The rebuilding of a table and a Swedish, firewood dealing carpenter…

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So the most exciting news is that we, after over a year of living in Little Yellow with no heat source, are getting a woodstove. That’s right, heat! What a concept :D Actually I’m so behind that as I write it’s sitting beside me, but more about that in the next post.

First there was some work to do, because I didn’t leave space for a heater in my house when I built it. I figured ‘I live in California. I’ve got sweaters’. You may recall that I never planned for a refrigerator either (not sure how the logic worked on that one), and I wouldn’t consider either of those decisions among my top ten best ever.

While I do live in sunny California, my spot on the coast seems to be about 52 degrees ALL THE TIME. Which puts a pretty damp damper on whatever theory I may have had because happy, perishable food likes to be colder than 52 degrees and happy, perishable people like to be warmer.

As a result, the tiny fridge I bought last year after my failed ice box and zeer experiments (nothing like molding, sandy flower pots to store your edibles) had to live outside and under the trailer because I didn’t allow anywhere for it inside. Same ‘where do we put it?’ deal with the unplanned stove, only this time around what we had to work with is a little prettier than a plastic mini fridge.

However I fought it, my lovely old school desk was the weakest link. It’s been acting as a table between the bench and the edge of the kitchen counter which turns out to be the only feasible place in the house to put a little stove.

I first thought we’d have to get rid of it which made me very sad because it’s Little Yellow’s only piece of proper furniture, but the end, I imagined life without a table would be about as sensible as life without a fridge or a heater and I decided to keep the cast iron legs and build a smaller desk/table top so it could stay.

I found the most beautiful piece for it at a funky old place that has huge wood carvings of bears and totem poles and a sign that says ‘firewood’, just off the highway going down the hill to town. I’d driven past it a hundred times but this was the first I’d stopped to check it out.

It’s owned by a sturdy, cheery Swedish man named Magnus with a cocked wool hat and an orange chainsaw that he seems very fond of. Lucky for us, he had a pile of Chinese Elm slabs that were absolutely gorgeous and we scored the smallest one, a Eucalyptus stump for wood splitting, two round oak stumps for cultivating mushroom dowels (that were given to me at the Philly workshop last year by some wonderful attendees) and a few pieces of tiny-stove-sized firewood for $50.

As I heard him chatter away on this and that, I found that listening this older Scandinavian carpenter talk about wood slabs felt very familiar. His accent, trade, and enthusiasm for Little Yellow reminded me so much of Flemming that I could only smile, such a nice thing to revisit my memories of him.

Chinese Elm is a wood I hadn’t heard of or used before, but it looks awesome finished and came out a rich, dark gold that compliments Flemming’s pine counters very well. But first, several hundred hours of unnecessarily complicated cutting, sanding and filling cracks.

I’m fortunate to have access to my boyfriend’s Uncle’s garage down the street, but I felt a bit useless working in a different place with different tools that have different quirks from what I’m used to. I guess I’ve become a tool snob. Well, I’ll take it, because boy I miss my dad’s garage. Most notably the endless clamps, flat work surfaces and table saw…Anyway, everything worked out and I got it all done in a very long afternoon. Sealed it, screwed it to the cast iron legs and viola! Instant (7 hour) table :D

On the subject of sealing, I found myself in the same situation as last time when I tried oil finishing my counter tops. No amount of any type used could keep the grain from raising and changing colour after so much as one minute of water contact, so this time I was prepared. I soaked the surface several times with a sponge to let the grain raise evenly across the whole top, sanded it down one last time, and oiled after.

It’s a wonderful table. As frustrating as it was to be out of my element putting it all together, I’m rather proud of how it turned out and I love love love the raw edge.

I’ve been back to the firewood place a few times since to show Magnus pictures of the finished product, then to pick up some firewood for our new stove and I’m so grateful each time to see him there. It feels like I’m getting a second chance to learn from another fascinating and talented carpenter as I never did with Flemming. These men are surely two of a kind, and I’d bet if they ever got together in the same room the conversation would never cease.

 

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About ellaharp

I am a musician and artist just out of college. During the last year of my degree in Scotland I caught the bug and have since become infatuated with the practical coziness of tiny houses. I worked my tail off, saved my money and, despite my complete lack of carpentry know-how, I shall build one, it shall be marvelous, and I shall call it Little Yellow :)

22 responses »

  1. Love the story, the lore, the love of the wood and the respect and awe for the woodsmen — thanks for posting this.

    Favorite quote: ” … happy, perishable food likes to be colder than 52 degrees and happy, perishable people like to be warmer.”

    Yes!!! : ~ ))

    • Looks like a cool little heater! Unfortunately, electricity is very limited down by the barn where Little Yellow lives. 200 watts is more than the electric draw of the whole house and low as it is, the lights still dim when the mini fridge compressor turns on! And in my mind, nothing can compare to the beauty and cozy comfort of wood heat.

  2. That desk is beautiful!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I love the fact that it looks so natural, and the “raw”edge.

    I shall show this to my husband, as we have a lovely piece of yew in our outhouse that I have always thought would make a lovely table, and if I could get hold of some cast iron legs like this…I love sewing and old sewing machines and now I’m thinking, mmmmm, old treadle base…..

  3. When you first spoke of Magnus I thought ‘why does this sound familiar?’ Ah, yes, the beloved man who created those awesome countertops. Thank you for sharing this — all these memories. Namaste.

  4. Thank you for such a charming story. I love how you included “the middle” between your before and end result. The pictures are great to see along with the pictures you painted with your words.

  5. Hi Ella, That little table is absolutely beautiful. That wood with the raw edges just stands out beautifully. Thanks for sharing. BTW, how is your work with Tumbleweed going? I wanted so badly to go when they were here in Tampa last year, but alas couldn’t find the funds.

    I hope to hear more soon.

    Tegan

  6. Is there a way to contact you through email? I’ve tried to find an address and haven’t found anything just yet. curious about an open house and trying to see en example before starting my build.

  7. I am a student as Bakersfield College, I am presenting a tiny home community concept at the LA Metropolitan Water Districts Spring Green Expo on May first. It will highlight many Sustainability aspects of tiny living. I would love to be able to show an actual tiny home. Might you be able to visit LA May 1st to give some tiny house tours?

  8. I really enjoy your blog! Could you tell me what model your woodstove is and how the installation went?

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