When imperfect is ideal–a recipe for spalted kitchen cabinets
With a few key ingredients (and a shop full of woodworking tools) you too can create your own spalted kitchen cabinets just like Fine Homebuilding’s September 2010 back cover contributor Geoff Alexander*. If you think this might be the perfect recipe for your own kitchen be forewarned–you’ll need to get started ASAP. The first four ingredients need to “marinate” for a long, long, long time. Alexander began cooking up the recipe for his unique cabinetry way back in 1993—and that’s not including the time it took to grow the bay laurel trees!
Bay laurel (the trunk, not the leaves)
Equal parts heat and humidity
Several heaping helpings of patience
Step 1. Obtain enough bay laurel to construct a room full of cabinets.
Alexander’s bay laurel was home-grown and more than ready to be harvested. With approximately 30 trunks sharing one giant root ball cantilevered 10 feet out and 50 feet over the Soquel Creek, it was only a matter of time before erosion and gravity would have sent the trees crashing into the creek below, taking a significant portion of the cliff-bank with it. To reduce the load on the root ball, he cut all the trunks extending out over the creek, about 15 in total. Trunks a foot or larger in diameter were cut into lengths 4 to 7 feet long and stacked.
Step 2. Have sous chef Mother Nature season the logs with the next three ingredients; fungi, heat and humidity. Not a very durable wood, the bay laurel began to deteriorate fairly quickly—relatively speaking.
Step 3. Add the first heaping helping of patience.
Four years after stacking the logs, Alexander checked to see how the fungi, heat and humidity “marinade” was coming along. Using a chain saw, he cut into some of the logs to reveal just what he had hoped for–a lovely infusion of swirls and colors where the fungi had begun the spalting process. He milled the sections into 1 inch thick boards to stop the spalting and stacked them in flitchs.
Step 4. Add the second heaping helping of patience.
After waiting several more years to allow the bay laurel wood time to cure, Alexander was ready to begin the board selection process. He enlisted the assistance of fine woodworker Bob Frank to help “true up” each flitch and decide on which boards to use for each cabinet carcase.
Step 5. Add the third heaping helping of patience.
Carefully construct, finish and install each piece of cabinetry in the kitchen.
Step 6. Step back and admire the finished kitchen. Take photographs and send them to Fine Homebuilding.
Step 7. Turn off the heat and ruminate on the next “home-cooking” project.
*A long-time subscriber to Fine Homebuilding, the September 2010 back cover is not Geoff Alexander’s first contribution to the magazine. The fine woodworking of his “Redwood Turrett” was featured on the back cover of issue #3, July 1981.
To learn more about spalting, read Fine Woodworking’s article, “Spalted Wood” by Sara Robinson.
As pictured on Fine Homebuilding issue 213's back cover--the finished spalted bay laurel cabinetry.
Looking up from the creek bank 50' below to the underside of the bay laurel root ball.
A flitch from one of the bay laurel trees. The black marks and most of the color variations are a result of spalting. The small light-colored circular marks in the wood are a result of damage by beetles. The triangular shaped purple marks were added to aid in reassembling the log in the correct order after it was milled.
The pieces of each flitch are laid out on sawhorses to look for intersting images and colors in the wood. Bookmatching adjacent boards reveals the best pairings.
Some of the wood on its way to becoming the cabinetry for the kitchen. Note the "SLOW" sign in the right corner. No rushing this job!
Just a sampling of the many spalted boards ready to be used for the cabinetry construction.