were actually the same tubes used to  cover the wires of our kitchen pendant lighting.  We ordered a few moer.  We thought they would look good, and they are much stronger than necessary. kitchen

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6 replies

  1. It is looking good Denise. We are still looking at our options. It is a slow tedious process and seeing yours coming together is a spur to keep me going.

    Were you able to find out about how the solar drier is set up? I would still be interested in knowing how that works

    • Thanks, Joanna
      Building a house is surely a slow process, and we have had a lot of help — several carpenters and many contractors doing things like the wiring and plumbing.
      The finish line feels like a vanishing horizon sometimes as every room in the house is still in some form of construction, but I do feel like the end is almost in sight.

    • Hi Amber,
      I have to agree. I can’t imagine any other form of storage in that corner. I need to fill all the tiny holes from the screwing down and then we can start to fill it up with our dishes!

  2. As it finally all comes together it looks like your living inside the rootball of a tree. I wish I lived close enough to see it all in person. The kitchen shelves are great. I just love them.

    • Yes, the space has a wonderful feel. Everyone working on this structure has faced challenges because the basic framework has nothing to do with a straight edge, but the end result is extremely pleasing and worth the effort, I think.

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