Woodworker creates artistic home decor
By LESLEE BASSMAN, Four Points News
Growing up in the rural countryside of England, River Place resident Jonathan Tommey said he loved playing among the trees, an activity that spurred his interest to begin woodworking at age 12.
Now, the father of three intends to make a profession out of his artistic passion, launching Live Edge Furniture Design in March of this year.
“(The business) started with a tree stump and has evolved from there,” Tommey said of the first piece he dug out of his Four Points property to form a table base he constructed. “I thought this (stump) would make a very interesting base for a side or coffee table. It was just sitting there, decaying. I thought, ‘Let’s give this a new life’ because it had beautiful structure and a lot of intricate details with the grain pattern (and) the root system.”
He said he sanded and treated the wood, applying coats of epoxy before finishing off the piece with a glass top and an old plough wheel from the 1880s.
Live Edge Furniture uses the natural edge of the wood as opposed to pieces that have been formed and shaped uniformly by a woodcutter. Each furniture piece can weigh hundreds of pounds, presenting a challenge for the artisan.
“With live edge, if you make anything but pieces of furniture that show off the live edge, it means you have to remove the live edge,” Tommey said. “And it becomes a nice piece of wood but it loses its character, it loses its form.”
Tommey said he took a hiatus from creating wood pieces to attend college, manage a health club, restore homes in England and create a company abroad. He and his family moved to the Austin area in October of 2012, together with two daughters and a son living with autism. Through a turn of events, the Tommey family ended up on a large tract at the front of the neighborhood, which they hope to eventually house a residential center for individuals on the autism spectrum.
This property is rich with arrowheads, stones and gemstones as well as decaying wood, and Tommey said he uses all of these ‘finds’ in his work.
“We’ve got these 40 acres and there are lots of dead cedar roots that has been there probably hundreds of years, all weathered,” Tommey said. “There’s a lot of Indian remains here. What better way to show the history of your state than providing the native trees, like mesquite and live oak, with some of the artifacts that come from the land—whether it’s rocks, gems, arrowheads or old iron.”
He said he often adds such artifacts, including live ammunition, to his pieces, cemented in by an epoxy coating. He said he has found some of the items he added to the furniture pieces on his property, on other properties or through Craigslist postings.
“(The added materials) have to match with the theme of the piece,” Tommey said. “What I love is the warmth of the furniture, the discussion points, so you can sit at a table and say, ‘Wow, look at that gem in there or that stone in there.’ And it provides an opportunity for… discussion.”
Tommey said he has an inventory of 42 live edge pieces and is now seeking the approval of three local furniture shops to commission his wares — including hall entrance tables, coffee tables, dining room tables, side tables, coat hangers, phone charging stations and small decorative pieces. Live Edge Furniture pieces are priced from $300-$6,000 and sold on Etsy at https://www.etsy.com/shop/jonathantommeydesign.
“This sort of work of art is like looking at a painting,” Tommey said of his live edge furniture pieces. “You choose a bit of art for your wall. This is a piece of art for your floor.”
Turning a tree stump into artistic furniture
Using a crowbar, a trailer, and help from his son Billy and Kent, an adult living with autism who resides with the family, Live Edge Furniture founder Jonathan Tommey said he pulls wooden stumps out of the grounds of the 40-acre tract he resides on.
Once the root system is out, Tommey said he loads the stump on a trailer and pulls it up a hill to a deck on the outside of his home. He then power washes the piece about three times over a 24-hour period to strip off the bark, before sanding the stump and treating it with an organic pest control product to rid the wood of mites and worms.
Once the piece is dry, he gives it a final sanding and then seals it with an epoxy or a polyurethane varnish. The process can also include adding gemstones, arrowheads, fishing lures or live ammunition to the piece at the epoxy stage. The piece is then ready to be used in a furniture build.
Working with live ammunition
Live Edge Furniture founder Jonathan Tommey admitted there are some precautions he takes when adding live ammunition to his artistic furniture pieces.
“When you set ammunition in epoxy, the epoxy heats up during the setting process,” Tommey said. “So, fundamentally, it could blow up the ammunition.”
However, he said he watched YouTube videos and garnered research to make the process safer, including omitting a step that involves using a blowtorch to rid the epoxy of air bubbles.