Most of the time, people don’t voluntarily bring centuries-old rotting tree stumps into their homes. Unless, that is, they’re anything like Brent Graham, who decided that doing so would actually be a great idea. Fortunately, though, he had big plans for the 400-year-old stump – and the results of his handiwork are simply stunning.
Normally, you would pay good money to have tree stumps removed. After all, a rotting stump can host root diseases and affect other nearby flora – not to mention the irritating and unsightly shoots that can grow from its roots. However, rather than removing and disposing of the stump altogether, one man had an even better idea.
Graham resides in Torrance, California, with his partner and daughter. What’s more, he has a particular passion for working with his hands, as evidenced through photographs on his Instagram account and personal website. Both platforms display various projects that the woodworker has completed in his workshop over the years – from an acoustic guitar to a word clock.
Now the notion of “upcycling” has boomed in popularity over the past decade or so, particularly in the U.S. By definition, it simply boils down to taking something that might be considered waste or an unusable object and turning that material into something new. For instance, Gary Chan, a Hong Kong-based inventor, salvages materials from couches, tires and wardrobes in order to create bicycles.
In the same vein, there’s been a blossoming trend in people creating unique pieces of furniture for their homes all by themselves. That way they can avoid breaking the bank by paying for expensive furniture at a store. After all, raw materials often come much cheaper – or, as in Graham’s case, they sometimes come gratis.
You see, the tree stump in question actually belonged to one of Graham’s clients, who told the handyman that its only foreseeable destiny was to rot away in his garden. Unfortunately, the client didn’t have enough room in his home to make good use of the stump, so he offered it to Graham – who instantly agreed to take the object off his hands.
It was little wonder that the customer couldn’t fit the item in his house, though. After all, it was absolutely enormous – to the point where Graham had trouble fitting it inside his van to transport it to his workshop. But although part of the stump had indeed rotted away, it wasn’t completely kaput. Yes, somebody, somewhere had at some point tried to salvage it.
While the stump had a rotted section in its center, evidently someone had previously been chiseling away, smoothing it out into a more attractive pattern. The sides of the stump, meanwhile, had been completely stripped of bark. And it didn’t take long for Graham to realize that he could make use of the item as a coffee table in his home. So, he made a plan and got to work.
Graham began treating the wood by sanding it down and wetting it – at which point the detail in the grain began to show through. He was then able to properly count the rings in the grain to determine the tree’s age, and he quickly realized that it was around four centuries old. Thanks to the stump’s distinctive smell, the woodworker also guessed that it had come from a Douglas fir tree.
Next, Graham began flattening out the stump using a hand router – a particularly versatile power tool used in woodworking. But unfortunately, as he was doing so, he made a costly error. He slipped and accidentally cut a deep crevice into the top of the stump – a mistake that would need to be rectified later in the process.
In the meantime, though, Graham figured out a way to use the rotted, cutaway section in the center of the stump. He planned to cover it up with a piece of colored glass, giving the impression of a lake. And to do so, he had to draw up a “coastline” around the shape of the cutaway part, following the natural grain of the wood.
Once Graham had then mapped out the shape that he needed for the glass, he transferred his drawing to a digital file. And after that, he had his design created using a water jet cutter, which uses an extraordinarily high-pressure jet of water to slice through strong materials. Meanwhile, he also had the pattern cut into particleboard to give him a template for creating a recessed area in the stump in which to lay the glass.
At this point, then, the project was really starting to come together. With the top sanded out and smoothed, the wood wetted and the glass cut to shape, Graham could at last properly visualize the finished table. There was still some way to go, however, not least thanks to the gouge that he’d inadvertently made while routing.
Fortunately, Graham’s experience with previous projects helped massively in this regard. In fact, the handyman even used a leftover slab of walnut from his word clock to fill the imprint that he’d created during the routing process – as seen in the picture above. He also employed the same trick for another area of the top that had rotted away.
Finally, with all the blemishes sorted, Graham could move on to the finishing touches. First, he applied a coat of Arm-R-Seal satin, which he simply rubbed in with a wet shirt. “If I had heard of this stuff earlier, I’d have used it on so many projects,” he wrote on Imgur.
And since the tree stump’s new destiny was to become a coffee table, it needed raising slightly from its original 16” height. So, Graham added four little legs to its base, thereby raising it a further 2.5” to make it more practical for use in his home.
After applying another two coats of finish, Graham then started to sand down the wood around the glass so that they would sit flush with each other. Of course, this was a particularly intricate part of the entire process, as he could have easily damaged the carefully cut glass with just the slightest mistake. But fortunately it appeared to go well.
At last, then, the table was finished; and, as Graham had settled on naming it during its construction, the furniture item took on the handle “Caldera Lake Table.” The woodworker then uploaded images of the entire process, from start to finish, to Imgur and Reddit – where the set quickly went viral. Considering just how far the centuries-old tree stump had come, though, it’s no surprise that the transformation was so popular.
“Absolutely beautiful. The brass sailboat in the last photo is the perfect touch; this table is so wholesome,” wrote one Reddit user. And they weren’t alone; indeed, Graham garnered substantial praise for his work, with another user commenting, “Super impressive. I love how you transformed the rotted section into the nicest aspect/most distinctive element of the whole table.”
Bringing a 400-year-old tree stump into your home might not be everyone’s idea of a good time, but it clearly worked out perfectly for Brent Graham. So, while it may not occur to most people to see the potential in nature and upcycle in this way, there’s no denying the fact that the results can be absolutely fantastic – as long as you have the know-how to pull it off.