Andrew Bishop, River Bottom Restoration Furniture (RBRF) craftsman, started making furniture in 2012 and quickly fell in love with the Russian Olive tree. Andrew was determined to build a table out of wood from his family’s farm. After making tables out of wood from several different trees, Russian Olive stood out from the rest. In addition the tree’s beautiful, wild grain, the environmental benefits of harvesting Russian Olive make it unique. Russian Olive trees can divert water and other resources from native species and take over river bottoms. More information about the Russian Olive Tree and its effect on riparian areas can be found here.
Andrew is different from other furniture makers because of his connection to each tree he uses. He harvests trees all over the state of Montana, mills them out with his sawmill on his farm, and sands and finishes each piece with a process that locks in a forever finish.
Finding and Harvesting the Tree
Each piece of Russian Olive furniture you see on this site started the same way: Andrew hunted down a Russian Olive tree somewhere in Montana and cut it down a chainsaw. This part of the process has made for some interesting trips to get trees. Once, Andrew found a tree that was truly magnificent but accessible only by water. To get the tree back to land, he cut it down and floated it 16 miles down the river.
Milling out the Logs
After transporting the trees back to RBRF’s home base near Brady, Montana, Andrew typically lets the logs sit elevated for 6 months before milling them. Depending on moisture levels and conditions including air temperature, some logs are dried for longer periods. He uses a horizontal band saw mill to mill each log out. Each piece of wood is milled to 2” thick, or to clients’ specifications if they provide the tree.
Curing the Wood
After milling out the logs, Andrew lets the slabs sit for 3-6 months if the tree was dead when it was cut, or 1-3 years if the tree was alive when it was cut down. This allows the slabs to release the tension inside of them and warp, twist, or potentially rot. Because of the wild grain of the Russian Olive this stage is particularly difficult. Over 30% of the slabs that Andrew mills out are lost to rot.
Planing Out the Wood and Joining
Each slab is carefully planed out with a thickness planer to remove any warping or twisting that arose during the curing process. RBRF recently upgraded to a 24” planer for running big table slabs through. After planing out the slabs, a straight cut is run down them, if necessary, and then the slabs are glued up with biscuit joints, if necessary.
Sanding and Finishing
Andrew firmly believes in complementing the grain with a natural finish, whether that be a tung oil finish or a water-based poly finish. The tung oil finish gives the wood a slightly richer tone while a water based poly finish makes the slabs look very similar to how the raw wood looks. Either of the finishes that we use are a lifetime finish.