(715) 399-0133

9532 S. County Road A
Superior, WI 54880 USA

Spalted Birch and the Swerengen Cabinet

spalted birch trunkDuring a lightning storm of ’02, a giant birch on the back forty lost a limb. It stood like that an entire summer before I had the chance to harvest the wood. During that time, summer rains poured down into the trunk of the tree. I didn’t know how much until the day of its felling. At the first cut, water poured out around the saw and soaked me good from the knees down. I kept cutting, getting soaked entire, until the tree came down and the forest shook. I looked for where the wood was still good, making several cuts until I was eight feet up the tree. There I cut clean, and I counted 320 rings.

I stacked and stickered the slabs to dry for four years. The first boards I pulled into my shop I stood up and saw the marking that had made their way into the heartwood. These are the black lines you can see in the wood called spalting. Just before it rots out, the rain snakes down in threads and turns the wood a deep black. If you can save the tree in time, you get these beautiful markings. I built with these boards an artist’s trunk for my mother, used for the storing and hauling of pastels. The dimensions of the piece were determined by what was usable in the slabs. Spalted birch cabinet

In the fall of 2008, I built a series of three cabinets that represented for me a turning point in my work. The second of the three cabinets is a piece I called, “Sweregen,” named after a character played by Ian McShane in the HBO hit series, “Deadwood.” Every time they showed Al Swerengen’s office, I would pause the video and do a quick sketch. The design of this “drinks cabinet” is based on the liquor cabinet in Al Swerengen’s office. It has three drawers and adjustable shelving. The contrast wood used here is cherry.

Hand Dovetails on birch cabinet


I look to this live material for guidance in finding both its function and its form, because I believe that a useful object can be art. If one sees how the piece holds itself together, how the separate components cooperate, then it comforts the eye and delights the mind. Joinery then serves as ornamentation. With wood like this, you don’t need anything else. 

To view more photos of pieces built with spalted birch, visit our Facebook page.

One Response so far.

  1. Renee VanHorn says:

    Absolutely beautiful – I love what the “spalting” does !
    The trunk is my favorite, it’s fabulous !
    I love hearing about Dan’s “love” of the wood, and how he treats it and feels about it through the entire process ! And to wait patiently for sooooo long before he can use it – that is amazing ! I love reading your ‘stories’. Thank you so much for posting !
    ~ Love, Renee

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