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The Tale of The Burning Sanders
By Solomon Denali

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This is a fun little tale about two very different people who came to form a woodworking studio known as 'The Burning Sanders'. Through the mutual appreciation of a little known "shrub" known as manzanita, these two individuals made it their goal to showcase this hidden gem in the form of sculptures and objects made entirely from manzanita wood. Before we begin the journey of the these two characters, lets focus on the object of their obsessions.

The small "shrub" known as manzanita that is commonly found in the Sierra foothills is an oddity, to put it lightly. From huge concentric burls to borderline hieroglyphic inscriptions, this plant is truly strange. Usually the plant remains a reasonably small size, but it is not hard to find unusually large specimens. The wood that lies inside is truly amazing. From stark white, to orange-pink hues, to a golden tone, all the way up to a dark chestnut brown, manzanita has it all. The outer, usually whitish layer is much softer than the very hard, usually brownish core. Many insects can be found inside, but this isn't always an absolute negative. The wood reacts strangely to their invasions, sometimes by weird interruptions in the grain or awesome changes in the color of the wood itself. This is probably the only wood that a woodworker wants to have termites in it. Yeah, I said termites. They are easily my favorite inhabitants. Now that you have some idea of what we deal with, let's meet our two players.

I am Solomon Denali. I have lived in the central California foothills for the past 8 years and am fortunate to work exclusively in the backcountry. In the early exploration of the small town I live in I would constantly see one individual that stuck out to me. Mostly due to his long, Gandalf-style beard, long gray hair, and friendly demeanor. We would chit chat in the local coffee shop, but never introduced one another. 5 years passed before that would actually happen.

After moving in with a buddy of mine, I suddenly realized that the Gandalf character from town was now my new neighbor, and his name is Rah. We would run into each other here and there but never made much effort to have a long conversation. Until one day when I was working on a small juniper bow, which at the time, was my absolute obsession. He approached me and proceeded to ask me ten thousand questions. Which I gladly answered to the best of my ability. I made several bows in the subsequent months and he would always spectate and think of more questions. Which I would answer to the best of my ability.

One day the tables were turned when I saw him working on some strangely beautiful hunk of wood. I approached and proceeded to return his twenty thousand questions, which he would answer to the best of his ability. This was my first exposure to what manzanita really was and how Rah and I became such good friends. One day, while in his dusty, cluttered garage I noticed a "slab" of manzanita propped in the corner. Upon examination, I was astonished by how pretty it was. Rah had mentioned the idea of selling slabbed manzanita wood as a business idea and passionately expressed this. I never really considered this as a viable option until I examined that small slab on that fateful day.

Within weeks we were researching and saving for tools (mainly a bandsaw). In the meantime, we started rearranging the garage to fit the vision of our joint manzanita fascination. We also made a few wonderful sculptures that took a lot of time off of the wait for the tools we so desperately needed. I made a wonderful mask-like sculpture and proudly signed it and presented it to my mother for Christmas that year. And then we began the journey into manzanita madness. We built a huge 4 foot by 3 foot manzanita sculpture called "The Dragon." 900+ hours later we had accomplished something we are personally fascinated with still to this day. And we had acquired most of the tools we needed in the process of that sometimes wonderful, mostly grueling project.

Our first tool was a Laguna 16HD bandsaw with a resaw king blade, the second, a Woodsucker cyclone dust collector. Then, after a very long wait, a custom shellix head for my 1936 craftsman joiner. A custom infeed and outfeed for the bandsaw was then added. Next up was a custom, adjustable crosscut sled so we could process logs easily and more efficiently. After processing so much wood, we realized we needed more space. So a 10 x 20 expansion was in the works. Next thing you know the framing was constructed and metal roofing was ordered. At this point we were pretty much all in. In the midst of all these acquisitions and upgrades, we were still producing many high quality works, including a large interior installation, which was an honor. I became obsessed with handcut joinery and entered the hand tool realm as well. I then added an old beautiful workbench and started slowly acquiring old planes and such, followed by restoration of these items. I splurged and bought a Lie-Nielsen bench chisel set to no regrets. Then the final machine wandered in, a drum sander, which has saved me a lot of time, but I wouldn't mind a meteor falling onto it and only it. If you own one of these beasts, I am sure you can relate. C'mon meteor.

A friend was over during a pow-wow one night and coined the name "The Burning Sanders" and we couldn't think of a cooler and more fitting name for our company. So now we had a mostly complete shop and were actually selling a few things here and there. Mostly there, which sometimes meant shipping wood to France or Ireland! Who would have thought? Rah had sold every sculpture he had made. I had this feeling of honor come over me constantly. Whether it was the fact that people were actually liking and sometimes buying our works and items or just working with such an unbelievable material. I came to understand that it is both. Rah came to explain to me that it was I who had inspired him to jump back into manzanita through watching me working so intimately on my bows, which changed my life, no doubt about it and changed our lives, forever. For someone to tell you that you inspire them is a profound feeling, and boy was I motivated after that. I made a lot of beautiful objects and really focused on quality and creativity.

Manzanita is to us, a symbol of where we live and who we are. It can grow no matter what condition you place it in and takes its time. It is very hardy and has an unmistakable willingness to survive. Most of all, it has its time as a live plant, providing beauty, shade, and pollen for bees. Its fruit has been used by local natives for centuries, still to this very day. It has existed since the time of the dinosaurs and remains relatively unchanged and comes in a plethora of forms. After it dies it provides a lot of essential nutrients to the surrounding soil. It provides nests for birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and a myriad of insects. But not if we get there first. And we rarely do.

But what a prize when you find one of these monstrosities. It is a mile downhill and weighs 180 pounds. Add some poison oak and barricades of brush for a little bonus "fun." Yet we love the process, for it is absolutely essential to our shop and keeps us constantly immersed in the beautiful wilderness we all share. Living and having the shop in an area with some of the largest manzanita in the world really facilitates a lot of walking far and carrying heavy, awkward logs and branches, but a lot of smiles, stories, and a lot of inspiration as well.

Thank you for your time. If you wish to see what The Burning Sanders have created and what manzanita can become please visit.

To find out more information about us you can visit our Etsy page and our Facebook page. Below are a few of the projects we've made from this beautiful wood:

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