Making Rustic Furniture

Making rustic furniture—good, sturdy, reliable furniture at any rate—is no simple task. An experienced furniture maker leads you through every step of the process.

| December/January 1994

My almost life-long devotion to making rustic furniture had its roots in boyhood, when I was fortunate enough to spend grade school summer vacations at my grandparents' turn-of-the-century cottage on the shore of a north country lake. On warm, sunny days, the old place really hummed; younger cousins splashed and shrieked in the shallows, older ones buzzed around in the boats, aunts chased toddlers, and uncles fidgeted 'til 4:00 P.M. and happy hour.

As I got older, I'd walk the shore path north to where it disappeared into the quiet and cool of the evergreen woods, narrowed to a pine-needled rut of an Indian trail, and wound up a steep hill, carrying a pilgrim a century and more back in time.

At the top of the hill—half-hidden in a hemlock grove—was a collection of little-used hunting cabins that dated from the lake's earliest resort days. Out front, the hill dropped off sharply and a narrow stairway zigzagged down to a lakeside gazebo that held a clutter of chairs, settees and tables.

All of it—cabins, stairs, railings, gazebo and furniture—was fashioned from whole and split logs, rough-hewn planks and saplings—some bare, some with bark, some straight, others featuring crooks and twists, burls, snags and gnarls.

To a 10-year-old, it all seemed to have grown from the woods the way a mushroom pushes up from the forest floor, gleaming white under a cap of pine needles and loam—distinct, yet still a part of it. The gazebo's roof was thick with lichen and moss, and the rough plank floor was littered with squirrel-hollowed nutshells and clam shells left by raccoons. In the center, a gnarled and knot-holed log reached to the roof peak. Around the perimeter were more whole-log supports, each with two opposing branches growing out from the trunk at just the right angles to support the eaves poles.

The furniture looked as though the woods had designed it. Chair frames were saplings with branches braided to make backrests. A settee was fashioned out of a section of huge wild grapevine that arched in the middle to frame the back. Each end bent down and out abruptly, jutting forward to form the arms. A little side table veneered in birch bark had a cross rung made from a tree branch growing through a paper wasps' nest. Y-bends, twists, gnarls and knots in the materials hadn't been cut out or planed smooth but were left in—celebrated, even!

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