We made a bench last year, now on display at the Highlight Gallery in Mendocino, that was inspired by a chunk of cypress wood we salvaged in the fall of 2014. I remember the day it arrived in our shop, one of several similar pieces discarded by a local mill operator. It was quite decayed on one edge, but the wood had a lot of character and was mostly sound; and it looked like a bench seat.
Cleaning up the edge of a board that has begun to decay is an absorbing experience. There are all sorts of nooks and crannies with flaky material in them, and as you scrape them out you gradually unveil an interesting convoluted surface, defined by the underlying unaffected wood. I use a variety of scrapers, wire brushes and small tools for this, and the activity is almost meditative, as your sense of touch tells you where to probe further.
On this particular piece, the surface thus produced was particularly complex, including numerous voids in the faces of the board as well as the edge. We always treat such a surface with a high quality penetrating epoxy sealer, a product manufactured for restoring weathered wood in old buildings. This strengthens the wood and prevents further decay, and we have also found that surfaces restored in this manner are attractive to look at and to feel. These irregular surfaces are another opportunity to appreciate the physical environment that we humans are a part of. Nature abhors a straight line.
There is one issue that always arises for us: whether to fill voids or to leave them. In this case it seemed practical to fill the voids in the bench top, with an epoxy product we use regularly that tints and finishes well.
The base of the bench uses some locally salvaged western maple, which I personally saved from a firewood pile several years ago, and galvanized steel hardware, notably a heavy threaded rod and bearing plate washers of the sort used in earthquake retrofit work: an engineered approach somehow suits the piece.
And how did the bench get its name? Inspired by the contrast between the gnarly edge and the clean edge of the cypress slab, we finished the clean edge by trimming it to follow a gently irregular line, defined by the wood figure, and rounded it over – sort of like the folded edge of a taco. The opposite, gnarly edge seemed like crispy bacon, and the voids in the top became bits of figurative vegetables in various colors. Since this is a quirky piece, we took the liberty of adding three round cherry tomatoes to the array in the top and four three-dimensional cherry-tomato feet. The bench had a brief fling on the stage in 2015, appearing in the American Canyon High School production of Auntie Mame as a piece of daring modern furniture.
Information on the Highlight Gallery is at https://www.thehighlightgallery.com.