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The way back walnut and a request

JoshfromPA

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Ok so this is a bit of a story mixed with a bit of a request. If you aren't into reading stories I asked that you back out now as to not waste your time. If you don't mind a story ...then pull up a stool and have a seat.

1974, life in a small northwestern PA town. Beautiful place, but there weren't many good ways to make a living. If you were lucky enough to have an uncle or a cousin that worked at "the forge" then you were golden. Now the National Forge was 23 miles up the river so getting a job at "the forge" meant you had to have reliable transportation up and down the river road every day. Not everyone had those luxuries. There were also the lucky few who's families made a living off of the campers, this was back when everyone had a camp up in "da mahtin's" (looking at you if there are any yinzers here lol) and an entrupenorial person could make a good living renting out canoes or whatnot.

Now if you weren't that lucky, or you didnt have a car, then you worked at "the mill". There were a few mills around town at that time but Shannon Lumber was the big name. Working at Shannon Lumber meant you were working like a horse and getting paid like a dog. You could eek out a living but you darn sure weren't eating t-bone very often.

This story begins with my father in law stacking lumber at Shannon Lumber in 1974. Shannon lumber, second shift with a good grader and 4 guys on the "green chain of pain" could put 30,000 BF of hardwood lumber from the rough mill , through the grade chain, stacked, stickered and ready to go in the kiln every night. Night after night...PRODUCTION BOYS...LETS GO!!!

Standing at the green chain of pain ( which is the name that the workers at Shannon gave the lumber chain behind the grader deck, still called it that when I worked there in 1995) watching that lumber come off the grader deck at a high rate of speed every night means that you see a LOT of lumber...and I do mean a LOT of lumber. So, when watching hundreds of thousands of board feet of lumber go by, you can imagine that if a fella were to pick out say, the prettiest 5 or 6 boards he saw in 3 or 4 years of working there, that those boards would be pretty damn special!! And this leads me to the real story.

My father in law did just that, over the 3 or 4 years he worked there, whenever a particularly pretty board went by, he would throw it off to the side. Now just to be clear, everyone at Shannon grew up together, him taking 5 boards in 3 or 4 years wasn't stealing and wouldnt have been considered so by the owner. It would have been more a matter of " good job boy, thats a pretty piece of wood, rather see you get it than the city boy lumber buyer" type deal.

So now we fast forward to 1995, I had just graduated high school, was in the same rut that my father in law was in in 1974...working at Shannon Lumber barely making ends meet. This experience was a pivotal time in my life, I decided I wanted more. Decided that it wasnt for me, wanted to get out of that town, wanted to be something more. And that experience at Shannon always stayed with me as the example of what would happen if I didn't keep my nose to the grindstone...what could happen if you let yourself hit a rut. How easy it was to get stuck. How hard it was to break away.

So i moved down south without a pot to pee in or a window to throw it out. Lived in Florida for a while, then on to Ga. Stayed gone for a long time, 15 years or so, blowing around like the breeze. But in all that moving around that small town in NW Pa. Was always home. I knew that one day I Would end up back in Pa. So 6 years ago when things kinda fell apart for me in Ga. I came back to Pa.

To make a long story at least a little bit shorter, I ran into a beautiful young lady that I hadnt seen in many years (who happened to be the little sister of one of my best friends while growing up). That young lady and I started talking . We had both done the " get out of the small town" thing and were both at a point in life where we were realizing that life in those small Pa towns isnt so bad after all!

So fast forward to today, here we are, married and living in a small town in central Pa. Just as happy as we could possibly be, both have great jobs and I have recently taken up woodworking. Now this is where it gets good. A couple of weeks ago we were up visiting her parents in that little town in NW Pa. And me and her dad were talking about me doing some hobby woodworking. Her dad says " hey I have a couple boards out in the garage that I have been carrying around since 1974 I took them when I worked out at Shannon lumber. Id be really happy if you would take them and do something with them. Now mind you, I was best friends with his son in high school 25 years ago, so we have been friends a LONG time. He has carried these boards around with him through half a dozen different moves, has kept them stickered, dry and safe for 45 years now. These boards mean a LOT to him. When he gave them to me I was shocked, the ultimate symbol of respect from a man I deeply care for and deeply respect myself. I'm sure most of you can understand that the beauty of these boards is only partially held in their grain, only partially held in the perfect curl in the piece of cherry, the deep almost purple color of the walnut. The beauty of these boards goes way deeper than that. These boards were a labor of love, carried around by a man who over 45 yers had built a serious sentimental value into them.

Being a sentimental old fool myself , I found myself choking back tears on the ride home with that wood in the back seat of the car. Thinking about the story behind those boards, thinking about how crazy life is. Thinking about what a strange winding road this human experience is. If you would have told me 25 years ago that in 25 years I would be married to Jer's little sister. Living together with our own family , with a wood workshop in my basement and working on a piece of wood that clink had carried around with him for 45 years I would have looked at you like you had 3 heads. Life is crazy!!!

SOOOO I'm finally nearing the end of my long winded post and to the request part. I have spent the last couple of weeks in total awe at the thought of having this beautiful wood. There are 5 pieces of 5/4 walnut that are from 8-10" wide (depending on which board) and from 6-8' long. And there is one piece of 8/4 curly cherry that the curl is so strong is shows right through the rough cut. This wood is GORGEOUS. Slow dried for 45 years, not a crack in it. The walnut is not figured but it was chosen for simply being beautiful for one reason or another, the prettiest piece is a luthiers dream, TIGHT ringed cut at a long angle to the trunk amd just as pretty as walnut gets. Every board is straight as an arrow. No bows, no cups. Just beautiful PA grown hardwood. Dense as a rock and heavy as lead.

So on the ride home I did some serious thinking, I want to do something special with this wood. This wood deserves to have a legacy and definitely deserves to be made into heirloom quality items that will remain in our family for at least as long as I am on this earth and hopefully considerably longer.

With that I have spent the last couple weeks working on the first of 5 boxes that I am going to make. This first one is going to be Johns (my father in law) amd the next 4 will be matching boxes that will be given to my wife, my daughter, my mother amd my niece. This first box has been a bit of a learning experience as I have never tried to build anything like this before.

Its nothing too crazy intricate but I am pretty happy with how its turning out. I will post pics of it in a seperate post because I dont want to take any chances of wiping all this typing out and ive never posted a pic here lol!!!

At any rate, this is why I'm here, I have gotten to a point with this box that I need something special for the top piece of the box. I was going to make a piece of veneer out of the curly cherry and use that as the center piece but i held a piece of cherry against it and it just doesnt work for me!

I need a piece of walnut burl. I would really like to have a thin veneer of a walnut burl , preferably with a little story behind it. Maybe a piece that someone gave to you years ago? Maybe an oldtimer handed it down? Something that has been sitting in the corner of your shop for 20 years waiting for the roght time to shine. Something like that? It only needs to be 4.5" x 8", but I really want it to be perfect. The provenance is as important to me as the grain. I'm not in any big hurry lol. This wood has waited 45 years to become this box. It wont mind a little while longer!

I dont have anything exotic to trade. I would not feel right giving up any of the wood John gave me ( and my wife would literllay kill me so theres that) BUT I do have quite a bit of oak and quite a bit of regular walnut. I also have some cherry blanks. Lot of 2x2 white oak stock. Some 3x3. A LOT of 3/4" x various length/ width walnut cut offs. Some 2x2 cherry stock that is so aged its burgundy on the outside and smooth as silk on the inside. Quite a few 2 x 2 walnut stock pieces of various length.

All the wood I have has quite a bit of provenance . I was given a fair aized load of wood from an old timer that used to build rocking chairs, he passed away and his family wanted someone to have the wood so it wouldnt go to waste. It was his collection of stock that had all been sitting in a barn. Its all at the very least 20 years old and barn dried.

I know plain white oak/walnut/cherry probably doesnt raise many eyes around here but I'm hoping that since I only need a small thin veneer to finish this box that one of you will make a deal with me.

Anyone have an intersting piece of walnut burl they would like to have become part of this box? And does anything I have interest you? I thoughht about just buying a piece but it just doesnt feel right. Like it would cheapen it for me. I would really like to trade and for it to be something that meant something to someone else.

If you are still reading, thank you for sticking around!! And thank you all for bwing a part of this place. I am really enjoying reading through all the old post here. Lot of really good people here it seems!
 
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JoshfromPA

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Wow, just read that post and realized its almost a book....here is the super short version. My father in law gave me aome walnut that he carried around for 45 years with him. I'm making a box to give him out of it. I am looking for a piece of walnut burl veneer that is 4"x 8". Prefer something that has a story behind it. At the very least something old.

I have quite a bit of oak and walnut stock to trade and a little bit of cherry.
 

Gdurfey

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I had to write something. This is great Josh. Can’t help you a bit, but this is great. I feel the same about my Uncle Wayne. Would have given anything to have made sawdust with him. I think choosing boxes was a great choice; as I was reading I thought that would be the heirloom piece........ best wishes Josh, can’t wait to see pictures.
 

JoshfromPA

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I didnt relize how li g the post was until after I posted it. Typimg on my phone its hard to see exactly how long winded I was being lol!!

I'm getting more and more sentimental as the years go by and tgis wood carries a great deal of memories for both my FIL and I .

Working out at that mill I had to walk about a mile and a half to get there up a widing country road. Halfway up the valley if they were sawing oak I could smell it....knew it was gonna be a rough night. Back then I weighed about 140 soaking wet. Stacking 12/4 red oak all night will separate the men from the boys REAL quick lol.

We'de draw sticks for stacks. Cross your fingers you got put in the 8' stack. It was faster pace and you stacked more but lord have mercy on the poor sap who had to stack 12/4 red oak at the 16' pack all night. Used to have to grab them boards and jump my legs up onto the chain frame , use my legs to get them moving. Get enough momentum to get them off the chain and on the stack. Man I dont miss those nights.
 

tocws2002

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@phinds @tocws2002 - might be able to help with veneer.


Great story!


Thanks for the tag @rocky1.

@JoshfromPA I think I have some nice walnut burl that will suit your needs. I'll see what I can dig up and post pics tomorrow. The story I have for some of it may not be as good as yours, but I'll be sure to let you know where I got it from.

-jason
 

JoshfromPA

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Jason, that would be awesome! Let me know!

Rocky , I did indeed do all that on my phone. Ive got a 14 year old daughter so I text a LOT lolol!

Thank you guys for reading and responding.

I'm going to be really digging in here, think this is the place for me.
 

Tony

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This is a great story Josh! I would get with @Mike1950 , he has some beautiful walnut! Mike, if you have something get with me please.
 

Mike1950

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funny- 1974 I was working swingshift Long Lake lumber pulling lumber on dry chain. Then switched to graveyard green chain. 155 lbs I was by far the smallest guy on the green chain. It was very hard work but sure made shift go by fast. we rotated from pile to pile every 2 hours. Ponderosa pine country here. toughest pull was 14 and 16' 1 x12". They cut lots of big trees so lots of 1x12. the guy in front of you on chain stacked them 2 deep so you could keep up. Never will forget that first time pulling 1x12. it was about 5 above zero. Had bigger guys on each side of me offer to take my spot but said "Thanks, But I am going to have to do it sometime" Once you got in the groove it was not bad. One thing it was much cheaper than a Gym membership.

I have walnut veneer from a Mercedes benz factory. and some other. No clue as to where it is. wont get in shop today but I will look.
 

JoshfromPA

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Mike, yeah the green chain was appropriately named the green chain of pain. The first couple months I worked there it was dead of winter. The mill was in a creek bottom between two mountains. Had a tin roof over it but no protection from the wind.

Absolutely BRUTAL job and a bunch of brutal guys working there. 2 weeks into the job and I looked over to find the guy next to me laying on the floor. I yelled help, he wasnt breathing. They stopped the chain for a minute and while we were all gathered around the yard boss came out of his office.

What are you doing!?!??!?! Call an ambulance and get that ##!!%/ chain moving!!! None of you are doctors get BACK TO WORK!! So the chain started back up amd we stacked away while the guy literally laid there beside me dyeing. He had a massive heart attack. We didny know it at the time but he dod indeed die. Crazy place.
 

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Josh, I can't help with the burl, but I just wanted to say thanks for a great story and looking forward to the pics from your project. Don't know what your real job is, but you definitely have a knack for writing. Good luck with your heirlooms.
 

JoshfromPA

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Thank you Maverick. I'm actually a project manager for a fair sized ,commercial general contactor. I'm not usually much for writing, but this particular deal has struck a chord deep in my heart.

Crazy how much a couple old pieces could mean to a person.
 

Wildthings

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Josh, I can't help with the burl either, but what a great story this was and looking forward to the pics from your project. @FranklinWorkshops Larry may also be another great contact for this.....OOOHHHHH LAAAAARRRRRYYYYYY
 

JoshfromPA

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Ive got to spend some time getting a load of pictures off of my phone before I can take anymore to upload lol.

I will work on getting some up though.
 

JoshfromPA

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Like I said, I'm not in any big hurry. I'm sure if I keep this thread alive for a while , someone will chime in. Thank you all again for replying!
 

JoshfromPA

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I accidentally uploaded this pic to the wrong thread lol! At any rate, thats the box that sparked the thread. The center of the box lid, as you can see ,is missing.

I've actually cut the center piece and have it about ready to go in, I planed it down about a 1/4" shy of being flush with the lid top to leave room to overlay a piece of veneer/burl. I chisel cut a notch all the way around the inside of the perimeter pieces of the lid before i glued it up so the center piece is actually about a half inch wider in both directions than the inside of the lid, it will be glued up from the bottom to shore up/ stabilize the lid. Once its in place I will just need to lay the veneer piece into the recess and get to sanding!

That wood was rough cut a couple weeks ago, and I dont own an electric planer, anyone that has hand planed much walnut will appreciate the amount of work that went into making that box lol!

I also plan on turning a real nice knob on the lathe to finish the top off. I think the FIL is gonna love it.

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