Saturday morning I was in a classic guy situation: two days pre-birthday, no concept of what to get her and hoping for a miracle to happen. At 8am on my walk to the farmer’s market such a miracle did happen. Strolling down the street I saw what appeared to be a nasty, old, rotted out piece of wood on the ground. However, I’m always on the prowl for new stuff, especially when I’m alone, and this particular piece of wood caught my attention. Despite it’s seemingly useless condition a few things struck me as odd. For one, this board was purposefully rectangular, someone had cut it to shape and had used it for something in the past. It was also at least a few inches thick and looked like a pretty hefty hunk of lumber. Then i noticed a perfectly circular hole drilled in the corner, the sure sign of a cutting board of sorts. Not wanting to be scolded for bringing home a potentially infested piece of wood I left the board on the ground and continued on to the market. As I filled our bag with this weeks eats I kept thinking about that piece of wood. Who had used it? What was it used for? Why was it laying outside of an abandoned building, rotting away in the summer’s sun and rain? Did it deserve such a fate or were there grander adventures in store? I had to at least pick it up and dream for a minute. On my walk back home I did just that.
Upon picking up the board I was amazed at its weight. At only 13” wide, 8” tall and 1¾” thick it easily weighed in at 5 pounds (later confirmed by the kitchen scale to be 5lbs 3.4oz). It was then that the light bulb went off, with a little love this could be the perfect birthday present! We don’t have a dedicated cheeseboard/serving board and Sweetbreads loves little stuff like that. Oh, and it was also free.
So off I went with the cheeseboard in hand. One person gave me a weird look as she saw me ogling it, but otherwise the street was empty and peaceful and I had found a treasure. Luckily, Sweetbreads was at her bridal shower at an Aunt’s house in Connecticut so I had some time to prep the board before she got home. I headed over to the neighborhood hardware store and picked up some wood bleach, a stainless steel brush and a bottle of wood preservative. The woodworm holes and other interesting insects inhabiting the crevices needed to be sanded away and bleached. Living in a 700 sq ft apartment doesn’t exactly lend itself to projects such as this, but I have a secret corner behind our building where an electrical socket and an old table suffice for all my home carpentry needs. Here’s a (blurry) picture of what it looks like:
I took some 60 grit sandpaper and spent an inordinate amount of time trying to get the board sanded. It wasn’t that the wood was really rough, it’s just that it seemed to laugh at the sandpaper. Maybe it’s just a really hard wood? Maybe it was a little damp from this week’s rain? Who knows what it was, but it was a pain to get it all smoothed out and ready to be bleached. If I angled the sander correctly I was pretty well able to reach into the deep grooves and knock out the rotted pieces and sand down the rough edges.
After that was all taken care of I used some wood bleach (basically watered down oxalic acid) and scrubbed the piece down with a stainless steel brush. I made a couple passes, trying to guarantee that any creatures from the street were adequately scorched by the acid or otherwise convinced to flee habitation of the board. Then it was time for drying. I set the board outside on our windowsill. It’s amazing how much the color changed.
An hour or two on the sill was sufficient to dry the wood block. The final step was to take the wood preservative (fancified name for mineral oil) and apply it generously with a couple paper towels. I would not recommend using paper towels, however. They got caught in the grain and crevices and I spent some time picking them out later in the day. Apparently linen cloths work better, oh well. I again put the board outside and let it dry completely. The finished product is below. I may give it another pass with the sander and re-lather with mineral oil, but I think it'll get a little use tonight first :)