Thursday, April 2, 2015

Tree-inspired: Creating A Custom Antique Cypress Handrail

Blogger's Note:  Growing up in my family's home I was unaware at how original it was, my father Richard Woods designed and hand built each and every detail.  From elegant cased beam openings to solid wood flooring constructed in beautiful reclaimed Antique Heart Pine from Albany Woodworks, the company he started nearly four decades ago.  One of my favorite details, and also one of the most unique as I discovered once I got older, is the tree-like curved handrail that leads to the second level of the home.  Here is the story of how it was built and designed, in part, like a tree to blend into it's surroundings. 

 
(Above): Through the static diamond window, an old pine forest is visible which became the inspiration for Richard's tree-like handrail design.

Custom projects are a specialty of Albany Woodworks and this project in particular really showcases the thought and detail that goes into every custom order, built with the knowledge that it is going in a home to be loved and admired for a lifetime, so it is treated it that way from the start.

After constructing the main stairway of the home from Antique Heart Pine, Richard discovered that a traditional strait rail and newel post wouldn't work in the small space available.  Playing with a thin piece of wood, Richard bent and shaped it to see what kind of curve would be necessary to construct the handrail.  In order to have the rail be a design feature that also worked well in the context of it's surroundings, Richard noticed the static focal point of the diamond shaped window and the view of the old pine forest beyond.


(Above): The play of natural light and shadow is another beautiful feature of this custom rail, bringing the natural elements of the outdoors inside.  Photo credit: © Alissa Woods 2015

The design Richard came up with looked more than a little bit like the trees that can be seen through the window, and the handrail itself became tree-like.  He toyed with the concept of "outside" and "inside" and liked how the handrail brought the 'outside' tree theme 'inside.'  As far as the actually construction, no steaming or soaking of the wood was necessary to shape it into it's nature-inspired form.  Instead he found a beautiful piece of Antique Heart Cypress which was sliced into 1/8" pieces and numbered so the grain pattern could be matched back up in its final form.

Because the wood slices were so thin, Richard was able to glue up and then shape the curvatures with a form tool, known as a 'jig.'  Completed in the Spring of 1989, the whole process took about a week.  Richard found time between working on other projects to build it, and the 'tree' handrail has been in place ever since.

When asked about the beautiful completed 'tree' hand rail and how this high level of craftsmanship is achieved at his company Albany Woodworks, Richard replied, "We figure out unique solutions for your project challenges and will build it for you from beautiful, solid, antique reclaimed wood."