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Building a home for a World Trade Center artifact

When the towers fell on 9/11, we all wished there was something we could do: to help the victims and their families, to find those responsible, to make sure we never forgot. In a very small way, I feel as if I’ve finally been able to do something to ensure the latter.  My neighbor, Pete, volunteers for the Pleasant Hill (Iowa) fire department. In July he told me that the department had acquired a remnant of the World Trade Center and they were discussing ways to display it. He said all the items they looked at weren’t quite fitting for the artifact, so he asked if I’d be interested in building something. Feeling this was a unique opportunity to create something of real value for the community, I drafted this design in Sketchup and presented it to the department.

My goal was to provide some context for the artifact. In my proposal I described it as, “Strong vertical lines of solid cherry wood separated by blacked-out recesses recall the form of the World Trade Center towers, and draw the eye upward to the display. Black areas centered on each face and running the height of the face provide solemnity and gravity.” The front faces of the towers of the pedestal contain nine vertical columns; the sides each contain eleven.

The department loved the design and asked me to build it. With the 10th anniversary of the attacks approaching, I got to work quickly.

The pedestal consists of two tall MDF boxes that make up the “towers” on each side. 3/4×3/8” cherry strips were applied to the towers for the columns. A black U-shaped center section joins the two towers. I started construction by building these center sections. The middle is MDF and the sides are cherry because the narrow front edges of the sides will become part of the vertical set of strips. Glue and Confirmat screws secure the pieces.

Next, I built the tower sections. To register the cherry strips in even spacing, I cut 1/16”-deep grooves ⅜” apart in each face. The blue tape masks off these grooves to leave clean gluing surfaces after the black paint is applied. Interior corners are reinforced with glue blocks. The interior face (facing up) has just narrow pieces bridging it, as this allowed me to use just one sheet of MDF.

Here are the towers and center section dry-fit:

I took these pieces to work and used our spray booth to paint them.

Back at home, I cut 54 strips for the columns and sanded them.

The grooves cut into the towers proved very useful in registering the pieces as some had begun to twist or warp slightly. Working on one face at a time, I used slightly crowned cauls to clamp the strips in place.

Here’s a dry-assembly of the base with the top panels. An acrylic cover will surround the raised field in the center. Note that the lower panel is solid wood. This panel warped and I substituted a plywood panel with 1½”-wide edging that gave it a more substantial appearance, and that I think looked better.

The unpainted corners were covered by bevel-ripping boards and gluing them back together to create 90-degree corners with a grain wrap.

Fitting the base required repeatedly lifting and lowering the pedestal to place the base below it. Not easy to do, as I was working alone. The solution came in the form of an A-frame ladder and cargo straps. In this photo, you can see how the edges of the cherry boards on the center section become part of the nine vertical columns.

A dry-assembly of the almost-complete pedestal with the base and new top panel. Trim around the bottom of pedestal is yet to be added. Note that the base doesn’t have the cutout shown in the original drawing. At this point, I asked my wife if she preferred this look or the cutout. We both preferred this version as it appears more solid and anchored.

Back to the spray booth to apply the finish: two coats of lacquer topped with three coats of polyurethane. Spraying made it SO much easier to reach between the slats, not to mention the time savings.

Attaching the top panels and base took some time. Before screwing the top plywood panel in place, I drilled holes and slots through it for screwing the raised display panel in place. Then I screwed the top plywood panel to the columns, using Confirmat screws. These are all hidden by the display panel once it is in place. After protecting the piece with a blanket and towels, I clamped the raised display panel to the top panel. It was then screwed in place from the bottom.

That job took a long reach and a 12”-long bit extension.

All that remained was to stand the pedestal upside-down and attach the bottom.

And to sign it:

With the pedestal carefully loaded in the back of my pickup, covered with packing blankets and strapped in, I drove to the fire department. First challenge after unloading it: Discovering that the acrylic cover wouldn’t fit over the raised display panel. It was about 1/16” too small from front to back. Boy, was I glad I brought my shoulder plane. After covering one face of the plane and the plywood panel with blue painter’s tape to protect the finish, a few strokes along the back edge of the display panel brought it to size. I brushed a coat of poly on the fresh surface and we began positioning the artifact while it dried. A chrome rod (re-purposed baby crib hardware) hooks into a crevice in the back of the artifact. Here, everything is dry-fit to see how it sits. You can see the freshly trimmed rear edge of the display panel. I then drilled an oversize hole in the panel to accept the end of the rod, filled it with epoxy, then inserted the rod and let it dry overnight.

The completed pedestal, with the artifact mounted and acrylic cover in place. A plaque has yet to be mounted to the display panel under the acrylic with this quote from President Bush: “Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.”

It was humbling to have had the opportunity to create this home for a sacred American artifact.

Craig @ WOOD

8 Responses to “Building a home for a World Trade Center artifact”

  1. Wow. Just….. WOW.

  2. I like it alot. Very fitting.

  3. It’s just beautiful…you should be very proud!

  4. Very Cool!

  5. I am so proud of you. Your time and talent is very much appreciated.

  6. The Pleasant Hill Fire Department is grateful to have such a talented and dedicated individual willing to design such an elegant base for the artifact. The beauty of the wood enhances the design and we will proudly display this piece of history for years to come. Many thanks. Chief Meeks

  7. Thank you for the inspiration. I am in the process of converting an old original table from the dining room of our University Dining Hall to a speakers podium; a gift to the University at my retirement. Your ideas have influenced my design.

  8. Would like to know where we can have one like this piece made for an item we received from the world trade center. Our piece weights 150 lbs. If you have any ideas please feel free to email me.

    Thank You

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