From Seaport shipwreck to fancy furniture: Charlestown woodworker repurposes scraps
John G. Dickey was sitting in a Charlestown restaurant last year when the headlines flashed across his iPad: Workers from Skanska USA, a development and construction firm, had unearthed a mid-to-late 19th-century shipwreck at a project site in the Seaport District.
“I said, ‘I’ve got to get a little piece of that. I need to get a piece of that ship,’ ” said Dickey, founder of Timberguy, a Charlestown-based company that transforms salvaged wood into furniture for corporate offices, restaurants, and people’s homes.
Dickey reached out to Skanska soon after the discovery, and asked the company if he could get some “crumbs.” In the end, he got much more than that.
“I didn’t get scraps,” he said, a hint of gratitude in his voice. “I got the entire thing.”
On Aug. 11, Dickey will display furniture he made using wood from the historic ship during an event at District Hall, a Seaport venue on Northern Avenue not far from where the vessel’s remains were uncovered. He’ll also share with the public pieces of the ship that weren’t transformed into furniture, offering history buffs and boat enthusiasts a chance to get up close and inspect the leftovers.
“All the pieces of the ship will be represented,” he said. “Any person with knowledge in ship-building and sailing will get to see how they originally put this ship together.”
Dickey, a Billerica native, first got into woodworking during junior high school, he said.
Although he’s been in the carpentry business in and around Boston for over 25 years, it was around 2007 and 2008, during the economic downturn, that Dickey really started to venture into transforming wood into items to accentuate the home.
While driving by a neighbor’s barn one day, Dickey noticed scrap wood from an ongoing project sitting outside.
“I went up and said, ‘Hey, what are you folks doing with all this wood?’ And they said, ‘We’d like to use it, but we don’t know how,’ ” Dickey said. “So I said, ‘How about some furniture?’ ”
Dickey made a deal: He agreed to clean up the construction site every day in exchange for the timber. He created furniture from the wood, and, following some encouragement from his friends, sold it off to interested buyers.
Since then, Dickey has taken on a number of large projects as his business has grown. He’s responsible for creating conference tables and other intricate pieces of furniture for companies like LogMeIn, Converse, and Acacia Communications.
In most cases, the wood he uses is taken directly from the site of a reconstruction project. For example, at Converse’s headquarters, Dickey salvaged oak pilings from the Lovejoy Wharf to create an 18-foot-long conference table for the company.
“You take it out of a building that’s getting demolished or remodeled and turn it into something new and put it back into the same building,” he said. “We call that, ‘reclaimed, repurposed, and reunited.’ ”
In May last year, he got an opportunity to follow that mantra after a Skanska employee found the ship’s hull sticking out of the ground at the construction site at 121 Seaport Blvd.
Aware of the possible historical significance of the remnants, Skanska halted its excavation operations and alerted city archeologist Joe Bagley and the Massachusetts Historical Commission.
Based on barrels of lime found in the boat’s bottom, Bagley determined the vessel likely traveled from Maine to Boston sometime in the 19th century, before it ran aground and caught fire in the harbor. Overtime, the land was filled in and the ship became buried treasure.
“Nothing like this has been found in Boston, in filled-in ground, before,” Bagley told the Globe at the time. “This is incredibly rare and incredibly amazing.”
Although the discovery was exciting, the boat’s wood — pine and oak — was far too old and damaged to rebuild the vessel into its original form, Skanska officials said.
But it was perfect for a craftsman. Soon, Skanska partnered with Dickey, and asked him to repurpose the wood to create unique pieces of furniture to be featured in the Seaport development for its 2018 opening.
“The furniture will accent the majestic building’s common areas as well as conference rooms,” the company said in a statement in June.
Skanska officials also said they plan to build the Harbor Way museum, an outdoor space between two projects on the boulevard that will pay tribute to Boston’s maritime history, with a strong emphasis on the ship’s last voyage and artifacts found within it.
As for rest of the wood from the ship, Dickey fashioned it into steamer trunks, consoles, and coffee tables, which will all be part of his exhibit this month at District Hall.
Dickey praised Skanska and city officials for their willingness to work with him, and said he hopes that people will take interest in his creations and help find them a new home.
He’s confident, however, that he will.
“Bostonians are sentimental,” he said. “They’re attached to their history.”