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Project keeps walnut tree from burn pit

Staff writer

About three years ago, a Peabody Hardware and Lumber customer who was having a dead black walnut tree removed from her property approached storeowner Mark Whitney.

“She wondered if I knew of anyone who would want it for a building project,” Whitney said. “She told me where it was so I could go look at it. She had arranged for someone to remove the tree, but thought it was a shame to just haul it to the burn pit.”

Whitney did not have a project in mind, nor did he know of anyone else who did, but after he looked at the tree, he agreed with the owner that it would be a shame to burn it. The trunk was fairly straight and the girth adequate for several pieces of lumber.

“I had the guy cutting it down leave the trunk as complete as possible. He brought it to the yard behind the store,” he said. “I painted the sawed ends to seal them.”

Whitney said he has had a lifelong appreciation for wood and woodworking. Somewhere along the way, he picked up enough knowledge to know how to properly cure the trunk until time to have it “slabbed out” into useable lengths.

Whitney and his wife Ginger purchased a house in the 600 block of N. Maple St. not long after salvaging the tree trunk.

The house had never been lived in, the project of a homebuilder in El Dorado who had started it years before hoping to live in it during his retirement. The man died before it was finished and his children kept the property until their mother died as well. The Whitneys purchased it and began making changes to fit their own tastes and needs.

“We didn’t consider using lumber from the walnut tree until later. After I got the tree trunk, I talked to John Bloomer about “slabbing” it out,” he said. “John had an old hand-built saw mill and he told me he would cut the trunk for me when the time was right.

“He came to the store about a month before he died and said he if I would get the tree trunk to him, he would get it cut. True to his word, he cut it into slabs and I got them back a few days later,” Whitney said.

He allowed the lumber to season for a year and a half, keeping the boards separated so they would air dry without splitting or checking.

In the meantime, the Whitneys were making progress remodeling their new house. Their son Nick designed the kitchen incorporating a large opening midway up a wall that divided the kitchen and dining room. The opening allowed light into the kitchen from the windows in the dining room and could accommodate a counter for ease of serving people sitting around the table.

Whitney built kitchen cabinets of new lumber and eventually stained them a dark brown.

“At some point we decided the black walnut lumber would make a great counter for that open area between the rooms,” he said.

He and Ginger decided how wide they wanted the counter to be and selected the pieces that fit those measurements.

“We took the boards to Darryl Enos up at Marion and he ran them through his surface sander and then cut them so the grain of the longest piece matched the grain of the shorter corner piece where they join,” he said.

Whitney hand-sanded the boards and applied a protective polyurethane seal.

“I didn’t stain it because black walnut is already one of the best looking wood surfaces you can find,” he said. “We also left what is called a “live edge” all along the perimeter of the board. That is where you remove the bark, but leave the bark’s impression and pattern where it grew on the tree. Usually it would be sanded off, but we liked the look of it and left it alone.”

The couple is pleased with the look they achieved and the convenience of the additional counter in the kitchen and dining areas. Whitney said he has a dozen or so boards left from the tree trunk.

“I don’t have anything else planned for the lumber at this time, but there will probably be other projects that come along,” he said. “Walnut is a great looking wood. And there is satisfaction in knowing we can put it to good use instead of just setting it on fire at the burn pit.”

Last modified Feb. 25, 2015

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