Almost two years ago I finally got around to building a speaker shelf (using pipe and pipe fittings) to place the digital organ speakers ABOVE my head so that the sound is no longer coming at my knees! While completely functional as it was designed to be, visually–this structure isn’t exactly aesthetically pleasing. But from the conceptualization of this idea years ago, I always knew I’d would have some sort of façade on this structure. Unfortunately, being laid off a year ago and the decision for me to be a stay-at-home Daddy seemed to kill any notion of completing this project. Until now! With much thanks to my brother-in-law, the plan to build a façade for my digital organ has made a HUGE leap forward!
It started with a conversation my brother-in-law (“M”) and I had on Christmas day. He told me about someone he knew, who allowed M to take as much wood from an old corn crib they were taking down. The stash of wood that M has in his basement from this old structure is crazy! M said the wood was all oak. Some of it was even quarter-sawn oak!!! (I LOVE quarter-sawn oak. Love. A lot.) The only downside would be nail holes… Lots of them… But if I was willing to come down and help M get the wood, it would be mine!
Having no money to complete my project, I wasn’t about to pass up this opportunity for free wood! NO WAY! But it was the holidays and being busy taking care of the kids, I couldn’t address it till this week. I called up M on Tuesday and said I was interested. We quickly realized it was all boiling down to coming out this Thursday or else the possibility of the rest of the corn crib getting chopped for firewood!
Amanda very wonderfully and graciously allowed me to leave her with the kids from Wednesday night till last night, and I drove out to Lafayette, Indiana, to go hunting for wood! I say “hunting” because it’s the same property that M and my other brother-in-law, “J” go hunting for deer on. In fact my nephew mistook me for J and was wondering if I was going hunting. I had to explain to him that I was wood hunting!
So, Thursday morning M and I got all dressed for the weather and off we went in the pickup to go claim some wood. First off, for anyone who hasn’t been to Lafayette, Indiana–its beautiful. The city, the houses, the river, the countryside, it’s all just beautiful. The drive down a county road that runs a fair distance along the Wabash River to the property the corn crib was on was pretty.
As far as the weather was concerned, we were incredibly blessed. It was the warmest day in the last few weeks (around 30 degrees) and really not a whole lot of wind, which was extremely good. Cold I can function in, but a razor cutting country wind would not do us any good. It also helped that the sun was also shining bright in the clear sky. We really could not have asked for better!
Now, I have to confess, upon arriving on this property and seeing the old corn crib, two things were running through my head. The first was, My gosh, how are we going to get any usable wood out of this mess? The second was, This is so freaking exciting, I’m getting a bunch of free wood! But out loud I simply announced, “Hello future organ façade!”
If you look at the picture above you will see that part of one wall and roof are still… “standing”… sort of. the other side of that wall was clad in long strips of oak, and most of the wood we would eventually take came from that wall. M immediately set to work prying boards off and I hauling them back to the pickup. As I have yet to settle on a design for this façade, and my lack of experience here, we were unsure just how much we would need. I was working on the philosophy, “I’d rather have too much than not enough!”
M did a good job clearing the one wall (as you can see above), and soon I had a descent pile of wood (some boards nearly 12 feet in length)! Now, granted, it was full of nails and all in need of some serious planing.
Now, I’ll admit, this whole time M was pretty amused by my lack of knowledge when it comes time to wood and woodworking, but also recognized my serious desire to learn. But it was kind of fun looking at these rough sawn timbers trying to figure out which ones might be quarter-sawn or not. There were a couple of obvious ones that we could confirm just by looking at the end grain, but others that were certainly hard to figure out. M kept telling me “you won’t know until we start planing them down.”
I don’t know exactly how long we were out there, but we were both warm enough and taking it slow and easy. We took a break and went to one of M’s parishioner’s house nearby for coffee (M is a pastor), then back to the corn crib to get some more wood. It took us most the morning to get this part done. I was warned by M that the tedious part was yet to come, as rough-sawn wood full of nails does not usable lumber make!
Back at M’s house and after a quick lunch, we spent a good hour pulling boards out of the back of the truck and getting as many of the nails out as we could. In some ways the amount of nail holes was horrifying, but the more I think about it, the more I don’t really care. The wood was free to me, and it’s not like I’m building an actual pipe organ for a church or something. This is nothing more than a façade to hide the speakers and the ugly pipe structure of the speaker self–not much more than three glorified panels! Having those nail holes will add some rustic character to whatever design I build. In that light, it would actually fit in better with the decor of our house that way.
Next, M showed me how to go about milling all this wood. It’s a very monotonous, yet interesting and fun, process. Interesting was figuring out why he was planing certain sides first and I have to admit I figured a few things out on my own just by observing what he was doing. There is a method to getting usable dimensional lumber instead of a whole bunch of weird wedge-shaped wood boards.
The fun part came when we started throwing the boards through the planer. As M had been telling me all morning, you don’t know what you get with these weathered rough-sawn boards till you start planing. Some of the ones I thought to be quarter-sawn were not, and some that we suspected, caught both of us by surprise. Looking at the grains on some of these boards, with their imperfections and beauty, makes me wonder anew at God’s creation. I can’t wait to see the final result…
We spent the remainder of the afternoon feeding boards through the planer, and only got a third of the way through. We still got a lot done yesterday.
M had assumed that he’d be building this façade for me, but I told him I would prefer to build it WITH him. I’m very serious about wanting to get involved in organ building, and I know the biggest factor against me is my lack of woodworking experience. You have to start somewhere, right? Why not throw myself into this project with my brother-in-law? This way I’m working with someone who has experience and can learn things as we go. I’m great with hands-on learning.
I still haven’t settled on a design yet (I’m down to two ideas influenced by two different instruments by two prominent American Organ Builders). I’m also reading up on joinery and anything I can get my hands on to figure out ways of executing this project. Of course M will help with that too.
I have not been THIS excited about something in a long time… This experience thus far as renewed my determination of pursuing a job in organ building. I have a ton to learn, but I KNOW I can do it. Oh, this is going to be so much fun!