Monday, September 7, 2009

beautiful birch

Five years ago I checked an extra bag on a flight returning from Idaho Falls (my hometown) to Nashville (my home at the time). It was full of birch limbs pruned from the trees my dad planted in our front yard 25 years ago. In our continual quest to find/create more storage space in the chain of small apartments we fit our growing family into, Nathan had been building shelves and I, a long-time birchophile, thought that shelves with birch supports would be crazy-amazing.

Darn tootin' they are.I found these two photos in the August 2008 photo folder, when I finally sorted the limbs I wanted and decided on a shelf design, then for Reuben's nursery.A year later, I surprised the whole household by waking up feeling very vigorous and FINISHED.(Here's the obligatory Reuben shot: helping me sort the finally-found-that-box! branches. He thought the whole thing took way too long.)

To cut the limbs to exact shelf-supporting lengths I--okay, N did the work--borrowed a friend's chop saw last year (I think that's what it's called: one that pulls the blade down onto the wood). I had 9 branches that were at least 13", which I designated as shelf supports (3 per shelf), and a remaining 4 that were just a bit smaller, which I had cut to 12". I designated those as the bottom legs. We worked from the bottom up, using 1 1/2" wood screws to attach the branches at both ends. I predrilled the holes at first, but by the second shelf was only drilling a shallow hole (with a large bit) to countersink the screw head, which still prevented splitting. I charmed Nathan into being my good helper for the screwing-together part, and it was extraordinarily helpful to have another set of hands for this shelf's assembly because the branches don't stand by themselves for long.

I was going to attach another board along the back to add stability, but the finished shelf is sturdier than I (okay, Nathan) originally thought, so I left it off. Since the shelf will be holding my extra pottery, I am going to screw it to the wall with a couple of wee brackets so a certain little troublemaker (who is learning to crawl now that his arm feels better) can't pull it down (and I can't knock it over--the whole family had chocolate milk on the carpet tonight and guess who was the only one to spill hers?).

I wanted a loose organic feel, so spaced the branches irregularly, while keeping their support function in mind. I chose 8" wide 3/4" poplar planks (well sanded--progressing from 100 to 150 to 220 to a silky 320 is always worth the time) because I love the luminosity of the poplar grain. Unfortunately, that didn't quite come through once I stained them green (I used a very thin rubbed-on coat of IKEA's green stain, followed by a couple of coats of their beeswax polish. I've been very pleased with IKEA's wood finishes; they are inexpensive, easy to work with, and beautiful. I've read that they are solvent-free and vegetable-based, though I haven't thoroughly researched it. The site lists ingredients as "Linseed oil, Wood treatment oil, Pigment" and "Beeswax, Wax, Linseed oil, Wood treatment oil", respectively. They're pretty stinky, but I'm pretty sure that's the linseed oil. 24 hours later, the smell on these particular shelves is minimal, though I have had it linger for days when I put on lots of coats in a row. I give them a hearty recommendation.I love the color anyway and think the whole effect is very sunlight-streaming-through-a-birch-leaf canopy.I cannot believe these shelves are finally standing behind me as I type, ready to be filled once I paint this room (I will tape tomorrow!).

I would be so envious of myself.


knittingwoman said...

be very careful with linseed oil. Make sure that if you use any rags to apply the stain that they are put in water in a metal container. We had a serious house fire that started from spontaneous combustion of linseed oil on a rag left on our deck after my husband had been staining wood for a desk he was building for our oldest son. Fire fighters told us that linseed oil can do this and how to store the oily rags.

sallyavena said...

Just beautiful! I love the balloons to keep the babe occupied.

Alyssa said...

your shelf is AMAZING! I am a birchbark lover, too - I am putting this post on my project list.

You rock.

cfm said...

I am envious of you...and think to that shelf would look spectacular in my baby girls room! You are amazing!

Bwyn said...

That is, by far, the coolest shelf EVER! Awesome!

My husband is desperately trying to figure out how you did it and is trying to do it himself(I don't see it being finished anytime soon, though)

Hope things are well at your homestead. i am so happy such a wonderful, creative and imaginative family bought the house. It needs that kind of love!