Bio: Sturtz, Rick – Woodworking Project (Jul 2005)

Contact: Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon

Surnames: Sturtz, Lacey

----Source: Clark County Press (Neillsville, Clark Co., WI) 7/20/2005

For Long-time Woodworker, Latest Project (One for the Ages – 2005)

For Long-time Woodworker, Latest Project One For the Ages

Rick Sturtz had little left to do in finishing his latest woodworking project, a 10-foot-long dining table made from a 200-yer-od English walnut tree, except for a final buffing before disassembling and packing it up for its journey to Arizona. (Contributed photo)

By Mick Kuzjak

If only trees could talk, one 200-year old English walnut growing up in a Pennsylvania woods would have plenty to say about much of America’s history. Not long ago, that same proud, old tree fell victim to a housing development project. But, through the universal language of craftsmanship and beauty, it was recently given a new life in Neillsville as a table before going off to its new home in Arizona, where it is sure to be enjoyed as a family heirloom.

Rick Sturtz, of Neillsville, literally had a hand in that timeless odyssey, crafting a rough slab of lumber cut from the six-foot diameter tree into a glistening dining t able, taking his own personal journey of trial and triumph during the year-long process. He built the table for a friend, William Lacey of Milwaukee, and last week personally delivered it to Lacey’s new home in Sedona, Ariz.

Sturtz, who is taking a sabbatical from his job as an adult education instructor at Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) campus in Neillsville, remembers well his trip last year to Pennsylvania to inspect the rough slab of lumber to see if it would be right for the special project.

The slab was an awesome specimen to behold: 17 feet long, six feet wide and 2½ inches thick. “My first thought was, ‘Can I do this justice?’” he said.

Once the slab was shipped to Sturtz’s rural Neillsville home, the sheer immensity of the piece posed immediate challenges of his usually capable shop tools.

Sturtz had to put his band saw on wheels in order to cut the slab down to the table’s final dimensions of about 3½ feet wide and 10 feet long.

And, since it was too big for any planer, he had to hand-plane it down to its final two-inch thickness. He next sanded the piece, as sparingly as possible, as not to lose the natural beauty of the wood.

That beauty, in Sturtz’s eyes, included cracks, one-half inch wide, at both ends of the table top. “I didn’t see them as defects,” he said. Rather, Sturtz explained, he saw them as manifestations of the tree’s character from its 200 years of life and the harsh natural elements it endured during that time.

Sturtz had to stabilize the cracks and he did so by using “butterfly” joints made of Indian rosewood. The intrinsic beauty of the table top, he was pleased to see, was even more enhanced as a result.

Finally, Sturtz took on the challenge of finishing the table, using polyurethane, varnish and other oils. He applied a total of 15 coats, buffing each layer out w hen it had dried. Sturtz estimates about 400 total hours into the project.

The most satisfying thing for Sturtz, a self-taught woodworker for the past 25 years, was not what he might have gotten paid for the completed project. Rather, he said, it was taking on challenges all along the way, overcoming them, and finally standing back and seeing the unique beauty of the finished table, one that would be at the center of family dining occasions for years, if not generations, to come.

In fact, said Sturtz, if he’s done it right, there’s no reason that the tree, in its second life in noble splendor, couldn’t last another 200 years, and more. “I made a careful effort tor that beauty to endure,” he said.

In having the table reach its final destination, Sturtz, didn’t take any chances. He rented a covered trailer and painstakingly packed the disassembled top and trestle-style base himself, before starting off on his slow and cautious drive to Arizona.

Once Sturtz returned home to Neillsville, the heartwood from that ancient three might have been out of the caring embrace of his hands, but its treasured reincarnation surely was still on his mind. No doubt, he’ll remember this project for a long time to come.

After all, some memories, like some trees and the woodworking projects that come from them, are just naturally built to last.



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