In the Studio: Saturday smoke and salvaged oak

This weekend I made a complete disaster of my studio as I began sorting and cutting boards for my dining room table project, so help me God I’m not biting off more than I can chew.

I salvaged the rough sawn oak planks and 2-bys three years ago while working as a sub, helping remodel houses. The planks came from a wreck of a house in Gentry, Arkansas, that probably should have just been torn down. Apparently the man who lived there had made his living at a saw mill. The 2-bys — ranging in measurement from 1.5″ to 3″ thick — were used to frame a ceiling in an old farm house on south Elm Street in Siloam Springs. We vaulted the living ceiling in the house, and I saved these from the dumpster.

I need to borrow a friend’s planer to work the boards into a more furniture friendly state of mind before going much further. The gist of the plan is to use the planks as the tabletop, with their wonderfully warm aged color, the quartersawn 2-bys as an apron around the planks and the rest as the base.

While I was arguing with my radial arm saw — which apparently died as I cut the oak yesterday — I smoked a few of my storm forms from last weekend’s successful firing.

I started with the least successful form, that also cracked last week, with very low expectations. I failed to apply terra sigs to these, and in my experience so far clays without sigs don’t take smoke very well. This clay, a mid-fire Texas white, does as you can see in the photographs.

There are some incredibly subtle and beautiful variations that I haven’t gotten in any of my other smoking attempts. After this one turned out so well I worked on two others. I wrapped the works in newsprint and then foil and put them in the electric kiln for one hour, with the lower element on high. I tried something a little different with a thunderhead, where I wanted the top to be white (since it’s in the sun) and the updraft below to be dark. So I wrapped the bottom only. This worked, in that the color was only where I wanted it to be, but the variation in the color wasn’t nearly as interesting.

My wife still like the results of that one though, which is saying something.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

3 Responses to In the Studio: Saturday smoke and salvaged oak

  1. Tim J. says:

    The smoke looks very intriguing.

    I wish I knew more about woodworking. I’ve done a little, but don’t have the tools or experience to jump into anything ambitious. I’d love to turn our family room into a pub.

  2. pNielsen says:

    I think the smoke is a good fit with the cloud forms. Glazes can work and some of the time if they’re matte. I’d like to get a few purple and orange hues into the smoke eventually . . . and really it’s just the cheap way to get an interesting, atmospheric and variegated finish with an electric kiln (that I know of at this point).

    It’s my heritage to a large degree. My grandfather and his father were both contractors and both have built furniture. My grandfather and his mother are/were also woodcarvers. That said, I’m learning as I go. I have quite a bit of experience now but still lack a lot of very useful knowledge and tools to boot.

    The New Yankee Workshop is a good way to pick up practical tips if a person really wants to get going on it.

  3. Pingback: Does poverty encourage creativity? « The Aesthetic Elevator

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