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How to Create Rustic Furniture

Woodworking Projects with Joinery Techniques and Domestic Wood

© 2013 by Sarah Harris; all rights reserved; content may not be copied, reprinted, or rewritten without permission.

A Log furniture queen bed; photo courtesy 2987bill

You may fancy yourself something of a carpenter, especially as it pertains to odd jobs around the house, but that doesn’t mean you’d consider yourself qualified to turn a table leg or piece together an Adirondack chair for your patio.

And yet, you might like to do something more creative with wood than simply nailing together slats to make a ladder so your kids can climb the tree in your yard, or replacing the odd, cracked window frame.

Since most furniture is a fairly straightforward affair with the proper tools and jigs, there’s no reason you can’t take on the task of designing and building simple, starter pieces like benches, tables, and even chairs.

But if you’d like to take your efforts a little further without the onus to purchase tons of expensive tools in the process, making rustic furniture from logs and saplings could be a good option since the idea is that they look a little rough.

And here are just a few tips to get you started on your creative journey. The best place to begin, really, is by finding yourself some rough timber, and this might not be as easy as you think.

How to Find Suitable Timber

If you don’t live in or near an area that is wooded, rustic logs could be something of an oddity, and even if you do happen to live near an abundance of trees, it’s not like you can just go cut them down in most cases (unless they happen to be on your land).

That said, there are ways to get the wood you want. For example, you could approach landowners in forested areas about making a deal for some wood, or contact your local Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management.

Often these organizations cut dead wood on public lands and they may let you haul some away for free (or they might sell it as firewood). Good species to use include maple, ash, beech, birch and gum.

However, a better bet may be to contact sawmills in your region. Since finding loggers is about as easy as dropping by to visit your Congressman without an appointment, you’re better off seeking out the companies that process timber for a variety of purposes.

These businesses receive whole trees in truckload shipments. And although they generally cut it down to create all manner or products (slats, paper, etc.), you may be able to purchase the type of logs you’re looking for directly, or at least find out where you can get cuts of such wood.

Preparing the Rough Lumber

Since lumber shrinks as it dries, it should be air-cured for as long as possible before working, but a minimum of three months. Cut it to the lengths you plan on using and coat the ends of thicker pieces with end-grain sealer to keep them from checking.

Next, decide whether you want to leave the bark on or remove it. Removing it is more practical; leaving it on lends more of a rustic look.

The bark can be removed with an axe, chisel, or something as simple as a butter knife, since it will chip off easily after curing.

Planning for Your Furniture

Unlike furniture built with precisely milled lumber, the rustic style is more hit-or-miss; you will have to lay out your tenons and mortises as you go. Because of this, detailed plans are often overkill; work from a central design.

Are you looking for curves? The greener your stock is, the easier it is to bend. Very green stock can be curved and held until cured using clamps. More cured stock can be steam-bent.

Joinery for Rustic Furniture

The most common joinery technique for rustic furniture is mortise and tenon, often round rather than square or rectangular. Another popular technique on larger pieces is pegged through-tenon construction.

What type of woodworking glue should you use? That is one of the ultimate “preference” issues among woodworkers.

For example, Paul Ruhlmann, a woodworking teacher at Buckingham, Browne & Nichols School in Cambridge, recommends using a slow-setting epoxy. Taking the purist approach, he also pins his tenons with thorns harvested from the hawthorn tree.

As he says, these long thorns, “are excellent for pinning tenons. No machining is needed; just drill and drive.”

Add the Finishing Touches

The finish, once again, is a matter of personal preference. Stain it, leave it natural, as you wish. Chair seats and backs? Ruhlmann says he likes, “to use Arm-R-Seal, a wipe-on urethane made by General Finishes. Just follow the directions on the can. Weave the seat using 1-in. cotton Shaker tape.”

Once your rustic dining room or bedroom set is assembled, simply adorn your new furnishings with a cowhide runner or some Lone Star western decor bedding and your look will be complete.

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