Berea woodworker’s live-edge craft turns trees into pieces of art (photos)

BEREA, Ohio – Many artists tend to be interested in one medium – paint, pen and ink, or charcoal. For Ron Roell, the world is his canvas.

Roell, who has only worked in a shop in Berea for a few months, makes living trees from trees – large, fallen trees that would likely rot or otherwise chop or grind and have nothing to show for decades. What Roell creates are artistic pieces that could find their final resting place in a boardroom, restaurant, bar or home.

His talents challenge him to be an artist, woodworker, worker, entomologist, ecologist, and even a theologian. And everyone comes together in a 1,500-square-meter industrial facility in Berea, where magic and art create beautiful and usable pieces.

Roell seeks form and character rather than type. A platter rotates with a bend; he sees a bar upstairs. A long, wide piece shows distinctive grains and it is a meeting table. A piece with a protruding hump looks like a computer table.

“I honor the wood by revealing what is already there,” he said. “I have an artist’s eye. I am an artist.”

Pieces line his shop. A huge slice from a 250 year old white oak stands proud. A sycamore over there, a maple over here. He knows the wood and – like a surgeon examining a patient – knows what was going on in the trees.

He can tell you what is causing the cracks that snake along the wood. The ash drill leaves its deadly cavities. The ambrosia beetle carries a fungus on its feet, bores itself in, lays its eggs and the young eat the fungus on the way out. The tree recognizes the tunnel – the fungus – as an intruder. The heartwood part of the tree protects itself. But when cut open, the cracks are there.

After a limb falls off, we see cracked daggers on the outside. But Roell can examine the inside and see how the tree reacts by making extra wood to support the one-sided weight.

“It’s almost like stretch marks,” he said.

“It’s the stresses a tree goes through that create character. it is no different from a person. This is what makes us so unique, the different pressures, the different experiences we have had in life and which shape our personality and our physical experiences quite often. “

The process is complicated like an art form. After he has milled, stacked, dried and leveled the wood, the fun begins.

Roell sprays water to reveal the distinctive lines and markings.

How he works

He specializes in panels that are at least 30 cm wide. His milling business is in Grafton and his art is completely sustainable.

“Literally every piece of wood here was originally intended to be ground into wood chips and sent to Green Circle Growers to fuel their wood boilers,” he said.

“I don’t cut a tree for my own use. Everything I mill was in a yard or on the side of the road – something like that. “

Rescued from the cemetery, the milled pieces are sanded several times to a final layer before polishing, which has been smoothed with 3,000 grit. For those unfamiliar with sanding, the lower the number, the lower the sandpaper. It is a measure of the abrasiveness. Finding the right number for a particular project is key. On some projects, Roell can increase its grit from 80 to 120 to 180 to much higher.

Much of his time is spent grinding. If you’ve ever sanded a major project that requires a lot of straightening, you should feel better alone. For a long time.

Roell uses a sander that resembles a floor polisher and weighs about 75 pounds. He connects a vacuum hose and goes into town.

Cracks are filled with resin and pores are sealed with latex sealant. He uses tiny, curved, metal-scraping dental tools to dig and carve a mini-bed out of the nooks and crannies of the tree.

A sanded polyurethane finish protects the part from abuse and wear – for example, water rings and the like on a table.

“The perfect finish is when it’s durable and you can still see the grain,” said Roell.

He mostly does contract work, many of which are tables. The size of a piece does not correspond to the final price. Two similar pieces that he recently had in his work area varied: one cost $ 3,100, another $ 4,000 because of the amount of resin work. You could have a quick drying resin; The other part may take longer if prep work is done outdoors.

Berea woodworker Ron Roell creates huge artistic and functional pieces from wood panels that should be ground. Here's how he does it.

Roell’s shop is in Berea.

“I am a very passionate person”

“The more I can honor what is there, bring it out, make it clear,” he said. “I would like to pour oil over almost everything. The downside to this, however, is that much of the truly unique color is just muted. “

Originally from Cincinnati, Roell began working in construction at the age of 13 and worked as a renovation contractor for years.

“I was burned out because of the whole renovation,” he said. “I am a very passionate person. In all honesty, I thought for most of my life that I was doing what I was doing to show other people how good I was. But I think I ended up doing it to prove to myself how good I was. “

Divorce, health problems, and other problems came together in his life. He took the time to write and self-publish a book entitled “My Logical God”. Six years ago a new relationship brought him to Northeast Ohio, where he settled down in his life and realized that his remodeling work had been “a means to an end.”

“What I meant for myself was how I felt when I looked at it,” he said of his possessions. “It had nothing to do with value, it had nothing to do with anything else. I only brought back good memories. I either sold everything else or gave it away. “

He approaches his work with the same talented artists, the ability to see beauty where many of us see ugliness or nothing.

He looks at imperfections in wood and compares himself with the stresses that people endure.

A day ago he split firewood. Some gnarled parts could not be split. He shared what he could and threw them in a heap. The remaining pieces formed a bunch of outsiders that he was able to save and turn into various creations.

“That’s the nicest part,” he said. “All you have to do is release the stress, just expose some of the beauty that is within you to make yourself glow.”

About Roell’s Work: Roell’s website is Wood Tops and Tables.

Berea woodworker Ron Roell creates huge artistic and functional pieces from wood panels that should be ground. Here's how he does it.

The arched pieces are in fact called bowties and are used for support.

Knowing terms

Fly: A cut out piece of wood used as a support in a weakened part of a piece. Its name comes from its shape. Roell prefers to use these functional parts on the bottom rather than the illustrated side of a part.

Hard versus soft wood: nothing to do with density. Hardwood has leaves, softwood has needles.

Heartwood: inner part of the tree.

Live Edge: Anything with an uncut edge. People think it means the bark is staying on, but that will be determined when the tree is felled. When it’s down in late fall / winter, the bark often stays on. But when it breaks down during the growing season or the sap is used up, the bark will peel off, he said.

Sapwood: exterior of the tree.

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