Turning Dead Pine Into Furniture: Azure's Corbin Clay

By Bernie Bottens | Posted: 08/29/2013 9:34AM

 

I’ve written several times about my buddy Dave Walnut. I would point you to these past articles but if you choose not to tiptoe through the links, let me say this about Dave.

Azure Furniture, Corbin Clay, beetle killed pine, pine beetleAzure Furniture owner Corbin Clay at the SafetySpeed AWFS 2013 booth. Corbin Clay has a new venture: a pop-up store opening in the downtown Denver mall Sept. 13-15, at which the Azure Furniture team will build pine-beetle furniture on site for retail sale. Festool will help sponsor the project. Clay will build a 12' x 12' pergola at the "Garden Block" (16th St, between Curtis and Champa). The store will be open Friday 10am-2pm; all day Saturday (10am-6pm) and most of Sunday (12 noon-5pm). Clay says: We will be building our Azure Furniture blue pine pieces live, as well as selling the full collection. Come see live demo's of the Festool joinery and sanding tools, several furniture products under $100. Afterward the pergola will remain in place to be used as a public installation. at his Azure Furniture is also available for sale online.   Dave is quite a guy. Speaking in terms of his woodworking, he does some exquisite things in his shop. Beyond his sketch pad and table saw, he has other wood passions. Dave also harvests Oregon Walnut logs, mills and dries them. Out behind the wood shop is his mill shop with his bandsaw mill. Across the way is a large open shed where his cut lumber goes to air dry. All around are logs of different species awaiting their turn in the mill. Here and there are stacks of stickered slabs air drying under various improvised sun/rain covers prior to their trip to the shed. In the main shop is his kiln where he does the final drying prior to production.

Dave loves the whole process. He and I share the same passions. I don’t have a shop or a mill so I live my woodworking passion, for now, through Dave. Someday I’ll have my own shop again!

Let’s move on to my trip to Vegas for the AWFS. As I wrote this, I was sitting in the middle of the show floor. I want to tell you about a guy that I met that day. Corbin Clay of Azure Furniture Co, Denver, Colorado was here at the show as the guest of Safety Speed. Corbin and Azure Furniture gained a great deal of attention this year when he won the Ketel One Vodka and GQ Magazine’s “A Gentleman’s Call” contest that rewarded companies like his for entrepreneurship, craftsmanship, and philanthropy. There’s quite a bit on the web for you to look at regarding Corbin and that award. Please take a look and get to know this young man. It will be worth your time.

I had the pleasure of sitting with Corbin for an hour and we talked and came to know each other. He was on my “hit list” when I came to the show. I had read about him in other publications and knew that he was someone that I had to meet.

I must say that I was not disappointed. He is full of fire and the desire to not only grow a company. He is also passionate about taking two things that are problems and turning them into positives. First, there had been a huge decline in the amount of furniture that is made in the U.S.A. Corbin wanted to make a really great product, build it in the USA, and present it to the American public. Secondly, he wanted to take the 4 million acres of beetle kill pine and help turn those into something other than the dead trees that cover the Rocky Mountain area.

Corbin designed and is marketing a whole line of furniture made entirely out of beetle kill pine at his Azure Furniture Co. This is where Corbin and Dave come together and this is where we all three share the same passion. This is a cradle to grave passion where the tree grows and then, when necessary, it is harvested and turned into something very positive, very creative, very expressive, and very much an heirloom. Corbin is committed to his furniture outlasting their original owners. Dave is committed to his creations being heirlooms as well. How cool can it be to have that passion, develop a product that would otherwise be likely to go up in smoke and turn it into something that lasts forever?

Corbin Clay's newest venture: a pop-up store in Denver's  will

Dave’s walnut trees are usually harvested when they are no longer wanted where they stand. In the Willamette Valley, there are many that were planted in yards or along the borders of fields. They are great shade trees but they are also pretty messy in the fall because of their huge canopy of leaves. Sooner or later for some, progress requires that they be removed. Dave buys those trees and harvests them for his mill. Otherwise they could just as easily end up as firewood.

Corbin, from the Denver area, is smack in the middle of 4 million acres of dead pine forests. Though most of it is on Federal and State land, there is still a ready supply of trees available from privately owned land. Loggers harvest those logs at the land owner’s request because they pose an extreme fire hazard. State and Federal foresters often want these trees removed because of their extreme fire danger. Corbin is now at the position of being able to buy 5000 board feet per month that has been milled to his specifications.

Corbin Clay, Azure Furniture, Ketel 1

Pine Beetle Wood Crafter Gains Fame

Having said that, Corbin takes that milled lumber and makes certain that it is ready to work before proceeding. Proper moisture content is essential and he is very careful about controlling that. Such attention to detail is important in every step of the operation if you are to build something to last a lifetime. Thereafter, the milling process begins. Out of that comes selectively glued up blanks that are 8 feet long. His line of furniture is all built based upon the 96” module.

Beetle killed pine is a product of nature. Every tree is different. Every tree is attacked by this pesky little beetle and it eventually dies from that attack. In the course of that attack, the beetle introduces a fungus that gives the pine wood a bluish tinge. F.Y.I. Azure is Latin for blue.

For those who have not seen beetle kill pine, I would first refer you to the other species of pine that are native to this country. This is Lodge Pole Pine which covers the west and which got its name from its long, slender shape that native Americans used so successfully as poles for their teepees. But as the tree matures, it becomes of a size that is useable for things other than fence posts and rails. It is a marketable, mill-able log.

Enter the Mountain Pine Beetle. When he does his business and slowly kills the tree, this fungus is introduced. As the tree carries this fungus throughout its system, areas of the wood are stained a bluish, denim-like color. However, this stain is not at all consistent tree to tree or even board to board within the same log. Some areas of some boards will be the traditional yellow-whitecolor that you are used to seeing in pine. Other areas are quite blue to quite gray. By careful glue-up of individual boards according to their color, the blue stain becomes a very interesting and attractive feature of the panel. If you are still having trouble with this concept, think of how individual Pecan/Hickory boards are glued up to create the “Calico” look that we see in kitchen cabinets made from that species.

Passion is what brings us together. I have a passion for woodworking. So does Dave and so does Corbin. Another one of Dave’s passions is music and that it one of the other things that brought us together years ago when we first met. Corbin also has a passion for music. He wanted to be a music teacher at one point. I have two degrees in choral music education. Dave doesn’t ride motorcycles but Corbin raced and was a race mechanic for a time. I ride a BMW. The three of us would have a great deal to talk about. Too bad Dave wasn’t able to make the trip this year to AWFS. His younger son got married the Saturday of the show. Okay Dave, we forgive your absence. But we will all meet soon and talk more about our common passions!

Until next time…Spray on!


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About the Author

Bernie Bottens

Bernie Bottens (WoodworkingNetwork.com/blogs)writes and teaches on the subject of wood and wood finishing in industrial woodworking. He and his wife, Carol, live in Vancouver, WA. Bernie has been teaching wood finishing to shop owners, shop foremen, spray technicians and finishers all over Oregon, southwest Washington, and northern California for the past 9 years. Prior to that, he owned his own cabinet shop. His shop credentials include apprenticing and becoming a journeyman exhibit builder. Before that he taught in the public schools for 20 years. Bernie is the owner of Kapellmeister Enterprises, Inc. and Kap Coatings Consulting. Reach him at kapenterprises@msn.com.

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