So, while visiting family over the holidays we often get involved in cleanup around the farm. Sometimes it is just clearing brush, other times it is cutting firewood. While cutting up an old Box Elder tree, I thought why not try to make something rather than just burn the wood? When Boxelder is finished it can be beautiful, sometimes having red streaks through the grain. (Fun Fact – the red streaks are caused by a fungus). We could just call it a prototype, and if it looks good and is functional at the end, maybe we can make a nicer one next time.
It is definitely a prototype though. Since it had been raining a lot, the log is quite wet. So I’m sure to get some checking/cracking as it dries. But on the plus side, I will get some practice and be under no pressure since it is free. But if it works out, then so much the better! So, without further ado, here is my guide on how I made a rustic decor stool out of firewood!
Chainsaw milling – Freehand!
So, I asked my brother in law to cut a few slices for lumber. One of the pieces was a large slab, and seeing as I just got my Dad a couple of hand planes that I restored for him, I figured I could smooth out the saw marks pretty easily.
Selecting the prototype piece
There was one piece of slab that was pretty bad in that it had a curve to it as well as another saw cut. Additionally it had some pith in it. And, if you have ever tried to cut your own lumber you know that it will inevitably crack, beginning at the pith. So to address that I figured why not make an attempt at some bow-tie / butterfly inlays.
Since this is all just a prototype, I grabbed a piece of scrap pine and went to work. I just sketched a bow-tie profile and used a back saw to cut it out. By no means were they perfect, but they would suffice. One question I wasn’t sure of is do the butterflies need to go through the entire thickness of the piece? The crack will start on the end of the log in the center, and work its way through the log. I figured I would just gamble and only go in about ¾” (plus that was how thick my scrap piece was).
After cutting the bow-ties I laid them flat on the bench and used a chisel to square the cut. I do this to get the maximum glue surface area. After checking them for squareness we figured why not stain them dark to contrast with the log? So, we applied a bit of dark walnut stain to the top (visible) surface.
Chiseling out the butterfly relief
I selected the position of the butterflies by identifying where the center/pith ran along the slab. Then, I just held them firmly in position and traced their outline with a sharp knife. This isn’t my shop, so I didn’t have a marking knife. But, any pocket knife will do in a pinch as long as it is sharp.
Next, I hold the chisel perfectly vertical and deliver moderate hits with the mallet. This further establishes the profile. After this I deliver strong blows with the mallet, working my way across the inlay. This provides relief to remove the material, making the whole process much faster.
Patience is a virtue….
Chiseling out the butterfly relief isn’t rocket science, but you need to have patience. I take the wood away until I have a relief that is roughly ¼” (6 mm) deep. Then I return to the profile, and take deeper cuts. One tip I can give you is to mark the depth of the relief directly on the back of your chisel using a Sharpie or permanent marker. This provides an ad-hoc depth gage that will wipe of later.
From there you just continue to carefully remove material. Once I figured I was about done, I carefully went around the profile with the chisel and made the edges square, without going beyond my profile line. I do this using hand pressure only. Then, I gave it a test fit by gently tapping the butterflies part way into the slab. I then removed them again using channel locks.
Inserting the inlays
Now for the fun part. I applied some wood glue to the base and sides of the relief. You don’t need to pour it on, but give it a layer with decent thickness. Then I lined up the butterfly profile, placed a paper towel and board over it – and BAM! Knock’em into the holes! Pounding those butterfly reliefs into the bench seat was soooooo satisfying.
Making the legs
My dad had gathered some small limbs that we could use as legs (cedar and black locust). These were longer than they needed to be, but we could trim them up later. Using his belt sander he carefully rounded the ends to about a 1.5” length and diameter of 1.25”.
For choosing the legs, we weren’t worried about the diameter too much. I mean that we weren’t trying to find legs that were 3” diameter. Wood is very strong in tension/compression along the grain. Once the legs were mostly round (hey, its rustic!) it was time to locate them.
We looked at some other stools and figured that putting the legs at 60 degrees from vertical would be the best thing to do. We also wanted to get at least 1-½ inches of engagement. So, using some spade bits we bored holes that were the appropriate size and depth. We chose a spade bit that was ⅛” smaller in diameter, as this way we could force fit the legs.
Now, normally you would want to apply some glue before pounding in the legs. But since our slab was wet, we figured it would be best to just put them in without glue. Since this piece will dry out some more, the legs may loosen up. If so, then we can easily remove them, apply some glue and reinstall the legs.
Well, the majority of the stool is done. Now all I need to do is apply a coat of exterior polyurethane or deck sealer once the main slab has dried. But the piece really looks good right now as it sits. Since my folks Farmhouse is a bit on the rustic style of decor, this stool will fit in quite nicely as a place to hold your drink or just have a seat on the front porch. This was a really fun project that turned into a father/son venture. I’ll have to make some more back home and get my kids involved – they are sure to love it!
So, tell me what you think? Would you have done anything differently? Any tips? Tell me in the comments. I love to hear from you.
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