Artist, designer, craftsman, longtime friend Jamison Sellers solves a bit of the ethical wood-sourcing dilemma by delving into the world of shipping pallets. He explores these familiar, reclaimed objects on a much finer scale than most by collecting bits and pieces of coveted woods (and even again recycling his own shop scraps from past projects) to create ornamental patterning inspired by complex wood marquetry, the cross-sectioned surprise of millefiori murrine glasswork, and the many-layered stacking and gluing of industrial plywood assembly.Witness this a texturally rich piece of Oregon black walnut:

a texturally rich piece of Oregon black walnut

The process takes a keen eye for wood identification —literally seeing through layers of world-traveled dirt and scarring —and an intimate knowledge of wood graining (the same plank cut on a bias can yield a shockingly different figuration than one cut parallel to the face or cross-sectioned at a square angle). One result of Sellers’ unflagging dedication to this arboreal “treasure hunting” is his ongoing Bolt collection—a series of furniture and housewares with a distinctive angular design and an ever-changing rotation of hard-to-find wood varietals.

close-up of a console door, lightly finished in natural oils
close-up of a console door, lightly finished in natural oils

Improvised Life has been a huge fan of reclaiming shipping pallets for its very many household and practical uses, from flooring to coffee tables to garden planters and more…but on average, pallet-tinkerers tend to stay on the “macro” side of things by using whole or slightly altered pallets —rather than poring over bits and pieces to find, say, the perfect two-inch sliver for an 8′ long living room console.

Unfinished scraps ready for a complex glue-up
unfinished scraps ready for a complex glue-up

A description of the working philosophy behind Sellers‘ collection, taken from  his website, sums up the marriage of luxury and DIY nicely:

The studio’s primary wood source is salvaged shipping pallets, each one selected, de-nailed and scraped by hand. Using discarded pallets minimizes waste in the local landfill and presents a varied selection of exotic and other unique woods imbued with characteristics from a previous life of service.

a pallet from India, deconstructed; specialty woods cut and sorted; a workbench in progress
a pallet from India, deconstructed; specialty woods cut and sorted; a workbench in progress

Illegal logging and deforestation of woods like rosewood and ebony that are approaching extinction and are now government-controlled, have long been a problem in locales like Madagascar, Indonesia and Brazil’s Amazon Basin. It is difficult nowadays to pair an ethical-conservationist ideology with enticing words like rare and exotic.

Once in a blue moon a woodworker might stumble across a sale of ancient deadstock lumber from a shut-down woodshop or storage facility…or a personal collection of decades-old woods gathering dust in an ex-hobbyist’s basement—but it is impossible to base a regular business around a cross-your-fingers-and-hope method.

Hence, in order to obtain these hard-to-find materials, one must hunt, and Jamison’s Instagram feed (@jmsnbuilds) is a testament to his love of foraging reclaimed woods, beyond pallets. On weekends, he might post a photo of a massive piece of found wood—slabs, planks, hidden beauties grabbed at the last minute from a dump site, major suburban reno or a demolition job, like this black walnut slab…

local urban salvage black walnut slab

…which Jamie transformed into this slab-top dining table…

the finished slab-top dining table

Living and working out of Portland, Oregon, Sellers is surrounded both by breathtaking forests and hiking trails nestled in foggy mountains and national parks…

an eight-mile hike up Devil's Rest

… as well as the big-city refuse in which he finds his precious (though initially off-puttingly ordinary-looking) cast-offs.

a shipping yard stacked with crates from Colombia
in the city: a shipping yard stacked with orchard crates

Jamie’s finished Bolt pieces are so intricate and endlessly varied that each table or chair seems perfectly uniform due to their precision, yet noticeably unique in that every richly-figured, burled or knotted slice of oiled wood is unmatchable with their unknown origins and hard-to-trace paths taken from continent to continent.

a pair of hand-jointed chairs

Perhaps mirroring his lifestyle, the furniture itself has a sort of dual nature, combining both laborious hand-joinery and finishing with aggressively “get-‘er-done” industrial machines—both of which leave their own kind of distinctive traces on the wood. Here, rough-finished strips, with the ever-striking purpleheart (among others) on the left, and an array of bright tropical woods on the right

found and rough-finished pieces, with purpleheart on the left and an array of tropical woods on the right

Follow Jamie’s travels through densely-wooded Oregon and Washington trails and as well as his urban outings for materials through his site and Instagram. There you can find loads more “wood porn” and experimental patterning created in his warehouse workshop, along with his made-to-order commissioned pieces, in-progress and finished. They will inspire for your own wood foraging and make you see pallets with a new eye.

Sinnae Choi


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