One of the things I miss most living here in Ukraine is the chance to do something with my hands- to work on something, to tinker. Earlier this year I moved into an unfurnished apartment and almost immediately set to the challenge of building some corner shelves and a coffee table.
I REALLY enjoyed it. And it was a challenge. I didn't have any tools here. Back in Mississippi I still have a storage unit FULL of tools. Back in Mississippi I've got enough tools to rebuild a car or build a house. Here in Ukraine I think I had a screwdriver and a pair of pliers before I started building furniture.
I still don't have all the toys I need (or want) but I have enough stuff now to not have to go completely Amish.
A few days ago I noticed a pile of double pane wooden window frames, most with the glass still in them piled outside where someone in the apartment is obviously remodeling; probably upgrading to plastic frames and fancy insulated windows. I grabbed two of the smaller windows frames; I'm going to build matching glass-top, shadow-box end tables with them.
As I began this week chipping and sanding decades of white paint off the frames it looks like there's nothing special about the wood underneath. It was probably the cheapest utility wood that would do the job back in the 70's when this building was built.
But I have a feeling I'll be able to bring some new life to them.
I know "reclaiming" old stuff is a fad these days. I'm ok with that. It makes sense to re-imagine and re-use stuff. And it has so much more character than anything (EVERYTHING) from Ikea, right?
And there's that whole redemption thing.
I've got a bunch of layers on me. Some of them toxic, really. I wouldn't be surprised if this paint I'm chipping and sanding isn't lead-based. (One of the benefits of being a 50 year old single guy is that I don't give a crap about the safety hazard! But I digress.)
There's something beautiful about chipping away at all that junk though and exposing something that's been lost for years: The grain of the wood- even if it's the cheap stuff, the craftsmanship of tongue and groove and nails instead of whatever those things are that hold Ikeacrap together. And all that newly exposed wood takes on new life and new beauty with some fresh coats of Stain- not layers of lead-based paint that masks everything (the beauty as well as the flaws), but Stain that gets absorbed so as to intensify and accentuate what's there rather than cover it up.
And doesn't that piece of furniture look so much better when you spent hours sanding it by hand or when you added a layer of Stain and a light sanding everyday for one or two weeks?
My life is stained for sure. Stain is difficult to remove. Stain is absorbed and becomes a part of who you are. Removing it takes a LOT of time; you have to cut deep to get it out and by the time you do that you might just destroy what you're working on. Stains aren't all bad then. Like I said, it intensifies and accentuates the character; actually, it contributes to the character most of the time.
One more thing I like about this reclamation fad is the idea of re-purposing. I like the idea of taking something useless and giving it a reason to live again. I can do it with a piece of wood; God can do it with a living, human being. I think only He really knows what our shelf-life is supposed to be and until that time comes we might be a window frame for a while and then a table and then who knows what. He chips away at what we're hiding behind and we drape ourselves in it just about as fast. He chips away some more and eventually reveals what's underneath. The stains we absorb, the dents and scratches and scars become a part of us for better or worse.
Ah the stories my little end tables could tell. I started out as a tree in Hungary and I watched the world at war around me. Then I became a window to the world below me and a window into the lives of countless families peering through me for 40 years. One day I was tossed aside to be replaced by something newer and prettier but then I was rescued. Some scars were too deep to be repaired but scars are just tatoos that tell a story. The next thing I knew I was a table that held food and drinks and family pictures and housed personal treasures. One day I was tossed aside expecting to be replaced by something newer and prettier but then I was rescued. I'm not what I once was and now I know, I'm not yet what I will be.
Check back in a few weeks to see how it turns out!