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From oak grove to dining room

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For more than 200 years, a stand of white oaks flourished in Albany’s historic Hackleman Grove.

Their legacy now will live on in the form of handcrafted furniture, to be auctioned later this year as a fundraiser for the Albany Parks and Recreation Oregon white oak habitat restoration project.

Seven mid-valley students from two high schools are helping to make the lumber into two sets of dining room chairs. They spent Thursday and Friday with professional woodworker Gary Rogowski of Portland, beginning the process of fashioning the lumber into 12 cafe chairs of Rogowski’s own design.

Mark Azevedo, a member of the city’s tree commission, linked the students with Rogowski’s studio, Northwest Woodworking.

Rogowski, now in his 40th year as a professional woodworker, holds regular mentoring programs. He occasionally brings his students to the mid-valley so they can see trees milled into lumber at Kenagy Farm, but this week marked the first time mid-valley students have had the opportunity for a return visit.

Earlier this year, Azevedo spoke with Rogowski about the city’s Lumber to Legacy project. Rogowski said he liked the idea of working on chairs with the students, showing his own mentoring students the craft at the same time.

Rogowski and two students in his own nine-month mentoring program, John Merrill of Ashland and Patrick McGlade of Vancouver, Wash., did some of the milling and other prep work on the white oak before the four students from South Albany High School and the three from Crescent Valley High School in Corvallis arrived.

They gave the boys lessons in handmade dovetail joints to get them comfortable with the tools and the setting, then set them to work sawing to size the slats for each chair seat.

After that came hand-planing, scraping, and rounding each edge to a smooth, hand-tooled finish without sandpaper. Next came laminating thin slices of white oak together and clamping them to form each chair’s curved back.

Students said they appreciated the chance to work for two full days in a professional setting with the tools to match.

“It’s more of a job experience than a learning experience. More like an apprenticeship,” observed Karston Peck, 17, a junior at South Albany.

Classmate Matthew Perkins, a senior, said he’s enjoying working on a commissioned project rather than a hobby piece for himself. “It teaches you to do the job right and use the right tools,” he said.

The students also expressed deep appreciation for Rogowski’s time and effort.

“Gary, he is one of the best out there. He has a whole bunch of different skill sets that he does with wood,” said Aloyis Pitkin, a Crescent Valley freshman. “I actually figured out I like planing better than sanding. You get a lot better surface, a lot cleaner. I’m definitely going to do that on my projects when I get back to school.”

Rogowski said he’s enjoying the partnership. He said he hopes the students take away “a love of working with their hands, working with the tools and wood. It’s good to expose them to it. That’s what this studio is for.”

The eight giant white oaks, ranging in diameter from 24 to 37 inches, were removed last year from the property at the corner of Oak Street and Ninth Avenue in Albany to make way for the new Lowe’s Improvement Center. They weighed 44 tons altogether, and it took two log trucks to carry them to the North Albany farm for milling.

The amount of lumber was so massive it hasn’t yet had time to finish drying in the studio’s kilns, so the students weren’t able to complete the chairs over the two-day session. Azevedo is trying to work out a second field trip for May to finish the job.

No date has been set yet for the benefit auction, which Azevedo said he plans to organize online. The chairs will be one of several handcrafted furniture pieces sold for the fundraiser, done by professional woodworkers local and regional.

Merrill, one of the mentoring students, said he hopes to donate a piece of his own to the effort, perhaps a writing desk.

To Azevedo, that willingness to participate sums up the whole project.

“The big picture is the effort being put forward by everyone in Oregon to do justice to the trees that were removed,” he said.

Jennifer Moody is the education reporter for the Democrat-Herald. She can be reached at 541-812-6113 or jennifer.moody@lee.net.

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