Local Artist Spotlight Katie Freeman
Craftsmen Spotlight! here is a post from one of our local artists and craftsmen! Katie Freeman. Check out more of her things on her website.
“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” This is a fantastic question for one little redwood slab. This story starts with a parcel of land along the central coast of California that was owned by a family who lived in Southern California where a redwood tree had fallen. Though the exact cause for the redwood tree’s demise was not known, it was stated by the U.S. Forest Service that when high intensity winds occur along the coastal Redwood Forest during the wettest part of the year, soils are wet and root failure is most likely the culprit. So, it is fair to speculate that the redwood tree in question was most likely knocked down by a mighty gust of wind. The family who owned the land never harvested any living redwood trees. However, if a tree fell on its own they would use a portable sawmill to slab out the redwood and transport it back to Southern California to sell it to woodworkers.
This is where I enter the story. I was living in Oceanside, California, which is in the northern part of San Diego County, and saw an ad posted on Craigslist. When I arrived at the family’s home I purchased several slabs of the redwood even though I had no projects in mind. At this point in my life I was only experimenting with woodworking and had no real formal training. Shortly after obtaining the redwood I enrolled in the Furniture Design program at Palomar Community College in San Marcos, California. I used one of the redwood slabs for my very first project at the school (which was a clock, but that is a story for another time). Over the next three years I used parts of the remaining redwood for a few other projects.
At the end of 2013 I found myself with one remaining medium-sized redwood slab approximately 40 inches long by 30 inches wide. Just a few days prior to Christmas of 2013 my mother, who was back in Iowa, suffered a massive stroke. The stroke, unfortunately, left my mother without the ability to speak and with limited mobility. After spending a few weeks with my mother and the rest of my family back in Iowa, it was clear that my young family in California and I needed to move back to Iowa. During this time several things stalled, justifiably so, including my pursuit of a degree in Furniture Design through Palomar college. It was a quick move. In fact, it was just six weeks from the day we made the decision to move (in early January of 2014) until the day we arrived in our new home in Iowa. It was such a whirlwind, and we were living out of boxes for quite some time. All of my wood and woodworking equipment stayed packed up in the garage and was rarely used. In January 2017 I decided I had waited long enough to chase after my dreams of owning and running a furniture design and manufacturing organization—that is when Freeman Furnishings, LLC was formed.
The first part of this project build was to tackle the copper piping base, which started with a trip to the hardware store. I had Ben’s plan as a starting point, and then I calculated the additional piping I would need for my scaled-up project and additional features like the secondary shelf and wine bottle-specific storage. An additional change I decided to make was the method of joinery for the copper piping base. Ben chose to use a glue method. However, given the larger size of my base I decided that a better method would be to solder the pipes. I had three years of experience of soldering in high school, and though I was very rusty, I figured it wouldn’t take much for it all to come back. Once I had all the piping and soldering supplies it was time to cut the pipes to length and assemble. There was a fair amount of trial and error, but in the end a sturdy copper pipe base existed! Since copper will begin to patina to a greenish color when introduced to oils and moisture, I decided to actually paint the copper base. I wanted to maintain the copper color so I painted the base with a primer and then topped it with a hammered copper spray paint.
Now that the base was completed it was time to get to work on the redwood slab. Since the slab had not been stored in the most ideal conditions over the last five plus years (in addition to being stored in multiple climate conditions), it had curved quite a bit, like a potato chip. Since this slab was going to be a bar top I intended on using a bar top epoxy to help protect the slab. Plus, redwood is incredibly soft—if you happen to sneeze in its vicinity it will dent! I will most likely use epoxy for any redwood projects to help keep them protected no matter the intended use of the piece. Knowing that I intended to use the bar top epoxy, which is self-leveling, I only had to get the slab close to flat on both sides and then the epoxy would do the rest of the work. In order to get the redwood flat in a fairly speedy manner I used an angle grinder with an attachment called the Turbo Plane by Arbortech. I also used the attachment to help remove the remaining bark along the two live edges and to soften some of the sharper edges. The Turbo Plane left some slight grooves in spots, so I followed it up with a belt sander and then an orbital sander to make it smooth and level.
Once epoxy is poured on a slab no further changes can be made to it. The side of the slab that I choose to use had quite a bit of lighter sapwood instead of the red/copper colored wood. In order to bring out more of the red and copper tones I used a torch to lightly char the top of the slab. Next, I applied one coat of an oil-based polyurethane to give a gold tone to the white sapwood and highlight the red and copper tones in the middle of the slab (watch video here). Once the polyurethane dried and fully cured it was time to pour the epoxy. I applied epoxy to the entire slab, meaning the top, bottom and ends. Once the epoxy resin was fully cured I sanded it up to 6,000 grit and applied a polish. The polish provided a nice sheen as well as a very smooth-to-the-touch surface.
With both the copper piping base and redwood slab bar top completed, it was time for assembly. I utilized copper piping straps and course threaded screws to firmly attach the top to the base. The charred and oiled surface of the redwood reveals flecks of shimmering copper tones that play beautifully with the copper base. The live edges on the front and back make it a completely unique piece with a modern and rustic charm.
The redwood and copper bar currently sits in the showroom of Luxe Interiors in Coralville, Iowa just waiting for a new home. That is not where this story will end. While I don’t know who will purchase this piece, or what part of the country—or even what part of the world— it will land in, I do know that wherever it reaches its final destination it will provide a space for friends and family to enjoy each other while adding a whole new chapter to its life.
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