Repurposing 200 year old oak into new forms
Under the skilled hands of this master artisan from Croatia, the beauty of ancient Slavonian oak salvaged from deteriorating barns and homes is preserved for future generations.
Petar Kutlic’s passion for woodworking started simply as a hobby. Having learned from his father some of the finer techniques and tricks of the craft, he began small by constructing picture frames and mirror frames 15 years ago.
One day, he happened across an old wooden beam, and began working with it. After cleaning and sanding down the surface, he was struck by the beauty created by the natural grain combining with marks and colorations left by time. Inspired by the unique characters of the old wood, Petar was compelled to find out more about where it came from, and where it could be found.
Petar has collected old photos and documents that describe the techniques used to harvest trees in Slavonia (a region in eastern Croatia) more than one hundred years ago. Looking through the photos, he points to one and explains what he sees.
"See the tree in this photo? The dimensions are 17 metres long and 132 cm in diameter – 23 cubic metres of boards in only one log! Just to move the log from the forest, ten horses were required, and these old logs were sawn by hand!"
The old Slavonian giant oak trees are all gone – completely harvested in the 18-19th centuries. Almost 90% of the timber was shipped to Europe to be used in construction projects.
Even though the giant oaks are no longer standing, Petar discovered the wood still survives. In Petar’s town of Zagreb, plenty of old homes and barns are constructed from the old oak beams. Many of these structures are not in daily use as they once were and are being torn down as they fall into disrepair. Seeing that these premium old beams were simply being hauled away as waste, he decided that this presented him with an opportunity to do what he enjoyed most, while also being a profitable way to support his family. Repurposing the wooden components of these aging buildings into something beautiful, modern, and useful is where Petar Kutlic enters the picture again.
Salvaging ancient wood and initial restoration
"On this beam, you can see what year the home was built – 1852," Petar points out the year carved deeply into the old wood, which is stacked neatly with others in his shop in Zagreb. His shop is aptly named, ‘Rarity’.
Four years ago, he purchased his first old building, dismantled it piece by piece, and began his business building unique and high-quality furniture from the old wood. Since that first trial, he has dismantled a number of old buildings, and has formed a reputation locally for his desire in old wood, and residents often contact him, offering their old buildings for purchase. Once a deal is made, the real work can begin.
"First, you need to disassemble the whole house," shares Petar, "Then the individual beams must be washed with high water pressure, and all metal nails and staples removed." Petar keeps a metal detector handy to make sure that all the metal has been successfully removed from the wood.
Next, the old beams must be cut straight again. Originally, they were cut by hand, leaving the surfaces rough and over the decades, the beams have developed warps and bends.
"For several years, I hired someone to do this for me, but in January of 2013, I bought my own Wood-Mizer sawmill and now I cut the beams myself. It’s fantastic!" shares Petar. He chose an LT15 band sawmill, where the log is secured to the bed and then Petar cuts it into boards, one by one, pushing the sawmill head along the length of the bed. The cutting blade is essentially a horizontal bandsaw on a moveable track. The head raises and lowers with a crank to position the blade for the next cut, and to adjust the resulting lumber dimensions. The resulting lumber is cut accurately and quickly, considering it is simply powered with an electric 7.5 kW motor. He learned to operate the sawmill with only a short day’s training.
"Wood that is hundreds of years old is as hard as ceramic, but the Wood-Mizer cuts it like cheese!" laughs Petar. "I create table tops with 3mm thick veneer, and it turns out perfectly smooth. The sawn material is dried in my electric kilns for 2-3 days to a final moisture content of 8%. Then the blanks are glued – the cut precision is so good that the splices are practically invisible."
Petar saws up to 20 cubic metres a month, and the quality of his pieces brings steady business.
"I have customers from Germany, wood carvers, who order wood for their projects. My sawmill ensures that I can guarantee them the highest quality wood," Petar shares.
Custom Furniture Building
Although Petar supplies some of this ancient wood to other artisans, the primary goal for the wood he cuts is for his own furniture projects, where the only limit is his imagination.
"I am always thinking up new designs, new innovative elements to create. And I use the finest quality materials to create them – German lacquer, Dutch glue, and English polish. This table top is made from glued timber ends featuring a fantastic natural grain." Petar shows off the patterns of small, figured cracks, enriched with varnish.
His most regular customers are restaurants, hotels, and fans of Slavonian antique-style furniture from Croatia, Germany, Austria, and Northern Europe. His furniture is purchased, not only for the beauty it will add to their current furnishings, but also because it is intended to become a heirloom to be passed on to the next generation.
"It is a great pleasure to be able to create and build such things," he reflects, "Our whole family works with wood – my father, uncle, and nephews. Of my three sons, the eldest is already planning to attend study forestry in college. My primary education was to be a cook, but the family passion of woodworking has captured my full attention."
"For me, it’s so important that these old homes built from beautiful bicentennial oak are not just torn down and destroyed, but that they will continue to live on, being used and appreciated for another five hundred years!"
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