Soon after my father passed away I started thinking about making an urn to house his ashes. Immediately I thought of making a box out of locust. In particular, lumber I had milled from a locust tree that had grown beside the stone wall next to our house. My parents had cut the tree down several years ago and I had asked them to have it cut into eight foot lengths, so that I could have it milled into lumber to build the dining room table that I am now writing this post on. Here is a photo of my family taken in the late 70's on that stone wall. The tree can be seen in the photo directly behind my father. My aunt Janet is on the far right and yes, the baby in the picture is me.
Over the years I have used the wood for various projects, and the pile of lumber has dwindled. As I thought about the project I felt pretty confidant that there was enough wood to do the job.
The next thoughts were of design. I immediately was drawn to a design I use for jewelry boxes. To see some of my other work using this design, you can follow these links:
The basic design for the box is that there are four sides to the box that all have mitered corners. The top and bottom are floating panels held in place by the four sides and the mitered sides are held together with splines inserted as keys into each side, creating joinery. Most of the time I like to make the splines from a contrasting wood to show them off and add visual interest to the piece.
Another element I wanted to incorporate was our family coat of arms. The Power family were with Duke William of Normandy at the battle of Hastings and were granted lands in Devon, England for service to him. By the year 1200 they had settled in Ireland where our family came from. Below is an image of the family coat of arms.
The shield image had a field of white on the bottom with a field of black on the top. a zig-zag line separates them. My father was very proud of his family lineage and was proud to display this coat of arms when ever he got the chance. After he retired he had business card made up with this as his logo. It seemed a fitting way to commemorate him to incorporate this shield on the box.
It suddenly dawned on me that the perfect wood to contrast the locust from our family home would be bog oak from Ireland. Bog oak is oak which is found in Ireland and other parts of the world that has been preserved from decay by being submerged in the bogs. The acids in the bog not only preserve the wood but turn it jet black. I was first introduced to this wood by my cousin Tom Ronayne of Dublin, Ireland. Tom is a turner and woodworker who works with bog oak among other woods and has over the years presented gifts of his creation to my family, often out of the bog oak. Most notably for me is a bowl turned from a massive piece of bog oak that Tom turned for my wife and I when we were married. I got in touch with Tom, who I knew was coming over to America for the funeral, to see if he had any scrap bog oak he could bring with him to use in the urn. He said he had one piece left that he had been saving and that I was welcome to it if I wanted it. Within days, I was face to face with Tom and he handed the perfect piece of bog oak over to me.
One other feature of Bog Oak that I have neglected to point out is that when it is preserved in the bog it can be preserved for thousands of years. The piece that Tom gave me was dated to be 5,500 years old. This sense of permanence gives the wood special meaning and importance and seemed like the perfect choice for this urn. While the locust I was working with was not nearly as old (probably around 80 years), it also instilled a sense of permanence in me. Locust is traditionally prized as a wood that will last against the elements and also with ground contact. For this reason, it is used for fence posts and other jobs that require these strengths. I remember walking my parents land as a boy and coming across old locust fence posts that had been standing long before my family came to be caretakers of this land. The old saying about locust is that it lasts "fifty years less than stone"! Both woods were perfect candidates for my father's urn. Below is a drawing of the box that I designed to hold my fathers ashes. The top of the box has a border of inlaid bog oak that frames the shield from the family coat of arms. The shield is recessed into the top creating definition and the field of white (in this case locust colored). The field of black, made form bog oak is inlayed into the shield and is flush with the top. Bog oak is also use for the splines at each corner.
Now that I have explained the rational behind the design of this box I will proceed to show the process of making it.Below is a photo of the locust boards I had for the project. The wood had deteriorated a bit, but I was able to get what I needed for the project.
After the glue had set, the last step was to cut the kerfs for the keys in the mitered corners. This is done with the help of a sled that moves across the saw blade and holds the box at a 45 degree angle. The sled is seen below.
These last photos of the urn were taken outside of my house in the morning on Monday, July 7th, The day of my fathers internment at Culpeper National Cemetery. The first photo at the top of the post with the flowers was taken by my sister Elizabeth at the internment. It was a beautiful ceremony which my father would have loved.