6 tips for finding a wood slab

I honestly don’t know when we decided that a live edge slab table would be perfect for the dining room. For me it may have taken root when we were featured in Alive Magazine along with some other owners of unusual homes and peeped Charlie Smith’s beautiful table. Whenever it did take hold, it grabbed on and didn’t let go. We’ve been picturing a gorgeous slab of wood for that space for awhile. It will add the perfect natural, warm element to the white space (are you new here? We love white paint) and black chairs.

The search for the slab was one of the most time intensive processes we’ve undertaken for the firehouse to date. It was complicated by so many variables, some usual, some unique to the particular item we sought. We looked at so many slabs, inquired about several, and lost a few due to timing or miscommunication. So by the time we found the one we bought it was almost a fever pitch of “let’s get this done! SeriouslyHURRYbuyitnow!!” So here I am, well past the point when an enormous piece of wood came to live in our studio and ready to tell you about the hunt, but with basically zero real examples of slabs we loved and lost. #badblogger

What I can share are the lessons we learned along the way. Let’s start with what we wanted: A large, live-edge slab of wood, preferably walnut, rot/holes/knots that added interest welcome, budget: $1,200

1. Measure first
Yeah, I know. This should always be the first step, but we started this process assuming we knew what size we needed. Aaron launched into a search with a rough idea in his head, pulled lots of options and THEN we measured. It was a very scientific effort involving a card table, chairs and some painter’s tape.

table-measure

It turned out that the space could hold a pretty large table: 48 – 50″ wide by 120″ long.

2. Start early, like really early
It probably goes without saying that something natural like wood slabs have a limited and often changing inventory. Also, once you find the perfect piece it may need some time to dry. A green slab air drys for about 2 years and then it goes in a massive kiln for 3 – 5 months, which leads me to the next point.

3. Learn the lingo
It’s critical to understand the steps involved in prepping a piece of wood to live in your dining room because you can buy slabs at every stage. Ultimately, it will affect the cost and how much work you have to put in once it arrives.

After a tree is cut into slabs, those pieces of wood must be dried to be used for furniture. See process above. We knew we wanted a slab that was already kiln dried.

A particular slab can have some cupping, bowing on either side that doesn’t make it totally flat. This is why it’s helpful to get a slab that has been planed to flatten it on both sides. Unless you have an industrial-sized woodshop with an equally industrial-sized planer, you want a slab that has been planed.

Then there are more finishing steps like sanding, adding epoxy or otherwise reinforcing any holes as needed, and coating it (oil, stain, etc). Sometimes you can do these yourself, sometimes they are offered for an additional charge. Know your skill set and choose appropriately. We were comfortable with doing most of these steps on our own if needed.

You can also get sets that are book matched. Basically these are consecutive slices from a single log that are joined to make a wider surface. They look like this:

1765-bookmatch-slab-set-jewell-hardwoods

Source: Jewell Hardwoods

4. Don’t live in the Midwest
Kidding… although it would be easier to buy a HUGE tree chunk if we lived near HUGE trees. There aren’t many slab sellers in the Midwest so you’ll have to accept the fact that you won’t see your slab in person before it arrives. You’ll also want to budget some money for shipping.

5. Be flexible about material and size
Originally we were looking for black walnut, but realized that claro walnut (pictured above) lacked the lighter growth just below the bark. It’s a more consistent look and also more expensive. (Because of course we want the more expensive thing…) We realized pretty quickly that a slab of walnut – of any variety – was cost prohibitive.

That left us open to looking at different species, but none of the tones fit our vision. So we went back to claro walnut and looked for a bookmatched. We don’t love the look as much, but it was cheaper. We actually had a few we seriously considered, but when we were ready to buy after only a few days of consideration the pieces were gone. At this point we jumped the budget to a max of $3k.

Next we moved on to teak options from Origin Teak Cabinet Company.

9b73a314-1e84-4871-a100-e5e0e0227f05

After weeks of emailing, there was a serious miscommunication about the budget (the updated budget) and we had to walk away.

Parota, a tropical tree, kept popping up as an option because of the massive slabs that come from this fast growing species. Originally we discounted it because the finished pieces looked so red. We went back to square one with our search, and unwilling to yield on the overall size, we did some research and discovered the redness comes mostly from the popular way to finish parota. So we turned back to the world wide web.

6. Google, Google again, Google some more
Slab vendors are on the interwebs, but only the biggest shops are good at SEO. Don’t stop at page 1 or page 20 of your search. Go deep down the list and if you start over, get more specific. Look for a particular type of wood (you’ll know what you want because you followed all the tips above) or search for vendors in a particular area. A friend recommended we look in Canada thanks to the favorable exchange rate.

Eventually we found the perfect vendor in CaliforniaWoodSlabs.com. This small company was established by two friends, one in Costa Rica where huge Parota trees grow, and one in California with warehouse space in Colorado and inkling to start a business. They offer sustainably harvested, kiln dried, sanded Parota slabs, and they include epoxy work on any imperfections for free. Remember why all these things are important? It means less work on our end. Basically these slabs are ready to finish.

Thanks to an old email chain, here are some slabs we actually considered:

797fdb_97563910cb754408acd93875d612774e

California Wood Slabs – G15551

This slab is a really nice size – very uniform width and fantastic length for the price. The grain pattern is very even, a little on the boring side.

797fdb_129a3a312b4f48c4ae16a14aa0bb0a5a

California Wood Slabs – G15612

Nice size, even a bit on the long side. Really pretty grain and wide enough to work.

797fdb_4c667a2a7b5a4114851c3ff41c65ed4e

California Wood Slabs – J16302

This one stopped me in my tracks. This is the kind of uniquely grained, imperfect piece I wanted. Sadly, even with the upgraded budget, at $3775 it was a budget buster.

We settled on a slab that was perfectly sized for our space: 48″ x 120″ with enough visual interest in the grain and a price that actually came in below budget.

Slab15840

So now we live with this beautiful piece of wood that is just quietly waiting for us to finish the dining room and give it a home. When the time comes we may need to host a table moving party. Who’s in?

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Workshop dust collection

As with any space that is being built from scratch, systems (electrical, HVAC, etc) are always the starting point. The workshop got an extra system: dust collection. It’s a series of PVC pipes that ring the space and connect to a heavy-duty suction machine.

011workshop_after

It’s kind of hard to tell what’s what in the photo above, so here are some handy arrows.

011workshop_after_dust

Dust collection in a workshop is important in terms of cleanliness and health. This space has zero outside venting so it was critical.

Besides the vacuum itself, the system is mostly built from 6″ PVC DWV pipe and fittings (which are remarkably hard to find.) Aaron started by creating a trunk line with one run for each side of the workshop. He used 45 degree angles for better air flow.

001workshop_dust_collection

PVC can be glued, but he opted to use the same brand of pipe to ensure things would sit snugly. The screws give a little extra security and can be removed if the system needs to be cleaned out.

002workshop_dust_collection 003workshop_dust_collection

Here’s the trunk line in place.

004workshop_dust_collection 005workshop_dust_collection

Blast gates section off the air flow. They keep the air running in one direction and to one tool to ensure maximum suction.

006workshop_dust_collection

These parts don’t fit perfectly with the PVC pipe because they’re made for metal piping that costs twice as much as PVC. Obviously, PVC is much more economical for home workshops. The blast gates just need a bit of a hack. Aaron wrapped the fitting of the blast gate with electrical tape to give it a good seal.

007workshop_dust_collection 008workshop_dust_collection

Once the blast gates were in place on the trunk line, he extended PVC around the left side of the room, adding a wye connector at each tool. These connectors offer better air flow than a T connector because of the softer angle.

009workshop_dust_collection

Every tool comes with a different type of hose to attach to a dust collection system. Aaron created custom adapters to reduce the line so that each tool’s hose could connect.

010workshop_dust_collection 011workshop_dust_collection

He continued the install by running PVC across the space and down the right side of the room. This required some funky angles thanks to all the things on the wall in this area.

013workshop_dust_collection 015workshop_dust_collection 016workshop_dust_collection

Here’s the full line installed, just waiting for tool attachments.

017workshop_dust_collection

Here are some of the tool attachments in action.

018workshop_dust_collection 019workshop_dust_collection

Everything gets sucked back to the machine and collects in the bottom bag for easy removal.

020workshop_dust_collection

So far the system works great on most of the tools, except the miter saw, which is an older tool. We’re blaming the tool, not the dust collection and Aaron is working on an adjustment for that.

As with most systems, this one was super necessary… but not super glamorous. What’s on your summer reno list? Anything more exciting?

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

The workshop is DONE!

This post has only been THREE YEARS in the making. But first can we talk about foot injuries and one-man construction crews? That combo really sucks… like drinking wine after brushing your teeth. It doesn’t make anyone happy. So it’s been unintentionally quiet here (and literally quiet at the firehouse) as Aaron’s foot heeled. He’s back in motion again and chomping at the bit to get projects back in flight for the living room/dining room redo.

Just before the foot injury claimed two months of his life, he finished the workshop and put it instantly to use to build a pantry for the new trailer… because he (ok… we…) can’t leave well enough alone. Now it’s clean and ready for its’ debut on the interwebs!

We already told you about dropping more power into the space, framing & painting, adding a window and lighting the place up, but there was more work to be done before this space was finished, including a bit of building and installing the dust collection system. (More on that last bit in the next post.)

First Aaron built a wall in the back of the workshop that he covered in pegboard to provide much needed hanging storage.

001_workshop_after

002workshop_after

Then he built a table for the miter saw.

003workshop_after 004workshop_after 005workshop_after

Finally he created an out-feed table for the table saw.

006workshop_after 007workshop_after 008workshop_after

Ok – are you ready for the grand tour? When you come down the stairs, now you see this:

009workshop_after

The slated plastic door helps keep dust contained in the workshop (and is really fun to walk through).

Once Aaron started laying out the workshop he realized how small it was relative to the amount of tools he wanted to put it in. So instead of going in the workshop, the lockers we’ve been hoarding are just to the left after you come down the stairs. They’re full of materials like painting supplies and extension cords. (If you’re not familiar with the layout we’re after, check out this post and it will make more sense.) Eventually this walkway will get more finishing touches.

010workshop_after

Once you stop into the space it looks like this!!

011workshop_after

The finished miter saw table has storage and a charging station below. Overhead a reel and hose make it easy to connect and use air-powered tools in the workshop without moving the air compressor.

012workshop_after

On the opposite wall, the router table is tucked to the left (and on wheels for easy relocation) and the table saw and out-feed table dominate the room. This was strategically placed under a floor drain that dips low enough for Aaron to smash his head into.

013workshop_after

The out-feed table also has storage below.

014workshop_after

Moving left to right: a workbench, air conditioner, the dust collector, the finished pegboard wall, disc/belt sanderĀ and jointer.

015workshop_after

Here’s the view from the back.

016workshop_after

It’s been a long time coming, but it I think it was worth the wait. This space is amazing! Aaron has already used it for a few projects, and it’s a revelation not to have sawdust in our living space or be required to scoot around pieces of wood that have been painted and are drying. But, really, what I love the most about the workshop is that everything has a home… that isn’t my (future) dining room floor. There are all these little moments that make my organization loving heart so, so happy.

017workshop_after 018workshop_after 019workshop_after 020workshop_after 021workshop_after 022workshop_after

And because I’m sucker for a really good before and after. Here’s a look at 3+ years ago vs today.

023workshop_after 024workshop_after

 

We bought another trailer

I’ll preface this post by saying that it’s been a weird couple of weeks. That title is not something I expected to write anytime soon, because we already own a sweet, vintage trailer. So let’s dive right in.

About two weeks ago, we took advantage of some really nice weather to do some work in the extra lot. Although we hired some Craigslist labor to do the first major cleanup, the lot was still littered with half of a tree, a pile of bricks and SOOO many sticks. We pulled out the chainsaw to take care of some of the larger pieces of wood and started a controlled brush fire (file that under things I never thought I’d say).

At some point in the course of the day, Aaron hurt his right foot. It wasn’t a “Bang! Ow!” situation, but more of a “We’ve been recouping on the couch and my foot is really starting to hurt” and the next morning “Seriously, my foot hurts.” And that’s been the status for a few weeks. We’ve gone from crutches to a walking boot, which I have helpfully named “Das Boot” because everyone needs a daily Beerfest reference – right?

All of this foot pain caused us to cancel our first camping trip of the year. So that Friday instead of enjoying nature, we were stuck at home and Aaron was making his usual Craigslist rounds. He stumbled on a 2010 R-pod camping trailer at a fantastic price.

002rpod

Before we go any further (because you obviously know that we bought this R-pod trailer) it’s helpful to have a little background about our current trailer. When we bought it, it was supposed to be a relatively quick, interior-only redo that would give us veritable hotel room on wheels. Then the firehouse happened and that project came to a screeching halt as we tackled all of the incredibly necessary projects here (like building a studio so we could keep our photography business going… ya know, little things like that). Now we devote all of our tinkering time, money and energy to the firehouse and we need camping (and owning a trailer) to be as easy as possible. So we knew that eventually we’d want to change to a modern trailer.

The deal on the R-pod was so good and our current trailer is pristine, therefore worth the most amount of money right now. So we’re making the switch. Function beat form and we’re selling the rebuilt Trailblazer.

019traileroverhaul

It’s a little bittersweet, but it feels like the right time to do it. So if you know anyone in the market, feel free to share this Craigslist post.

In the meantime we’re hoping Das Boot will finally allow Aaron’s foot to heal so he can put the finishing touches on the workshop (I think I’m literally only waiting for a counter top to be screwed down before taking “after” pics) and keep forging ahead on the living room/dining room redo.

The controversial fire hose lights

One of my favorite moments on our House Hunters episode is when we see the fire hose lights. Our realtor, Ted, comments on how cool they are. We awkwardly look at each other while trying to think of something to say that won’t offend him… because we hate the fire hose lights. Instantly and forever.

001fire_hose_lights

Don’t worry if you love them, as Ted does, you’re in the majority. I would say 90% of people love them… maybe even 95% because I assume some people who like them might hold their tongue after we explain our distaste.

They’re just too kitschy for us. “Oooh – you’re in a firehouse and you have fire hose lights.” Blech! I’ll give the guy who installed them a pass because he IS an actual fire fighter. We’re not.

002fire_hose_lights

They were destined to come down since day one, and with the downstairs renovation ramping up, it was time to see how exactly these lights were constructed. All we knew for sure was that each pair of yellow hoses had a bulb of some sort and the white hose housed an HVAC line.

003fire_hose_lights 004fire_hose_lights

We suspected that the lights were part of a track lighting system. The lights were clearly suspended from something and that’s the only way we could envision safely hanging them. We’ve actually had several people email us offering to buy these lights when we take them out. Each time I’ve explained that we really don’t know if there would be anything to sell once we dug in. We were right about that… but oh so wrong about the construction…

005fire_hose_lights

A few weekends ago, I helpfully offered to start taking down the patchwork of drywall that makes up the ceiling in the cube. Then, not so “helpfully,” I couldn’t reach the ceiling while standing on the ladder that fit in the cube. Aaron obliged my curiosity and agreed to take down a panel.

006fire_hose_lights

That led to another and another before he exclaimed, “This is so much worse than I thought!”

007fire_hose_lights

Pulling the ceiling revealed a curious network of cords… that looked a lot like extension cords… Odd…

008fire_hose_lights

Closer inspection revealed that they were in fact extension cords that led to two power strips that were plugged into an outlet.

009fire_hose_lights

010fire_hose_lights 011fire_hose_lights

I understand that not everyone who reads this blog has an in-depth understanding of electrical, but those who do will surely realize the clusterfuck that we uncovered. This is at least six different kinds of wrong. It’s NEVER OK to put a LIVE ELECTRICAL OUTLET behind drywall. Never. Period. This is why electrical codes exist! Because shit like this can cause a fire or get someone injured or killed.

The rest of the lights are made with an under cabinet puck taped to an extension cord. In other words, just as unsafe as the rest of this mess.

We were so flabbergasted by all of this that all we could do was laugh… and be thankful that we never turned those lights on anyways. Oh, and, hey we scored two new power strips!

So the definitive answer to anyone who had hopes of buying the lights is “Sorry, we can’t be responsible for possibly burning your house down.”