Woodworker Turns Reclaimed Wood into Studio Furniture
August 15, 2011 | 11:34 am CDT
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Furnituremaker and wood salvager Adam Hughes says he could not justify cutting down this
slab from the stump of a redwood tree, so he left it intact and added three legs to emphasize
its unique shape. Photo by Paul Israel.

Juggernaut is defined as an unstoppable force. So when Adam Hughes decided to enter the world of custom woodworking using sustainable materials, he thought the name was a good choice for his company name, as well as representing his dream of things to come.

Hughes says he hopes to grow the Camano Island, WA, business, Juggernaut Woodworking, into a cooperative of like-minded custom woodworkers intent on using reclaimed woods. For now, he works alone and says he is “totally green.”

“I feel that I’m getting the ball rolling with this idea, and the ball will turn into a snowball gathering steam,” he says. “I see endless possibilities.”

Hughes got into studio woodworking after working as a carpenter for 12 years. “I learned about woodworking as an apprentice woodworker in Montana. After a divorce, I moved with my two children back to Washington state and continued in carpentry work, building decks and doing exterior framing and siding. But I discovered that I wanted to do more creative work,” he says.

His green epiphany came from getting many stacks of firewood. “The wood was rejected by local mills because it had nails or the grain was going the wrong way or the piece was a mill end. I decided I could no longer take perfectly usable wood and burn it,” he says.

Instead, Hughes bought a scroll saw and took the rejected wood out of the firewood pile, turning it into tables that he called “puzzle tops.”

“Each table took me four or five months to build in my spare time,” he says. “I sold one and gave several away for charity auctions. But I began to dream about leaving carpentry and doing custom woodworking full-time.”

Propped in a corner of his shop are examples of the woods
Hughes rescues from the firewood pile or landfills. He estimates
that he has at least 20 different types of woods. Photo by Paul Israel.
Making a career switch
He finally took the plunge. “In the first year, I worked full-time and did my woodworking after hours,” he says. “In my second year, I worked part-time doing roughly two months of work for someone else. By 2009, I worked exclusively on the custom business.

“Today, I’m making enough to pay bills and the mortgage and buy tools,” he continues. “I had a bit of a slow start. Everyone thought I was a little crazy, but my work is catching on.” In addition to marketing via his Web site, juggernautwoodworking.com, Hughes’ work is carried in a Seattle, WA, gallery called AREA 51.

Hughes is passionate about the green aspects of his work. “My goal is to create a symbiotic relationship with the environment while allowing myself to create one-of-a-kind pieces of art,” he says.

He uses material that has been salvaged from a variety of sources — old homes, old boats, fallen trees, plus rejects and scraps from mills. Some make a good story.

“I found a great source when I heard about a boat that was about to be scrapped,” he says, as one example. “The 46-foot boat was made in the 1940s entirely of Honduran mahogany, and they were about to crush it and toss it. I said, ‘I’ll take the wood.’”

Hughes says he scours Craig’s List for deals on scrap wood and has netted some wonderful finds, such as scrapped African mahogany. “The boards were small and mismatched. I also come across material being sold for firewood, and I usually take the whole pile. I found more than a cord of African mahogany and bought it all for $50.”

Hughes also has netted gems from construction sites. “The wood that was used when Seattle was being built is some of the finest examples of old-growth fir — 6-foot by 6-foot timbers you won’t find today,” he says. “Some of the wood I reclaim and salvage might be Grade B or Grade C. But when you are talking about old-growth timbers, their Grade B or C is often better than a Grade A from today. Certainly, it usually has more character.”
Reclaiming wood is more than just finding a source, Hughes says. “With the Honduran mahogany from the boat, I had to take the boat apart.” He provides a slide show of the process on his Web site.

He also is extremely happy to have found a source of reclaimed redwood from old-growth trees. “I can get redwood slabs from the butt of trees logged long ago,” he says. “The loggers cut high up and left the stumps. Now that people are allowed to clear-cut the area, we have a source for stumps that are sometimes as big as a car. I think it’s very cool to work with material like that, to be able to say, this was part of an old-growth forest, but logged responsibly.”

Hughes shares photos and videos of his work in
progress on his Web site, so visitors can appreciate
the steps involved. Photo by Paul Israel.

Using every scrap
Hughes’ pieces are all-wood construction. “The only nails you will find in my pieces are those from a previous use,” he says. “I leave the nails in to give it character, but my joinery is with dowels or biscuits, which I also make from salvaged small material. I don’t throw any wood away. I’m a wood packrat.”

With his first designs, Hughes used a traditional high-gloss finish. But he since has switched to Bioshield Hard Oil 9, an eco-friendly oil with low or no VOCs. “I typically apply three coats,” he says. “I like it because it doesn’t give a waxy, plastic-like finish. When a piece is finished, it looks like wood.”

Besides the puzzle top tables, Hughes’ first custom projects included pieces featuring whimsical pictures, using different wood species as his palette. “I use a variety of solid woods to create a design,” he says.

With names like “Three Ninjas,” “Laughing While on Fire” and “The Eye Table,” it is easy to see that Hughes is both creative and playful.

Compared to his early work, he has modified his designs slightly following a discussion with the owner of AREA 51. “The pieces there are very modern — simple with square lines, a la Jonathan Adler,” he says. “But they also sell interesting antiques and now have a line of sustainable pieces. The owner said he liked my work, but he gave me some suggestions about making some tables with what we call live edges, giving it the raw, natural look on two sides. The first one I created sold in one day.”

When Hughes returned to Washington state, one of his dreams was to find a home where he could have his workshop. He purchased a five-acre property and has been redoing the house to his satisfaction. He has a shop nearby and a barn where he stores his reclaimed wood.

He says there is a lot of work to finding reclaimed wood suitable for reworking, but for him it is a labor of love.
“You have to find the straightest pieces and often rip some down and join them back to the size you need. Then, there are hours and hours of sanding,” he says. “But in the end, it is worth it. There is too much good wood around being thrown in the trash. I think the ‘past lives’ of the wood just gives it wonderful character.”

Jo-Ann Kaiser is a freelance writer in Alabama who has been covering the woodworking industry for more than 25 years.

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