old wood...

I spent the last two hours this evening hand sanding the banister from the upstairs hallway. It's a very simple banister, yet elegant in form. Fashioned from a single blank of tight, straight grained oak, it's graced the hallway since Stately Sad Old Goth Manor was built in 1841. While there were powered wood shaping machines in that day, water powered or man powered, it reflects the pride and care taken by the hands that created it. The machines of the day were capable of forming shapes, but they were usually rough blanks that required hours of delicate hand work to finish. It's about six feet long, three inches thick and about six inches wide. It's top has a gracefully curved center, with reverse curves to the sides, which are rounded and ogeed to the flat bottom. It's curves feel natural in the palm of your hand as you move along it. All of those wonderful curves were finished by hand, probably using a very shallow coving plane and lots of abrasive papers. I'm sure it was shaped to fit the hand of it's unknown maker, a wide, strong hand, but smooth from working with and finishing wood. Hands that labored to create something of useful beauty, hands that worked to feed a family, hands that embraced a loved one or cupped the face of a child. Those experiences are reflected in the work they created. I could have made short work of removing the old finish by using an orbital sander, but somehow applying a machine to that thing just doesn't seem right. It deserves the same time and touch that brought it into being and I enjoy feeling the shape of the work between my hand and the sandpaper. It also has some worn spots on the edges, where generations of hands have grasped it when those who have tread that hallway before me made the turn from the hallway down the first step to the landing. There are a few soft gouges and nicks as well, and I'm taking care not to disturb them, as they are part of the life of that banister and are small homage to it's service. They shall remain as a reminder to me that this is a piece of living wood, in that it is part of the lives of those who now inhabit this place and have before. It will be finished and protected with modern stain and varnish, a necessity for it's protection, but it's beautiful grain and small, wonderful blemishes will shine through.
I really like working with new wood, which is pampered in it's creation, dried in computer controlled kilns, shaped with high speed machines with carbide bits and handles being machined well. But old wood, wood that has survived the ages, wood that was chosen with wizened care for it's purpose, has a quality that cannot be easily described. It just feels right. You can feel the rain and sunlight and wind and snow it grew and matured in when it was still part of an ancient oak tree. I hope it appreciates the time and care I afford it. I'm sure it does.

wander with me...



Post a Comment

<< Home