The one thing I don’t like about sleeper wood furniture is that it tends be bulky and heavy. I like the rustic nature of sleeper wood and I especially like the fact that the sleepers are being re-purposed. I have done some work with sleeper wood in the past, mostly making odds and ends, and really enjoy working with it. Sleepers tend to be hard as nails, and cut and machine with the same ease as metal. On a recent visit to local timber yard I noticed that they had a number of sleepers that had been milled into planks. This got me thinking. Would it be possible to build something elegant and light, while retaining the rustic nature of the sleeper?
I sorted through the pile and pulled out 4 really interesting planks. These must have been cut from the center of the sleeper because they still had a dark, rich red-brown colour. I was informed these were Jarrah, (Eucalyptus marginata), a hardwood highly sought after for its strength, durability and versatility. It has a rich colour similar to Mahogany, and is often used in cabinetry, decking, construction, and of course, railway sleepers. It was perfect for what I had in mind.
Once in the workshop, I chose to drill out and fill the holes left by the railway spikes. For these fillers I used some of the Jarrah itself. On one of the planks, there was an area that had rotted through. Instead of cutting it out of the design, I decided to fill it with a piece of mismatched timber. I cleaned out a square and cut a matching piece of Kiaat, deliberately mismatching the grain and colour to enhance the fact that this was a patch. I did not want this to blend in. I planed the patched level with the surface of the wood. I milled the lumber to an even thickness before cutting, jointing and joining the planks to make a table top that was 600 sq mm. I used a roundover bit in my router to round the edges.
For the legs, I joined two pieces to make an L-shaped leg 60mm wide on each side and 400 mm high. I built a small jig for the table saw and cut a taper into the side of each of the legs before using a round-over bit and router on all the edges to create a more elegant look.
I cut stretchers to size and rounded the edges. I used 8mm dowels and a PVA glue, specifically for oily woods to join the stretchers to the legs. This gave me 400 mm sq base to mount the top. I sanded down to 220 grit, and then applied several coats of furniture oil to complete the look.
I think this is the furniture equivalent of equivalent of fusion food. It has retained the rustic nature of the sleeper wood, and the patches emphasize that this is something that was rescued. I did consider making an elegant bow tie to fill the damaged bit, and I also considered using an off cut of the original wood. But I am trying to make a statement here. This was a piece of wood that has done some living, seen some things and should carry its scars with pride. The patch is not meant to hide the damage, but rather enhance the fact that it is just that, a patch. At the same time, this shows that sleeper wood can be crafted into something elegant and graceful. The table is well proportioned. The legs are solid looking without being bulky and it is functional. The slight taper at the bottom of the bottom of the legs adds a little bit of grace and the rounded edges add to that elegance. It has an ultra smooth matt surface, and you really want to run your hands over it.
“Why did you drill and fill holes in it?”my friend David asked.
“It’s where the railway spikes held down the tracks.”I said.
Is this really sleeper wood? He replied?
I knew at that point, I had succeeded.