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