Back off the highway a piece and down the road a bit outside of Rochester Washington you could still drive right past Don Avery's place and not know it. But from that modest, well-kept home and shop back in the trees is where some of the most beautiful wood in the world comes from. Ok, so it really does grow on trees but Don knows how to expose the natural beauty of these local woods. He spent many years as a logger and retired from that but rather than sitting back and doing nothing, he put his intimate knowledge of trees and the wood they produce to work for himself. It's a great benefit to those of us who appreciate fine wood. Don says it's a hobby but the line between hobby and passion is a thin one.
Don doesn't cut down trees anymore, even for his hobby. Instead, his sources come from salvaged wood and reclaiming previously used wood.
Here is a tiny sample of some of the slabs of maple burl Don has stored away. These are big slices but he has had some that were as tall as he is.
Better yet, check out his Web site UCR Woods. There are lots of examples of the beautiful woods Don has and some interesting tips on drying, sanding, even what tools are "really" used for. He sells spalted and burl woods there as well .
Don has a Tilt-Top Portable. Well, not really a complete Tilt-Top Portable as he modified the bed of it. For "modify" read "replace". Don built a sled to fit his horizontal saw mill so he could cut burls and other woods into slices. He mounted the Grip-All Jaws vise on one end and uses the other pivot arm in the dog holes. He sets the bed between the rails and slices away.
If there were any doubt as to how well the Grip-All Jaws would hold under stress, there is an 11hp engine that drives that aggressive saw blade. We wondered if the Grip-All Jaws would hold that kind of force. But we saw this very burl get cut and the blade went right through it! Just like uptown! And Don's been using this set up for a while and says it works really well.
He also modified the grip pins on his set up. Instead of the PVC coated metal pins, we supplied him with pins of nylon rod. You can probably imagine what would happen if that shark-toothed saw blade hit a metal pin, we would rather not think about it. Don really prefers having the full use and function of all of his limbs, hands and fingers.
He depends on the Grip-All Jaws ability to hold any shape, and the pieces of wood he works on are really any shape. This pile will all become beautiful works of art someday.
He lets many of the pieces of wood sit outside to age and often to spalt. Spalting is a process where bacteria growth creates the beautiful patterns and colors in maples, alders, and other woods. But Don also has an amazing selection of figured woods.
Don lives in the Pacific Northwest and that area is known for some of the most beautifully figured wood in the world. There is quilted maple with figure that looks like a waterfall, pieces so peppered with Birdseye that there is no grain at all but Birdseye. Not to mention gorgeous maples, birches, and alders where the spalting has painted lavish, scenic designs of creams, tans, browns, and blacks.
This one slice is from an old cedar tree that fell into a swamp thousands of years ago. Interestingly enough, it is finished with 220 grit sand paper, up through 320, 400, 600, 800, 1,200, 2,000, grits. Still not content, Don went on to 6,000, 10,000, 12,000, and beyond. After that you get into the realm of rubbing and polishing compounds. You can't really use rubbing compound on bare wood but Don used sandpapers and sanding cloths to get this lustrous finish - which is really no finish at all. The piece is obviously smooth as glass but the grain depth is spellbinding.
Don Avery is a living, textbook definition of a "real character". He has more fun than a barrel of monkeys doing the UCR Woods thing. Besides, when you think about it, any "fun" that could be derived from monkeys in a barrel would be, at best, short lived. Nope, Don gets a kick out of working with wood and talking to people in equal measure.
"So do you know what this is?"
He asks as he hands me a round vessel with a flared top like a trumpet bell with a natural, bark edge lip. The bottom flares out like the top and had a bark inclusion that blew out in turning creating a whole near the bottom. "Well, it's burl maple", I said with authority.
And with a one-liner delivery that would make Rodney Dangerfield proud, he tells me;
"It's a self-emptying spittoon."
That's what we mean by a real character. Talk to Don for more than a few seconds and you'll be smiling so help you. And if you need some stunningly beautiful wood, he'll ship to you but it's more fun in person, we can attest.