I could see the look of concern cloud the man’s face as I slowly drove up his long, winding driveway. He looked to be in his mid-60s and was standing beside his pickup truck, chatting with his wife as I parked my car. “Are you Steve?” I asked as I approached, my hand outstretched in the cool October air. “I am. You must be James,” he said, gripping my hand in a firm handshake.
We had never met before this Saturday last fall, and it was only through the Internet that we made our acquaintances. I’d found Steve thanks to an ad he posted on a buy-and-sell website looking to sell some burr oak. My previous column detailed my growing obsession with woodworking, but I quickly realized that to keep up with my hobby I would need wood. Lots of it.
I’d spent the last few weeks browsing the web trying to find some inexpensive material but had mostly come up empty, save for a few ads looking to get rid of old pallet wood. So when I came across Steve’s posting for what looked like solid, dry oak at a reasonable price ($100) I jumped on the opportunity.
The boards were about 7’ long and about 7″ wide, and that’s what prompted his concern when he laid eyes on my car. I drive a 2008 Volkswagen City Golf – great on gas but not so good for contractors or woodworkers. I think Steve had his doubts that the wood, eight boards in total plus a couple off-cuts, would fit.
“Follow me. The wood’s in the barn around back,” he said. He hopped on his four-wheeler and drove slowly around the side of his house and down a steep hill before arriving at the orange structure at the bottom. It looked like an old horse barn. He opened the side door to reveal the oak, towering over us. He assured me it was dry and had been sitting in the barn, protected from the elements, for several years. It came from a tree just outside of Guelph, Ontario that Steve cut down and sawed into boards with the help of his son-in-law. Steve had been an amateur woodworker for years but was getting set to retire and move, meaning he had to unload all of the remaining wood. This was the last of it.
The boards were beautiful, rough sawn and about three-quarters of an inch thick, and many still had the live edge on them. I told him I was just getting into woodworking with my father and had spent the last few weeks scouring buy-and-sell sites for inexpensive wood to get started.
We stacked the boards precariously onto the back of his 4-wheeler and made the trip back up the steep hill.
“Are you sure they’re going to fit?” he asked as I opened the hatchback, confirming my earlier suspicions. I repositioned my toddler’s car seat and lowered the back seat to make space. I was beginning to have my doubts as well.
“Oh… sure!” I replied. “If not, we can just cut some off the ends.” Steve began unloading the boards and placing them on the ground beside the car in a neat pile. I moved to the side to give him space to start putting them into the back of the car, but sensing my intentions he looked up and said, “I’m not loading them, you are!” I laughed, thinking he was joking, but he wasn’t. Just a few weeks earlier another guy about my age had come by to pick up some wood and drove almost the exact same car as I did. He promptly slid the first board right through his front windshield.
Fortunately, I didn’t repeat that same mistake, and I managed to get the load of wood home unscathed and with my windshield intact. I sent my dad a photo of my crammed car along with a description of the wood. His response was an unenthusiastic, “What are you going to do with it?” It’s almost as if he knew I didn’t have a plan for it (I didn’t) and that I’d likely end up storing it in his barn for months (I have).