When Adrian Vogel looks at a tree, he envisions timeless beauty. He studies its gnarly trunk and its disorderly branches. He understands its life cycle—as a seed, a sapling and, finally, a mature tree. When a tree enters its elderly stage, Vogel’s instincts propel him to memorialize and celebrate the giant’s life.
“It’s rewarding to create beauty out of something that is going to be thrown away,” Vogel, sole proprietor of Hardwood Reclamation, says. Vogel is an artist, a craftsman, a carpenter, a man who is driven by internal forces to construct lasting artistry out of something that is destined to be forgotten. He builds one-of-a kind tables, desks and benches, which are as much flair as function.
Ash, cherry, elm, maple, pecan, walnut—Vogel locally sources much of the hardwoods.
“When a tree falls naturally, it still contains approximately 50 percent of its original moisture,” he says. “We trim off branches and haul the fallen log to a sawmill where it is sliced into thick slabs.”
He then transports the lumber to his Kansas City, Kansas, studio to air-dry. For every inch of thickness, he allows one year of air-drying. A thick slab sat in wait for three years before it was ready for the next step. Throughout his workspace, Vogel stores slabs piled high upon each other separated by wooden stickers allowing for air circulation. When cured, Vogel uses a pallet jack and forklift to move the slabs into a custom constructed kiln. The 130-degree temperature finishes the drying and kills any remaining termites or bugs. Vogel uses a moisture tester to monitor progress throughout the multi-week process. When drying is complete, these pieces of large lumber are lighter and easier to work with.
“In some pieces of wood, you can see where the tree begins to split naturally and branch out,” Vogel says.
At this stage, he introduces special techniques to strengthen the slabs. He fills cracks and holes with epoxy as necessary to create a glasslike texture.
Next comes the sanding, where Vogel uses his 50-inch drum sander. This monster of a machine feeds the wood into the sander with the help of a conveyor belt. A dust collector suctions excess sawdust from the board.
“The sanding removes any imperfections and produces a laser-flat tabletop,” he says.
Each time the wood is passed through, Vogel loads the machine with a finer grade of paper. Once machine sanding is completed, there is an abundance of hand sanding to be done.
“Along the perimeter of the wood, I use a very small specialty sander,” Vogel says. “This allows me to maintain the natural edge of the tree.”
Then it’s time for layers of finish, with sanding between each layer.
Vogel uses no stains. “I search for pieces that are interesting on their own, and let the wood speak for itself.”
He points to a red elm burl and explains, “This is a defect in a tree. It creates confusion in the grain, making it highly figured and interesting.”
Vogel designs most pieces for interior spaces. For his outdoor furniture, he preserves the wood with several coats of marine varnish.
Vogel grew up in Cimarron, a western Kansas town of 2,000. His grandfather built houses. At age 10, Vogel began his vocation by making bookshelves in his dad’s garage workshop.
Most of his clients are word-of-mouth referrals, but he also posts finished pieces on his website and on KC Made, Custom Made, Chairish, Etsy and Amazon. He recently delivered a dining table to a couple in Austin who stumbled upon his website, and he regularly ships furniture throughout the U.S. In May, Vogel exhibited at the Brookside Art Fair. This fall, he plans to display his work at several events including the Westport Art Fair and at a show in Breckenridge, Colorado.
An ancient trunk collapses, unable to support its weighty branches. The tree falls where it spent its life, often in an area that’s been overlooked and abandoned. While many passers-by notice nothing, or recognize the rubbish only as an inconvenient eyesore, Vogel sees possibilities. Much like the Japanese people honor the wisdom of their elders, Vogel respects the woodlands and strives to create timeless monuments to fallen and forgotten forests.
“My goal is to reuse material which would otherwise end up in landfills and fireplaces.”
Visit Vogel at HardwoodReclamation.com soon, and if you yearn to own a unique piece of natural art, arrange a tour of his working showroom.