A True Craftsman in the Spotlight

A good friend of mine Lee Tigner, owner of Early American Furnishings, sent me a video about a woodworking contest he had recently entered.  This was for the 2011 Furniture Design Company furniture contest, in its 18th year.  He did not win; however, he received an honorable mention.  He is originally from Charleston, SC, and now resides in Dawsonville, Georgia, outside of Atlanta.  It amazes me what he is able to create using reclaimed old growth lumber, with the result being hand-made home furnishings.  I feel the work he is doing is a true trade that has long been forgotton.  I had to share with you folks.  This is true craftsmanship at its finest.


Sinker Cypress Hope Chest from Lee Tigner on Vimeo.


This is Lee's description of his project:

I have used old growth sinker reclaimed bald cypress which came from the bottom of a river in South Carolina. The material was logged around 1880 and we have an authentic archeological report detailing the history which is actually a requirement for artifacts recovered in South Carolina waters. Recovery has to be supervised and documented by a state certified archeologist in order to be compliant.

We work with a certified dark water diver who has a company named Virgin Heart Sinker Cypress. They locate the logs and bring them to the surface whereby they are carefully transported to the mill. Once recovered, the material is processed on a portable sawmill and then air dried for about a year per inch. The final drying process is done using a Sauno Kiln at my shop. For this project we selected 5/4 thick wide boards to make up the piece and dressed the material to a full ¾”. The sides were all made from a single board and the base was also made from one board. I used West System epoxy mixed with cypress sawdust to fill any minor cracks that occasionally develop in the material due to the submerged state for over 100 years.

We followed the plans closely making only two deviations. The first one was the locking miter joint had to be changed to a standard miter with biscuit joints due to the possibility of tear out with this material; and the other was not really an alteration, rather a selection change. The future owner preferred the base on the federal style but wanted the plain front of the shaker style so we appreciate the fact that the plan included both options. The piece was sanded to 600 grit in order to showcase the high figure of the medullary rays in this old growth material.

I explain some of this in the video and hopefully it will be helpful to some of your subscribers. Then the piece was finished with (as of this writing) seven coats of hand rubbed Tung oil. No stain or color additives were ever applied so the color you see in the pictures is the natural color of the wood. You will note some typical cypress color such as the honey hues in the middle of the piece but then there are chocolates and olive tones that are the result of natural staining due to being submerged in mud and silt for a century. Leaves in the river release tannin, and this is the color the wood eventually turns. Different rivers from different regions of the southeast will actually stain the wood dramatically different colors – even within the same species. Sinker reclaimed bald cypress from Florida for example will be much more tan, brown and red, while the same specie out of a South Carolina river will be green, brown and olive as can be seen in this piece.

This piece was a lot of fun and I thought the plans were fantastic. I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to submit an entry and thank you to everyone at American Furniture Design for a great contest.


Contact Lee and see what he can create for you:

Early American Furnishings 

Posted by Mike Ciucci on


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Just yesterday at a final walk-through I advised my clients (who were complaining about the lack of presence their new fireplace has) to try and get ahold of some old lumber or an old railroad tie and have it mounted as a mantel. Just imagine if they had access to a piece of that wonderful old salvaged Cypress! I love the look of reclaimed lumber as a mantelpiece -- when combined with the archways and beautiful colors that people are now putting on their walls it can really breathe new life into an old home. Anyway, Congratulations to your friend Lee on his honorable mention. He certainly deserves it (and more!) for his wonderful work. It's particularly gratifying to see that the old artisan ways are surviving, even if only on a very small scale.

Posted by Jolenta Averill on Tuesday, January 10th, 2012 at 7:31am

Thanks for the kind comments, Jolenta. I agree, I think it is really difficult 'today' to find someone dedicated to true woodworking and this kind of craftsmanship. It looks like it takes true dedication and commitment.

Posted by Mike Ciucci on Thursday, January 12th, 2012 at 6:38am

I have come to know and respect Lee and his work over the last year and provided him with the material for the hope chest (and other pieces he has crafted). When I think of Lee the word "quality" always comes to mind, and applies to both the craftsman and his craftsmanship.

Posted by alec blalock on Sunday, June 24th, 2012 at 9:09am

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