American Elm Slab Table

This slab table, which was made of American Elm, is 7’ 2″ long x about 30″ wide x 2″ thick.  The Dutch Elm disease or blight was first identified in Holland in the 1930s.  It is caused by a fungus that reproduces by making thousands of spores.  These spores are transported by air currents and are carried wherever even the slightest wind takes them.  It is not known how or when it was brought to America.  By the early 1970s it is estimated it had killed 77 million elm trees in America.  This tree was probably killed 50 to 70 years ago but was not cut down until recently.  The “winding blue creek” that runs the length of the table is tinted or colored epoxy that was used to fill some of the voids or hollow portions.  This table was made by Edward M. Butler II in 2023.

A Striped Cherry Desk

This desk was built to go in my oldest son’s office or library in his house. Available space dictated that it be an unusual size. Most desks are thirty to thirty-six inches wide but this one is only twenty-four inches wide. In order to accommodate the usual amount of storage a desk should offer, we decided that it should be eighty-four inches or seven feet long. Other than the basic dimensions, I accept full responsibility for anything that may seem unusual or different.

When God created the hundreds of different species of trees, he decided that many of them would have sap wood that is a very different color than their inner core. The great majority of species have white sap wood. It may vary from bright white to almond. There are also species that have yellow sap wood. It too, may vary from a deep yellow to a very pale yellow color. It is always exciting, well to a genuine “wood nut”, to saw into a new species of tree. That is the only way to learn what the “inside” looks like!

My son’s only additional request was that I make the desk of cherry. With the size and species in mind, my creative imagination went into overdrive! A very high percentage of all furniture or any kind of woodwork I have ever seen is so uniform in color one might initially think it was printed by using some mysterious printing process instead of being actual wood. I have been asked many times, when making an item for others, to not use sap wood or at least to apply a dark stain that masks the true color of the natural wood.

This was a rare opportunity to build something that emphasizes all of the colors of cherry. I purposefully and intentionally chose only materials that not only show sap wood but also the various shades of heart wood. There a number of things that influence the natural color of wood of any species. Available moisture, soil type, and age of the tree produce variables but other conditions have their influence also. Dendrology was not offered at the college I attended and it is a bit late to start over so I will never be an expert on wood.

When purchasing materials, most of my choices were narrow widths that showed the various colors of cherry. I also changed my construction methods so these colors would be accented. Thus I built what I fondly call, “A Striped Cherry Desk”!

A Large Picture Frame

In November, 2022 our oldest son, Ed Butler II, was elected Representative of the 41st Congressional District of the State of Tennessee. One of the items the state provides each senator and representative is a large map of their district. They will also provide a very common looking frame for these maps. Being raised by someone that loves and admires beautiful woods he asked me to use my creative imagination and build him a custom frame for his copy of the map. This frame is a bit over 65 inches long by a little over 52 inches high. That is roughly five and a half feet by four and a half feet.

Without further special requests I readily put my imagination in high gear. The main frame is (1) Black Walnut. The top and bottom pieces have a yellow insert that is (2) Chittum Wood. Chittum Wood is one of the rarest woods in America. According to both of my tree keys, it is found only in the southern most portion of the Appalachian mountain range near Huntsville, Alabama and in a small area of the high plains in Texas. I suppose this is one of the puzzles God designs to give people that love his many creations something to ponder! The side pieces have white inserts that are (3) Spalted Soft Maple. The corners and keystones are all made of three layers of wood.

The bottom layer is (4) Kentucky Coffee Tree, the middle is (5) Cherry, and the top layer is (6) White Walnut or Butternut. Because of the size and weight of this item I added a layer of (7) Long Leaf Pine under the black walnut. It is the reddish brown color showing on all four sides. Long Leaf Pine is native to the coastal plains and piedmont regions of states that meet the salt waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Southern Atlantic Ocean. This is not the usual pine lumber you may know! The weight or density and strength are very close to Red Oak! When freshly sawed or planed it looks very much like a candy cane! The summer growth is a brilliant red color and the winter growth is very white. I salvaged this material when I deconstructed a building erected in 1912! In time, as U V light rays have their influence, it will turn a deep ruby red color! To add another color and species I put small inserts in each corner. They are made of (8) Tiger Wood which is a tropical hardwood sold in America primarily for flooring.

The original Ed Butler

Alms Box Built for
Bethlehem Missionary Church

Ed Butler, Author & Woodmaker
Ed Butler, Author & Woodmaker
Ed Butler, Author & Woodmaker
Ed Butler, Author & Woodmaker

Alms Box Built for Bethlehem Missionary Church requested by Rev. Moses Onwubiko. I used most of 1800 board feet of Coffee Tree lumber to build the display case shown in the last picture. Many of the usable scraps that resulted from that process were placed in a cabinet in my shop instead of in the kindling box. I had the perfect opportunity to utilize some of them for this small project. All of the top, ends, and back were made of Coffee Tree scraps. The top is made of the thin strips I ripped from the rough-cut boards. I never counted them but there are probably 18 to 25 thin strips glued together. (If you had made the picture I described it, it would show the top, one end and the back in the same picture!) I went to my lumber “stash” looking for something special from which to make the front. It is made from a piece of a Black Walnut slab that I literally dug out of a pile of slabs at a sawmill many years ago!

Dining Room Table

The top of this table is made of Mulberry. The legs are Smoke Tree. The two end sections and the center make a table 102 inches long. That is 8 ½ feet. When three leaves are added to each side of center, the table is 192 inches or 16 feet long. The leaves have not been exposed to sunlight very long and are a lighter color which will change in time. They fit in a storage compartment that is under the center section.

At the request of Brother Moses Onwubiko, Pastor of Bethlehem Missionary Church, I made this top portion of the pulpit. It is made of Red Oak and is stained to match the portion of the pulpit that was in the building when his congregation bought it. The cross is made of black walnut.

I consider this to be my greatest creation.  The bookcase is 12 ft. 7 inches tall and 13 ft. long.  The room has 42 inch high wainscot with arched raised panels.  The steps and rungs of the library ladder, which will roll the length of the bookcase, contains thirteen different species of wood.  Everything but these steps and rungs are made of black walnut.

This entertainment center, display cases, and wainscot are in a fraternity house. There is a total of 51 linear feet of wainscot around the room and down a hall. It is made of White Walnut which is also known as Butternut.

All but one of these stair treads is made of apple wood. If you want some apple wood, be prepared to go to an orchard and harvest it yourself. Plan ahead as it takes 4 to 8 months to dry it properly! After you have carefully stacked the lumber with closely placed stacking strips, figure out how to park a very large bulldozer on top of the stack! God made all fruit trees to withstand the bending caused by a bountiful crop. Not only is it very hard but it is one of the toughest woods in the forest! If you are lucky, the weight of the bulldozer will prevent some of the warping, buckling, cupping, splitting, and cracking that accompanies the drying process. In the absence of a bulldozer a few heavy items will suffice. The triangular tread which is halfway down the stairs in made of persimmon, the dark color, and pumpkin ash. Pumpkin ash does not even resemble the more common species of Ash that are used in floors, furniture, and ball bats. The riser under this triangular step is made of Dogwood All of the regular shaped steps have risers made of Red Bud except for the top step. That one is made of Staghorn Sumac. Again, be prepared to go to the woods or someone’s yard to harvest enough of these species to complete your project.

OTIS CLARK: Otis came to see his country cousins in the summer of 1956. I told him about my horse and he said he would like to see her. He said he had not put his hand on a horse in about sixty years. I will never forget his visit. I was in the front yard, sitting on a swing hanging from a big Black Gum tree waiting for his arrival. He was in a red and white Cadillac that looked to be about fifty feet long! A chauffer, dressed in uniform and wearing his cap, got out and opened the door for Otis and then went around and opened the right door. The most beautiful and elegantly dressed woman I had ever laid eyes on got out. I do not think I managed to even say hello! They spent several hours and ate dinner with us. By the time they left they were almost like old friends as both were as genuine as a one dollar bill.

Picture of a tobacco stick, tobacco knife, and a tobacco peg.

Homemade Smoker: In the early seventies I carried something to a welding shop in Alexandria, LA to have it welded. There was an extra welding helmet on a bench so I put it on and watched as a man ran a bead of weld across the break. I thought, “I can do that”! I bought a welder and have built many items of metal. This is the most complicated project I ever built. We do not kill hogs this day in time but still love smoked or Bar-B-Qued meat. I have used this smoker about forty years to cook catfish, chicken, goose, goat, mutton, beef, and our favorite – pork.

This is the front door of our oldest son’s house. It is made of black walnut and measures nine feet to the top of the arch and is eight feet wide.

This china cabinet is one of the most difficult items I ever built. It is made of black walnut. My customer gave me a picture of an antique china cabinet and asked if I could build a duplicate of it. Without dimensions it was very difficult to determine height, width, and depth. I decided what the dimensions should be, made a rough drawing, and gave the customer a price. It is built in three pieces. The top trim is the third piece. It is exactly ten feet from the floor to the top of the finial. It is made of black walnut.

Our Entertainment Center. It is made of black walnut. I was over ten years building this item. During that time we lived in three different states. This is the back which we originally used as a room divider. It has a space for a TV and speakers at the bottom. We had a record player and record storage over the TV and speakers. If you read music, you can play the first four measures of “Rhapsody In Blue” by looking at the notes. When Pat gave piano lessons I played that song as the guest piano player at her year-end concert.

Baby Doll pulling my buggy in the Fulton Centennial Parade in 1957.

This display case is twenty feet and ten inches long. The center unit is eight feet tall and eighteen inches deep. In cabinetry, “deep” is the dimension from the back to the front of the face frame. The units, each side of center, are reduced by three inches in height and depth twice, making the end units ninety inches tall and twelve inches deep. It is made of Kentucky Coffee Tree. Coffee Tree is seldom plentiful in any area but is found from Southeastern Canada to the northern part of the Gulf Coast states. I never attended a university that offered a course in Dendrology and can only wonder how or why trees and shrubs are found in the locations where they are native. I think one of the factors that influences their distribution is the fact that Kentucky Coffee Trees are not bisexual. Each tree either produces male or female reproductive flowers but not both. The blossoms are delicate and quite different but the casual observer might not realize they are different. The Kentucky Coffee Tree was named by early settlers that ventured to cross the mountains to the new frontier. One of the staple items many of them carried was coffee. Without a “Git-n-Go” market on every other corner, they soon used all of their coffee. I am enjoying my afternoon cup of coffee as I write this and can only feel sorry for them when they no longer had coffee to enjoy, morning, afternoon, or evening!

These were tough resourceful people that knew the dangers of traveling to the new frontier but loved adventure and the possibility of finding new wealth. Somewhere, sometime, one or more of these hardy travelers saw a tree that had strange looking seed pods that resembled a huge butter bean or lima been. These pods range in length from about four to ten inches long and are wider than the usual butter bean. They cling to the tree until the “beans” are dry and form seeds that look like two to six “bumps” in the pod. The seeds or beans are actually nearly round. Most fall from the tree by the time spring arrives. I have gathered coffee beans in several states and without fail, they will germinate even when the pods are about rotten and the seeds are lying on dried leaves and grass. Apparently most wildlife does not relish the taste of coffee beans as I do not remember ever seeing evidence that an animal had attempted to eat them. They are quite hard when dry and difficult to extract from the strong and tough pod. Few animals are equipped with the necessary means of opening them. I suspect these travelers wondered if they had found a new variety of nut to supplement their monotonous diet or perhaps a new vegetable to add to their bear or venison stew. Finding that they were not suitable for consumption, they decided to crush and roast them in order to make a substitute for coffee. Do not bother to look for coffee beans in order to make coffee! More than once I have tried them only to find that the flavor is much different and actually not as tasty as other substitutes used by our ancestors.

Kentucky Coffee Tree

A description of Kentucky Coffee Tree lumber often includes adjectives such as “course”, “tough”, and “hard”. All are correct! If you are lucky enough to find some lumber and desire to make your tater bins or favorite woodworking project of it, I would advise you to make proper preparations before starting. Use only carbide edged tools that are either new or have been sharpened recently. Anything less will “burn” the wood it cuts and leave black marks that are very difficult to remove, even with course sandpaper. Also, when feeding the material into a cutting or edging tool, make sure you do not stop, whether to reposition your feet or to catch a second breath. That will always result in having to do a considerable amount of sanding!

Kentucky Coffee Tree is a member of the Legume family, a very large family with members found in many and varied habitats around the world. Some of the members I have samples of includes, black locust, water locust, honeylocust, mesquite, mimosa, and red bud. Red bud is probably what i would name as my favorite wood! It is a bit softer and easier to work than coffee tree and black locust. It is subject to having more than one insect destroyer and a fungus but its beauty and varied color and luster when finished, make it a desirable species for small projects. I have never found Red Bud for sale anywhere but I have worked diligently harvesting trees that many woodcutters would ignore. To me, the beauty of Kentucky Coffee Tree and Red Bud are worth the effort required to deliver a finished project.

Sixth-three years ago I built my first items of wood. Our house burned in March, 1958. By August, Dad hired a finish carpenter to build cabinets and put trim around the doors and windows. He brought his table saw to the house and placed it in the basement. I still have an oak chest and a one-in-twelve scale model wood wheel farm wagon I built after promising the carpenter and Dad that i would not remove any fleshy portions of my anatomy! I have not outgrown the desire to make “objects of wood”! Mother taught school in a one-room school house before she and Dad got married. She always wanted her three children to be school teachers. When I reached high school I wanted, very badly, to take “shop” but she thought I ought to “enjoy” the more scholastic subjects. God blesses all of us with gifts! I consider woodworking to be the greatest gift God gave me! The only time I have not had access to woodworking tools were the years I earned a degree and a teaching certificate. Many times I have had to stop work on an item and ponder how to complete what I needed to do. God has always answered my prayer! Thank you Lord!

The Beautiful Red Bud Tree

The Eastern Red Bud tree, that is very common in middle Tennessee, is one of the most beautiful trees in America. Most trees and shrubs that bloom in early spring bear white blossoms while the Red Bud bears large clusters of bright pink blossoms that are known and loved by everyone that loves the springtime. It is a member of the Legume Family which contains over 14,000 species of plants ranging from vegetables and field crops, to vines and trees. There are 43 species of trees in America that belong to this family. The Legumes are of great value to mankind because many of them have nodules on their roots that contain bacteria that convert atmospheric nitrogen into a nitrogen-oxygen compound that is stored in the ground and required by all plants in order to grow and thrive.

My first use of red bud happened when I was teaching biology at Oakhaven High School in Memphis. Pat and I had traveled the 140 miles back to my parents house a few miles east of Fulton, Kentucky. That was one of our “forays” back home to load up on provisions! We had gone back to Fulton the previous December to help during “hog killing”. By spring time, Dad always had a big hickory smoked country ham, several sacks of smoked sausage, two large sides of bacon and various other good things to eat that we would smuggle back to Memphis. Mother always had a supply of her offerings for us to carry back also.

A summer storm had knocked a dead limb out of a large pine tree that grew over one of Mother’s Red Bud trees. She was distressed because that limb had broken off one of the primary branches of her tree. She asked me to get one of Dad’s hand saws and remove the broken branch. Before I finished sawing that limb off, I was “hooked”, hooked on Red Bud! I kept picking up the sawdust and marveling at the colors I could see.

I had done my first woodworking a few years before then when Dad built a new house to replace the one that burned in March, 1958. He hired a local carpenter to install all of the oak paneling and trim in our new house. After promising to not cut off any fingers or hands, the carpenter agreed to let me use the table saw he had put in our basement. I was elated to be allowed to use that saw and built two projects that I still have. Today I consider those two items to be “a little rough” but not bad for a novice teenager. I cut those limbs in shorter pieces and managed to get them in our car so I could carry them back to Memphis. While traveling back to Memphis that Sunday afternoon I remembered something I had helped Mother do several years earlier.

The next Monday it was back to the grind. My preparation period or as we called it, my “off period” coincided with my good friend Al Bailey’s off period. I told him what I had in the back of my car and he told me to come to the wood shop after school and we would saw the branches into boards. They were even prettier that I expected. Al was pleasantly surprised also.

Today that limb, which was barely three inches in diameter, is a medium size picture frame that still hangs in my house. The UV light rays in both sunlight and artificial light have done their magic on my first picture frame. It is darker than when fresh sawed and has a reddish tint not visible when it was new.

What was it I remembered while traveling back to Memphis with my first Red Bud limbs back in 1962 or 63? When I was about 4 or 5 years old I had helped Mother plant a Red Bud tree at her Uncle Raymond’s house. I question that I was very much help, but like all children that age, I always wanted to help!. Uncle Raymond had bought his parents house when they were gone and lived there most of his life. He had asked Mother if she would plant a Red Bud near his house. I well remember going to the pine grove Dad had planted years earlier to serve as a “wind break” for the barns and out buildings. Mother probably let me carry the two gallon bucket she was going to carry the tree in. She found what I would have thought of as a switch and put it in the bucket. I doubt that it was more than three feet tall! We all got in that “ole black Plymouth” and Mother drove the 12 to 15 miles to Uncle Raymonds. He chose a spot at the north end of the house where it would be seen from the road and close to the water than drained from the house. For the next seventy-some years I watch that tree grow. It grew to be the largest Red Bud I have ever seen!

I do not get back to West Tennessee and Kentucky very often but always enjoy going by Uncle Raymond’s house. It has been vacant since Uncle Raymond crossed that river in the 1970’s. One of his other nephews bought the house and farm but never lived there. About two years ago I attended an alumni meeting at UT Martin and went by the house on my way home.

It was sad too see the run-down condition of the old house but seeing how “my Red Bud tree” had grown, revived my spirits! When I returned home I called my cousin and asked if he might let me cut that tree. I mentioned that the walnut tree near my Red Bud had outgrown my tree and caused my tree to grow over the roof of the house. He was well aware of the potential damage it was doing to the roof and quickly gave his approval.

Now the problem was getting it cut and hauled to the Cumberland Plateau which is nearly a four hour drive. Rhett, our middle son, had made an online purchase and needed to go to Paducah, Kentucky to pick it up. Eddie Mc, our oldest son needed a part for his big tractor, and I wanted “my tree”! That tractor part, which weighed over 300 pounds, was available at a tractor wrecking yard near Sikeston, Missouri. Rhett and I left early one morning pulling one of his small trailers and went to Paducah to get his item. We then crossed the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and got the tractor part and then hurried to back to Fulton, Kentucky to eat “the world’s best bar-b-que”! Well, it is what I ate in the my early years and is unique to west Kentucky and Tennessee. I do not intend to start a prolonged discussion on where to find the best bar-b-que in the world but I have never found an equal!

We then went to Uncle Raymond’s house. I had called my cousin and he was waiting there when we arrived. We had carried a short ladder, a pole saw, a chain saw, and ropes. Rhett had to stand a few rungs above the ground to reach all of the limbs but removed those that were over the roof. He then used the chain saw to cut “My Tree”! I asked him to cut it as near to the ground as possible for I did not want to waste any of that rare lumber. After cutting it into about seven foot lengths we loaded it on the trailer and headed home. By-the-way, one inch above the ground it is 16 & ½ inches in diameter. That is definitely the biggest Red Bud tree I have ever seen or cut! Today the lumber has been dried and is stacked in my shop!