Pens & Wine Stoppers - Salvaged Historic Douglas Fir from the Trenton Roebling Complex

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Project by Eric M. Saperstein posted 09-01-2012 10:54 PM 1528 views 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Roebling Wire Works is an iconic part of the history of Trenton, NJ since 1848 – one of the stars of the slogan “Trenton Makes the World Takes.” The Trenton campus remains mostly abandoned, but signs of life and hope are regained with the success of the Roebling market and occupation of some of the buildings by state offices. The Roebling complex is now the annual site of Trenton’s “Art All Night” extravaganza; a 24hr experience of all forms of art and media encouraging local artists to show the world that Trenton has talent.

The pens shown here are hand turned by Marc Dowdell – the wine stoppers I turned (Eric Saperstein) These are a few sample projects illustrate a small piece of history. The wood used to make these pens and wine stoppers is old growth Douglas fir, salvaged from scraps of the massive floor beams that once held up the equipment and workers that created cabling for bridges across America. As you hold it, imagine the vibrations of machinery and the voices of men forging our nation’s infrastructure.

Artisans of the Valley is sponsoring a project to reclaim and utilize this material for various artistic creations to help encourage the development of the art community in Trenton, NJ. Artisans is one of the last formally trained 18th century furniture and restoration studios in New Jersey. Offering custom period and original design furniture, modern designs, museum quality antique restoration, furniture refinishing, woodcarving, sculpture, and folk art.

Now a little technical content – These beams are huge, covered in a thick layer of “something” and are cleaned up to reach the preserved heartwood. Douglas fir actually does turn (obviously) although it is a bit of a pain. This wood has a heavy feel of turpentine; which actually seemed to help the turning process.

Some of the he pens are on a 30 degree bias – giving that cool spiral effect in the grain. The stoppers are also mixed some cross and some straight grain. The technique to turn across the grain was a little hairy for the stoppers. I managed to develop my feel and approach to come in sort of like a bowl turning. The first few exploded and a couple chunks whacked me in the forehead.

Stay tuned – we’re going to put out some unique pieces with this material!

-- Eric M. Saperstein, Master Craftsman

6 comments so far

View clieb91's profile


3521 posts in 4107 days

#1 posted 09-02-2012 02:42 AM

Eric, As a born and raised Jerseyite, and huge history buff, I say thank you for helping to pass on a small piece of the history. As woodworker I can say wow those are soem great looking pieces and I will certainly stay tuned for more.


-- Chris L. "Don't Dream it, Be it."- (Purveyors of Portable Fun and Fidgets)

View Kookaburra's profile


748 posts in 2396 days

#2 posted 09-02-2012 02:50 AM

As someone who has only passed through NJ, I also appreciate the story and the history lesson. :-)

Some mighty fine wood you have there and I think it is fantastic to honor a bit of our past with something lovely to carry into the future. I like both the pens and the wine stoppers, but I worry about pens, and their tendency to get lost, with wood that is irreplaceable.

thanks for posting this!

-- Kay - Just a girl who loves wood.

View MonteCristo's profile


2099 posts in 2360 days

#3 posted 09-02-2012 03:45 AM

I live in Douglas Fir country and have a pretty good supply of old growth Douglas Fir. Some of the old trees were indeed huge (6 ft or more thru, well over 100 ft high). The early wood / late wood contrast is very striking, as your pieces show.

-- Dwight - "Free legal advice available - contact Dewey, Cheetam & Howe""

View Charles Maxwell's profile

Charles Maxwell

1099 posts in 3979 days

#4 posted 09-02-2012 01:51 PM

Let’s talk about putting that Douglas Fir clock together soon (this Fall) in preparation for the coming arts festival. Max

-- Max the "night janitor" at

View Eric M. Saperstein's profile

Eric M. Saperstein

766 posts in 3420 days

#5 posted 09-02-2012 11:19 PM

Howdy -

Yes – the contrast in this old growth is amazing. Plus the shimmer effect developed by the finishing process on the pens is really cool they look like fishing lores. The reaction with the natural turpentine and oils in the wood.

Hoping to finalize getting a good supply of this soon. I’m not so concerned that things get lost, right now things are just deteriorating so saving it in any way is positive!

Yes – Max we definitely want to do some clocks! This may just be stable enough to do it. I know for the frames the gears IDK – laminating them correctly maybe?? Worth a shot. Also I’m still waiting on the details on the river salvage wood from Belize too for that.

We have a lot in play! Searching for more historic wood from some other sources as well. More to follow I hope on that soon.

Working on getting this project further along this week … we shall see!


-- Eric M. Saperstein, Master Craftsman

View hunter71's profile


3277 posts in 3358 days

#6 posted 09-03-2012 11:06 AM

Great Eric. As amateur wine makers I think I need to get busy. I think Max is on to something, this wood could make a beautiful clock.

-- A childs smile is payment enough.

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