After seeing a big, round hunk of wood used as a centerpiece at a friend’s wedding (see below, left), I wanted to give this project a try. Hank and I have scores and scores of downed trees around the farm, everything from pine and walnut to hackberry and Osage orange. I asked Hank to saw off some inch-thick pieces from an old walnut tree so I could sand them down and give them away as Christmas gifts.
After sorting through my cache of wood blocks, I got to work. I used a chisel to carefully peel away the bark around the edges of the wood round; I wanted to preserve the beautiful striations in the wood, rather than buffing them all out with a power sander. Then I got to work sanding. I used a belt sander first with 80-grit paper to remove all the chainsaw gashes. I learned that you really need to be careful with a belt sander, but at the same time, give it enough pressure to even out the surface. It doesn’t take long for things to go from bad to worse with this tool. I found that I would gash the wood if I tried to even out a mark here or there. Better to just grind down the sides of a gash with even pressure than to try and smooth it out head on. (If you’ve ever used a sander, you’ll know what I mean.) Hank was there to help me along the way and after a while, I became halfway proficient with it.
Next, I switched to a palm sander and used 100 grit, followed by 150 grit, and finally 400 to give it a nice smooth finish. I applied food-safe butcher block wax, sanding briefly with 400 between coats, until a nice glossy finish was achieved, without being sticky.
At top right you can see one really interestingly shaped piece I finished and used for a recipe shot for my “Heirloom Kitchen” column in Heirloom Gardener (www.rareseeds.com).
Next, I’m finishing some smaller rounds and turning them into coasters! Nature provides some of the best gifts, and with a little patience and effort, you can create something truly unique and beautiful for your friends and family. No mall (or Internet even) required!