There’s no place like home, and when home is Vancouver Island, there really is no place as special as it. Home is an ideal in every fibre of our ethos and business. We’re a small, family-owned business, deeply invested in our community and the well-being of the wider world.
In an effort to stay true to this ideal, we are committed to remaining a 100% Vancouver Island sourcing business. Every furnishing material in our practice is delivered raw, driven down through trail, forest, and rock directly into our hands.
Deep in the forest there is never silence. Dew drips, birds chirp, critters scamper and kick up twigs as they go about the speedy errands, racing the gurgling streams which glide down the mossy rocks. If one listens carefully enough, they may hear columns of the sun glint as they bounce effortlessly upon drops or lay golden upon the forest floor. If one listens even more carefully, they might hear the pitter patter of whispers like rain in the autumn days, an endless library of stories, with a catalogue going beyond time as we understand it.
These stories begin, as all good stories do, directly from a seed, and all seeds are incomprehensible potential. Eternity is a blink of the eye for the living forest, and the cycling pulsation of life in its realm is only a heartbeat. When a moment has passed, life blooms and colours explode across the scape, covering the entirety of a vision in but one of its blinks. This is the story of Vancouver Island, and after this chapter we are introduced to new characters, us.
Our craft is a tribute in every way to our home, one that begins with the source. Our materials primarily come from South and Central Vancouver Island. Our home island is indescribably rich with the overstretches of forest, sporting choice diversity in its species, such as Spruce, Arbutus, Oak, Cedar and Fir. We also have access to locally sourced rare hardwoods, like Cherry, Monkey puzzle and Maple.
As a company, we value sustainable and environmentally conscious sensibilities. The lumber we source comes to us from our small-business counterparts in the felling and milling industries, who in turn share our same ideals. In fact, our partnerships were forged with these shared values being a cornerstone of our alliances. This lumber is never felled by our partners on our accord, rather we fill a necessary yet symbiotic role in their own work. Our lumber is primarily that which was felled out of necessity. These include dead trees or trees ordered by the province to be felled. Though their fall might be inevitable, the end of their story is not. In fact, the single story of one tree becomes innumerable stories, each carried by a slab or item of lumber, as it makes its way down to the next chapter of its immortality.
Our usual materials come to us from the woody country sides of Metchosin and Mount Newton. In particular, much of our Spruce, Arbutus, Oak and Cedar is delivered to us by Ryan Smith, owner and operator of Ocean West Tree Service, who is an experienced arborist, well versed in milling and tree felling. Ryan Delivers his lumber from straight off his grounds, onto the back of his truck, and to barely a few feet away from our shop door, wherein we proceed to begin the seasoning process. Similarly, Willy Croll of Knoxville is vastly experienced in portable milling and is able to mill the same lumber he supplies, both at location of felling and also at our shop location.
Much of the Maple we use is felled, milled and delivered from the ancestral lands of the Henry family, in the Tsartlip first nation. Tsartlip in the Senc’oten language means ‘Land of the Maples’. All our partners are experienced wood handlers, and we enjoy a mutually empowering relationship with them. We strive to remain within a local and sustainable network as much as is possible.
Our exotic wood selection includes Kayu Batu, Wenge, Tigerwood, Purpleheart and Pau Amarello. While our exotic words are not grown in this environment, we strive to keep our supply refurbished from pre-existing products here on the island. These ‘rescued’ materials are re-envisioned into a myriad of vivid highlights, such as endcaps, which brightly complement our handicrafts.
Our one-stop shop is a cacophony of craftsmanship; sparks and hot metal spring like a cymbal and glow up the show. The planer chops like chords, sudden and sharp and gradually falling into a rhythm. Sanders punctuate the background with their interlocking shake. And of course, the drone of the machinery harmonize, and set a new key for every day. It’s such a show, we’ve even got curtains! It provides a perfect veil for our backstage, wherein the sparking applause of our welding facility proceed the queues. The performers are our gleaming metal hardware, and their creation is a theatre of meticulous perfection. Their role, if you can call it such, is so perfect you’d never guess their humble origins as scrap metal. It is into this never-ending and interlocking concert that our stories in slabs arrive.
And at our one-stop shop stories are always welcome! Every product and process housed here carries a story within itself, some of which are 100+ years old! For example, our 9th shed, which is currently being used as an exceptionally beautiful slab and herringbone storage facility, is gated by an antique 100+ year old door, which we claimed and refurbished from Cowichan River Lodge Hotel. Similarly, many of our glass panes are from the Empress hotel, where they were probably set in place in 1908. They now let light stream into our various shed structures and metal-glass fences. On some nights, you can still find a flash of Shirley Temple’s captured gaze!
You may be wondering what these sheds are for. If curious, do check out our “Holy Shed!” blog post, coming soon. But for now, we will share that three of these sheds are wood seasoning/kiln drying sheds, an independent venture we’ve built from the ground up in an effort to address the shortage of wood seasoning facilities in Vancouver Island, as well as to stay as self-sustainable as possible in vision with our ‘One Stop Shop’.
After their wearying journey down the trails of Vancouver Island, our wooden stories come to rest for a season of seasoning. Despite once being pieces of a living tree, lumber remains alive and interacts with the elements in a manner similar to how it would when it was part of a tree. Like us, wood is filled with water. And as blood flows in our veins, sap remains in its grains. We’ve known of some wood which bleeds sap despite being the frame of 80+ year old houses! Lumber, especially when unseasoned, is prone to twist, contort and warp due to various pressures, largely due to moisture and sap moving through its grain. This is especially prevalent in unseasoned lumber, which is known as ‘green lumber’.
There are two stages of seasoning lumber, the first is open air seasoning, in which lumber is allowed to rest outdoors in a semi-sheltered environment. This is the traditional method of seasoning, and though it might seem easy, it can take lumber 1 to 2 years of open-air seasoning to properly acclimatize. Once the lumber is seasoned to a sufficient degree, it can be moved into a kiln, wherein the final stages of the seasoning take place. Our cutting-edge kilns utilize novel de-humidification technology. This infrastructure makes our Kilns vastly more efficient, affordable, safe and environmentally sound than its heat induction counterparts. It also allows for us to properly season lumber within a period of only 1 to 2 months!
Not all lumber is open-air seasoned at our shop. In fact, much of our lumber arrives to us already open-air seasoned over a period of a year. This was the case with a particular maple live-edge slab which is the subject of our Forest to Foyer video. Forest to Foyer follows this same slab across its entire narrative arc, from a towering maple tree in the Metchosin woodlands to a perfectly finished table in a Cordova Bay beach-front dining room.
Our client reached out to us back in 2019 with a captivating vision in mind. She had spent years hand-picking the choicest stones and pebbles from the beachfront, and had selected a vast array of gleaming rocks, including amethyst, jade and pebbles, all shining and smooth as could be. These she hoped to house in a glass river within a premium quality live edge table. This unique “stone-glass river” concept was something we had also thought of, and we were beyond keen to try our hand at this novel concept. Just as our client had chosen each and every pebble with great thought and care, the maple slab immediately caught her eye, and we set it aside in our improvised de-humidification chamber (our kilns were still in the process of being built), in the knowledge that soon this slab would begin a new chapter in its story.
That chapter began as soon as the maple slab was seasoned! As we carefully handled the slab and brought it to its new home in the shop, we couldn’t but help admire its character, with thin canyons descending down either side, and whirling knots giving the appearance of eyes, we recognized this slab for the story it was once instantaneously. Eager to ensure the best aesthetic quality, we constructed an improvised sieve (which we still use today) to filter out all the stones which were too large in size, and then went over a second pass with naked eyes to ensure that all the chosen rocks were of a similar size. We marvelled at the glints of purple and green as we sorted through each and every handful of marble-smooth minerals. At the same time, we kept a watchful eye on the slab, and on the smallest hint of warping, we were sure to treat it to the de-humidifier for another round!
The slab was eventually cut in an exact half, and the live edges on either side were inverted to face one another. The outline of the river shape that was formed by these two edges was traced carefully, and this tracing was provided to our partners at Allied Glass, who were able to use the drawn-out template to special cut two perfect glass cut-outs using their water jet. These were done at their facility on the mainland, and shipped back to us.
In traditional carpentry, slabs are usually cut into smaller planks, which are intentionally mismatched and re-clamped together in an effort to ‘circuit-break’ the connections of the wood grain, and thus prevent the circulation of moisture and sap. With the advent of better and better wood working technology, however, the live-edge style of carpentry, once considered unpractical, has become the trademark of British Columbian carpentry. Live edge, despite the technological innovations, however, comes with a unique set of challenges. Though steps can be taken to mitigate the moisture movement, the fact that the live-edge slab is relatively intact makes it difficult to flatten without an industrial belt sander or planer.
For this task, however, we had the perfect device; our very own ‘Lignum Planus Machina’! This device was formulated, designed and built by our very own Aren Ludlow. Aren devised this jig with the inefficiencies of the much smaller wood planers in mind. Knowing that we were fast gaining efficiency for our increasingly favourite live-edge variety of furnishings, Aren decided that we needed a proper planer to properly flatten the much larger slabs that are used in live-edge constructions with the least inconvenience. To this end, he took it upon himself to design the computer assisted drafts for this gargantuan machine himself.
Once Aren brought these into the shop, we took our time admiring the concept and design. After careful study, we realized that this machine would fulfil all our outstanding needs. To this end, we purchased the necessary schematics, metal piping, mounting hardware, a small flattening rig and roller bearings from a variety of different sources, including Lee Valley, Home Depot, a scrap yard and some broken skateboards. After about three days of incorporating these materials as per our CAD designs, we had a near perfect jig ready, all that was still needed was a few drops of WD40 and voila! Our very own analogue concept planer was working like a dream. This machine, able to flatten over 8 feet at a pass and down to the 16th of an inch, was dubbed Lignum Planus Machina, which is Latin for ‘Wood Planer Machine’.
Once the wood was flattened down to 80% of a perfectly level 2-inches, the next step is to pass both halves of the slab through first the belt planer, and then the dual head thickness sander. These steps ensure that the slabs, soon to be made into a dining table, are perfectly and delicately flattened. At this juncture, they are once again seasoned within an optimized space to mitigate any chance of the moisture entering the newly shaved faces of the wood.
Whilst the slabs were being flattened and the glass was being cut, our welding booth was also actively joining this multi-faceted collaboration, with sparks and powder flying away and gently landing, the haze and smoke gradually lifting up to reveal towering U-legs, carefully joined from beams of aluminium and enveloped with the richest matte carbon black powder finish. In anticipation, we carefully laid out the future locations of these legs and chiselled away indentations the bottom of the slabs, perfect fits for both the legs as well as the bottom pain of glass. These indentations are known as mortises. At this juncture, we crafted two perfectly level and equal endcaps from the same piece as the table and joined both slabs together. Once this had been done, the legs were affixed into the indentations with near-invisible black head screws. However, there was still much left in this chapter of the slab’s story.
As beautiful as cracks in the wood are, and no matter how much they look like the Grand Canyon, they’re not ideal for dining tables. A table ideally needs to be perfectly flat, plumb, and flush. As such, we batched together a blend of matte black epoxy which matched the legs and complimented the tan frame of the table itself. This mix was poured into the table to fill in the cracks, flattening each one carefully to bring it to level. The result? Beautifully dark streaks like peaks into the night-sky through branches. In this manner, we didn’t compromise the character of the table for practically, in fact, we like to think we were able to preserve and accentuate both.
Despite the table already being flattened, this piece demanded the highest perfection in every capacity. For a dining table, the most important aspect is its surface. To this effect, a premium quality table should be so smooth it should shine, but not so smooth your plate will fly right off! How many rounds of hand sanding does this level of smooth demand? It varies from wood to wood, but this piece in particular required at least 17 different rounds of sanding, with an epoxy coat after every round! Since the epoxy takes time to properly set, this is a long-drawn-out process, taking about a month and a half. However, after each round of hand-sanding, the table and our eyes alike gleamed with a growing refinement.
The finish is last but certainly not the least aspect of live edge construction. Not only do the triple epoxy flood, polyurethane and mineral oil coats create a glossy, rich and tempered look for the table, they act as protective layers on the wood, sealing the slabs, fossilized in time as they are, and protecting this homeostasis from the elements. This finish on the wood (as well as the powder coat on the legs) makes any furnishing ‘exterior grade’, meaning it can be safely placed outdoors and withstand what the weather of the day might bring. Of course, extended exposure to the sun’s UV rays or the wearing effects of rain/snow can strip away these layers, but as long as they’re present, this table is fit to survive the tests of time. Our handicrafts and handcrafted furnishings are designed for generations, to be passed down families as artisanal heirlooms.
Proper handling comes from a myriad of factors, most important of course are experience and respect for the product. This beloved table, which took about 9 months to craft (dry seasoning not included) carried mountains of respect, awe, and pride for us. All of this respect which we carried in our hearts, we turned to gentle precision, as we strapped our pride and joy down in the back of our company truck. The slightest unforeseen bump on the road could prove a costly damage, but then again, they say love and worry are two sides of the same coin! As we drove carefully and gracefully down the winding roads to Cordova Bay, every turn was an act of care, and though the view was magnificent, our eyes were equally on the rear-view mirror.
As we drove down the highway, we were sure to wave at our incredibly talented media partner, Luke Connor of JIMMYX creative, standing on the sidewalk, with his eye focused and perched above the table, catching every moment of the journey. Perhaps you might wonder how he was on the sidewalk and yet had a flying bird’s eye view? Well, he was piloting his drone the entire while, and had caught not only the closing of this chapter, but also every moment previous from the start of our entering this slab’s story.
Luke’s keen eye captured the transition of this slab’s story into a new chapter as well. As we felt the cool salty breeze of the ocean wind blow across our shoulders, we too blew winds on the table one last time, clearing away any trace of its most recent journey. After a final polish and charm for good luck, we began to pour the hand-picked stones over the bottom panel of the glass into the tangent space of the live-edge river. The stones had landed so perfectly, we didn’t need to adjust the balance at all. The rich edges of the inverted live edge were not only visible, but the stones had also accentuated their warm winding.
Finally came the moment of truth. With two fingers on either hand, we slowly lifted the “glass-river” river-cover with a delicate pinch, which we lowered into the allotted space with a soft land. A small puff of wind welcomed the glass, and suddenly the table was perfect, complete, and home. At a distance, the glass seemed almost as a pool of water, coloured with a bluish hue from the stones. This story had finished its story as a tribute to the beginning, a beautiful nature-scape, brought to life with water.
At Lopez Contracting, live-edge means cutting edge. This BC trademark and advanced form of carpentry requires what we already have in abundance, namely: patience, innovation, experience, a keen eye, and infrastructure. By our own innovation and experimentation, we believe we’ve mastered this form of high carpentry, with each iteration not only brining us a beautiful product, but also decreasing timespans and increasing efficiencies. The live-edge rivers, whether they be epoxy, glass, or marble, has remained our signature craft and tribute to home. At our one-stop shop, stories are always crafted, and stories are always welcome.