The “Barn-to-Table” has been in the making for years. The reason this is one of our favorites, is because there are so many thoughts that went into properly curating it. A “farmhouse” table, which is what most refer to this table as, has a specific point of view that comes to mind. A rustic reclaimed table with chunky wooden legs that has that down home good warm feeling about it. Maybe there is a fresh baked steamy Apple Pie sitting in the center of it waiting for the family to gather round and laugh for hours. The first farmhouse table we made was for a friend using these same elements: rustic reclaimed chunky looking table. And it was beautiful and made her so happy! Then another couple we knew ordered the same exact one. We were on a roll with our farmhouse table!
As we grew in our craft through the years we learned different ways to put a spin on this dining table. And there are so many different styles to make this furniture piece unique to each craftsman! What’s so interesting to me, is how the style has changed through the years. When we first started making furniture, rustic farmhouse and shabby chic were so in! It worked out well for us because our resources at that time were mostly old found materials that Ross would dumpster dive for or we would save up enough to buy some reclaimed Douglas fir from a local lumber yard we went to (The Reclaimers and E&K Vintage Lumber). We did our best to create with what we had…which was a used circle saw, a power drill and a palm sander. As we refined our look and started migrating into midwest barn wood, we started to notice the significant difference in design and appeal. And throughout this process we started to realize how beautiful and unique the old-growth grain was in each plank. The warm honey tones that would come out in the white oak when it was freshly planed all the way down would just make our jaws drop! And we thought “why would we want the old dirty top patina on the outside of the wood when you can have this beautiful old cocoa butter grain seep through?” At first we thought it was a sin if you shaved this historical barn wood down to the fresh wood, but as our appreciation for old growth continued to blossom, we knew others would feel the same way.
We started incorporating this clean and smooth barn wood everywhere we could showcase it. Tables, Cabinetry, Doors, Shelves, etc. As we began doing this, it definitely started standing out in a lot more ways, especially to the clients and designers we were working with. Almost everyone said the same exact thing as us, “Wow! You can make that, out of THAT!?” What we have learned in the past 10 years with design is how important it is to be open to change and how to constantly improve how we do things. Which is very exciting! There is so much you can do with good old wood, and that doesn’t mean that the finished product needs to look like you’ve used old salvaged remains. It can look fresh, modern and totally like a high end premium product.
Now the wood side of things. We are working with very old wood. Some of the oldest wood in the country which can be up to 200 years old sometimes. Aside from knowing what the species of wood is in each plank, you don’t really understand what you’re getting into until you fully plane the wood down. After doing this, we can see the tone of the wood, character traits in the wood, flaws in the wood and everything there is to know about this naked plank! Depending on if it is sap wood (closer to the bark side of the tree) or heartwood (closer to the core of the tree), it can be darker in tone or lighter in tone. Sap wood being lighter and heartwood being darker.
Our customers that we work with are all very specific about what they want, and we love the challenge! These are common phrases we have heard: “I want it to all be that darker tone in the wood”, “Can you make sure there are no knot holes, I just want the grain showing”, “I don’t want cracks in the wood, can you cut those out?” “The rust marks from the old nail holes, can you just sand those down?”… That being said, we work with old wood that is not perfect, that is not flawless, it has a lot of character, we cannot control if its sap wood or heartwood (we get what we get and we don’t get upset), and we work with very old growth (the trees they were cut from were 500+ year old forests at the time) so they in fact have knot holes! So how do we achieve the overall look we are going for to accommodate each project? Easy, we’re the wood gods so we constantly do magic in our magical lumber yard where we cast spells on the wood and tell it “Hey you wood! We need you to be perfect for this project!” And then “poof”, it happens. Yeah right! If only it were that easy.
Trial and error has really helped learning to execute projects and being able to deliver, within reason of course, what the end result looks like. For example: sometimes we have a beautiful ten foot 2x6 of white oak, which is perfect for a larger table that needs full runs of boards. It is fairly straight, looks somewhat free of rot or other heavy character traits, so we plane it down for a table. Once we get into it, we realize there was more than meets the eye for the specific table we are building. Most of the board looks good, but somewhere around the middle portion of the plank, there is a little flurry of some old oil from a tractor that had been sitting on it for years in a barn, which penetrated too deep in the grain to sand out. That would then get cut out and we would use the now smaller sections of the board for a portion of a table base or we would re-saw to use as some smaller pieces for cabinetry veneers or accent wall material of some sort. Other times, it looks really good, but has more nail holes and rust marks, maybe some cracking here and there. Well, that we can work with for a table. This is where the artistry comes in. We are always going to having varying tones and textures to the wood and these little bits of history that want to reveal themself to you. That is where the finishing comes in handy. Depending on what is called for, we use a lot of epoxy and coffee grounds for the larger cracks which adds a beautiful contrast to the wood, other times wood filler. Sometimes for the smaller holes and trying to keep it from looking “spotty or stripey” we use saw dust and wood glue which helps to blend those into to the wood tone really well.
A couple things we have learned as well is what is acceptable for super clean and modern compared to something that is modern but has a color tone to it. White oak is by far the most popular wood species right now in our world, but it is very hard to come by, so you take what you can when you can. That being said, we are extremely specific about how to make our white oak go a long way for us. If it is a clean white oak table that the client wants with as much minimal markings, we use the above steps to achieve that. We usually sort through a lot and the boards that wouldn’t be “acceptable” for a clean white oak table, we put to the side to use for one of our stained tables. To gain the more even color tone across (yes, the wood tone fluctuates quite a bit within the same species of wood), we use products such as Rubio Monocoat to help us even out the tone. This helps with getting a consistent wood tone so the product doesn’t look choppy.
This leads me back to our Barn-to-Table product. The boards that wouldn’t work for the clean white oak table, were perfect for this item. The cracks, the nail holes, rust holes, the old memories that spoke life into this barn at one time, are the only pieces we could use to achieve this look. After filling all the cracks and holes and even the knot holes, just added so much detail to this table. We use a Rubio fumed solution for the color which balances out all of these quirky traits in the wood and allows them to barely seep through which then gives a gorgeous contrast to the grain, color and appearance of this table. The added detail of the joinery of the base makes this table stand out to the masses, which is why it is so popular! And the coolest thing about a table like this: it will never go out of style. There is a reason why the traditional farmhouse table has been around for centuries which dates back even to ancient Greeks! No matter the household, style and aesthetic to your home, you will have this forever if you choose to get one from Ross Alan.
Written by: Georgie Kidder, Co-Founder
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