New desk for an old building, Part 2


View of trees at Seminary Park. (Photo courtesy of City of Bloomington Parks Foundation)

The Lumber: Counters

The desk is built almost entirely from solid wood, most of which grew within 100 miles of Bloomington, Indiana.

The counters were made using quarter-sawn red oak from a tree that grew in Bloomington’s Seminary Park, original site of Indiana University. Construction of the seminary began in 1822, and classes were first held three years later. In 1883, after a devastating fire, the campus was moved about a mile north to Dunn’s Woods, its present location. Since the 1960s, the site has been a park.

On May 25, 2011 severe storms ripped north-eastward along the Bloomfield Road, felling numerous trees, among them the Northern Red Oak from which these counters are made. The next day, crews from the City of Bloomington Parks and Recreation Department were at the park to clean up the mess.

The massive root ball (May 26, 2011). Photo courtesy of City of Bloomington Parks Foundation.

The Parks and Recreation Department operates a lumber recovery program that urban forester Lee Huss humorously refers to as “No Log Left Behind.” Instead of sending usable logs to landfills or chopping them up for firewood, the department has them sawn and kiln dried by Robert Woodling of Good-Woodling Woods in eastern Monroe County.

Old friends Robert Woodling and Mark Longacre with the log, summer 2011

Sawn 2 inches thick, the boards from the Seminary Park oak were first air-dried, then spent two months in the kiln. After reaching the desired moisture content of 8 to 10 percent, they emerged from the kiln the Sunday after Thanksgiving.


Robert Woodling, left, with Lee Huss, City of Bloomington Urban Forester, with oak fresh from the kiln (November 27, 2011)

Each of the taller counters is made from a single board with the grain following in an unbroken line along its entire length. The rough-sawn boards were a little over 12 inches wide, though they had a few knots on the pith (the center of the tree) edge and some stretches of inner, or living, bark at the outer edge. After judicious sawing, I left a couple of minor knots (facing the working area) and inner bark (facing the public), because I wanted to honor the tree with a visible record of its size. It is relatively rare today to find a board of quarter-sawn oak 12 inches wide.        

12-inch wide board, planed. The freckle-like figure is typical of quarter-sawn red oak.


The lower counters are made from the same tree, but for these I joined several narrower boards to obtain the necessary width.


The Lumber: Main desk

The frames and pilasters are made of plain-sawn white oak from Joe Davison’s Spencer mill. Joe sources hardwood logs within a 100-mile radius of Bloomington and specializes in highly figured hardwoods such as curly cherry, fiddleback maple, etc.

The boards I used were narrow and rather rich in defects. Joe considered them too poor to sell, so he threw them in for free with a load of poplar I was buying. As with much of the material in this desk, using these boards required considerably more labor than would have been required with graded lumber. But the frame parts are relatively narrow, and I was able to use them by carefully planning each board’s use, concealing characteristics such as spalting and knots, which are typically considered defects, in inconspicuous places.

Joe Davison in his shop

The panels are all made of quarter-sawn oak from veneer mill backer boards purchased through Brown County-based Quarter-Sawn Flooring. The panels are housed in grooved frames, which allow them to expand and contract with changes in relative humidity (though quarter-sawn lumber tends to expand and contract only minimally across its width and length). I applied the decorative moldings, which were made by Martinsville-based Indiana Hardwood Mills, after most of the finishing steps were complete.

With the exception of the section facing the west staircase, which is made of quarter-sawn oak from Robert Woodling’s own woods, the baseboards and plinths are made of scrap from other jobs. Most of this stock originally came from the Frank Miller Lumber Company of Union City, Indiana, an internationally respected supplier of quarter-sawn oak. Frank Miller Lumber buys 99 percent of its hardwood lumber from privately owned lands within a 500-mile radius of Union City.

The drawers are made of red maple from Good-Woodling Woods, a hundred-acre stand that Robert Woodling and his wife, Linnea Good, keep in FSC-certified classified forest, managed for timber and wildlife.

WTIU Weekly Special segment on the desk

See the Weekly Special program “A Walk in the Woods” in its entirety

Next time: Building the desk

5 responses to “New desk for an old building, Part 2

  1. Nancy:
    I was really looking forward to this post and was not disappointed!
    I took my time enjoying your post, opening the links, enlarging the photographs and reading the expressions on the faces of your entusiastic colleagues. What a great project for all of you.
    I’ll be looking forward to the “Building the Desk” episode.
    Thanks and best regards,

  2. Wonderful story and complete, a catalogue full of references on a truly local gem of a project! Thanks so much for the detailed process and photos of materials from death to rebirth. Nice. You are a wizard with words and wood.

  3. Wizardess?

  4. What a great project for everybody. I agree. Wizardess!

  5. I am so glad you are adding to your blog. Keep writing!!! Your design skills are out of this world! That desk fits, I wish I had the time to come see it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.