Ask the Experts: The Woodworker

Photo: Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine

You’re known for creating striking geometric patterns for your tables and headboards. How do you do it?
A lot of people think I must stain or paint the wood, but I don’t. I use lath that I find on the street. The lighter pieces get their look from residual plaster dust, and the backsides are much darker. The colors come from age and natural patina.

What is lath?
It’s four-foot strips of wood that were used to build walls in old homes. These days, it’s torn out during renovations and thrown away.

Is it possible to achieve that salvaged look with new materials?
Yes, though it will never be the same as the real thing. One technique that creates a natural stain on wood is to rub it with steel wool that’s been soaked overnight in white vinegar. That works, especially on oak. You’ll get a silvery dark tone. Or give it a very light whitewash with paint.

What are some of your secret sources for salvaged wood?
You would have to climb through a dumpster to find the stuff I use because nobody thinks it’s valuable. But if you want to buy salvage, try M. Fine Lumber in East Williamsburg and Build It Green! NYC in Gowanus.

What is the appeal of wood?
It adds warmth and brightens a home. There’s something earthy, modern, and rustic about natural wood. When I needed some art on my walls, I decided to make some wood wall panels.

Wood on the walls?
I made a chevron pattern, and it was all wonky, but the colors were beautiful. You can add my panels to the wall without causing much more damage than you would hanging pictures. The wood is cut to your desired length, and then you just use a nail gun to tack it directly over drywall. It’s very simple and easy to pry off.

You also make hand-carved spoons and cutting boards. What’s the best way to care for wood that gets washed and used often?
Oil it regularly and never let cutting boards soak in water. As for my tables, just wipe the tops clean with a damp cloth. Wood gets better with age, especially if you take care of it. It’ll last a lifetime.

Sealants: Yea or nay?
I don’t use them on, say, my headboards or panels—no need. I use water-based Polycrylic on the tables since it doesn’t darken the wood as much as oil-based sealants do. For a floor, you should probably coat it in polyurethane.

Got a favorite tool?
I love the seventies Delta Homecraft band saw that I inherited from my boyfriend’s grandfather. He used it to make model trains in his basement. The good thing about old tools is that they can usually be fixed, unlike newer power tools, which are sometimes just meant to be replaced.

Trick of the Trade
“If you plan on doing woodworking yourself, invest in a good electric hand planer. It’s revolutionary when it comes to tight joints. I really like the ones made by Bosch.”

Ask the Experts: The Woodworker