The Nakashima Inspired Bench

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Project by TampaTom posted 07-30-2009 09:20 PM 2948 views 12 times favorited 22 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I have been a George Nakashima fan since my neighbor lent me his autographed copy of Soul of a Tree. Nakashima was a master at blending crisply-cut details with wild look of wood slabs cut from the log. Live edges, bark inclusions and all make his tables something much more grand than just a plain old table.

For the past few years, I had wanted to find a suitable piece of wood to use to build my own slab bench, but my hardwood suppliers here in Florida weren’t able to easily lay their hands on such a board. When I had mentioned what I was looking for to Eric Poirier of Bell Forest Products, he located the sweet board for me. Hard maple with both bird’s-eye and tiger effect in it. The wood makes the bench for me… And, the live edge of the board… WOW.

For the base, I used some mahogany and a strip of tiger maple. My friend Craig Andrews drew out the base for me on Sketchup, and it looked very cool. I used a jigsaw and my oscillating spindle sander to bring it to final shape.

The stretcher passes through two open mortises in the legs, giving some visual interest to the piece. There is a top stretcher that is mortised into the two legs. This provides a more than adequate surface to screw the top to the base. Yes, I used screws. The thought of cutting and chiseling through that board’s surface for through tenons didn’t do anything for me. Maybe for a more ordinary looking piece of wood on a later project…

I had to start the finish at my hardwood supplier, Weiss Hardwoods in Largo. They had the big Powermatic wide format belt sander that took the wood from rough to baby’s bottom smooth in about three minutes. I gladly paid the very reasonable fee to have this done for me instead of trying to scrape and sand it smooth myself.

Once I got it home, I used card scrapers and my cabinet scraper to fine the surface up even more. A coat of 1# cut shellac sealed all of the wood on the project, and I sanded that down with 400 grit wet/dry paper to make the wood velvety smooth. I followed that with three top coats of my finishing mix on the entire project, sanding with 600 grit paper between. Then, two coats of wipe on poly were added to the top to provide additional protection. This was finally followed by some paste furniture wax.

This was a very rewarding project. I love to watch people run their hands over the polished top and the live edges when they see it for the first time. That tells me that I think I may have done Nakashima proud.

-- Tom's Workbench -

22 comments so far

View dustyal's profile


1295 posts in 3497 days

#1 posted 07-30-2009 09:34 PM

Yes, you did him quite proud. Deceptive to look at the grain in the photo and think of it as being smooth to the touch. Fascinating job. Excellent leg design. Honestly, I can’t make up my mind if I like the edge as it is, or perhaps tapered and smoothed to match the ends… don’t think it matters… just thinking it through a little as in, what if? Also, for whatever it is worth from a compete amateur… screw it … I couldn’t bring myself to cut and chisel that top.

I hadn’t heard of a George Nakashima until I saw a piece of his on Antique Roadshow…uh, his pieces are quite nice not to mention pricey !!

-- Al H. - small shop, small projects...

View blackcherry's profile


3338 posts in 3845 days

#2 posted 07-30-2009 09:53 PM

Drop dead gorgeous!!! The bird-eye top with the live edge dose it. Will have to look into more of Nakashima work…thanks for posting…Blkcherry

View SnowyRiver's profile


51457 posts in 3502 days

#3 posted 07-30-2009 10:35 PM

Thats a terrific looking table. Very nice job.

-- Wayne - Plymouth MN

View patron's profile


13606 posts in 3363 days

#4 posted 07-30-2009 10:41 PM

beautifull bench .
i’m sure nakashima would be happy
that you are inspired by his work .
i read an article of his ,
where he said the best way to store slabs of wood ,
is standing up on it’s side ,
not flat to the wall ( how it can bow )
it required brackets to keep the slabs from
fliping to flat .
this way both sides could dry evenly ,
and not have sticker marks in the finished piece.
it really works well !

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

View jimp's profile


208 posts in 3783 days

#5 posted 07-30-2009 10:53 PM

That’s a beautiful bench! I like how you added the maple to the legs.

-- - Jim, Carroll, OH

View TampaTom's profile


74 posts in 3775 days

#6 posted 07-30-2009 10:57 PM

Adding the maple was fun… I basically added the strip between the mahogany halves and glued the through mortise into place. No fuss, no muss!

-- Tom's Workbench -

View cwdance1's profile


1158 posts in 3281 days

#7 posted 07-30-2009 11:18 PM

Stunning piece of wood, beautiful job.

View Casper's profile


45 posts in 3251 days

#8 posted 07-31-2009 12:10 AM

That looks great Tom. That is a beautiful piece of wood for sure.

View grampata's profile


74 posts in 3765 days

#9 posted 07-31-2009 12:57 AM

I really like it….alot

View Ben Kahmann's profile

Ben Kahmann

231 posts in 3294 days

#10 posted 07-31-2009 01:16 AM

Beautiful slab table, I love figured maple

-- Ben Kahmann Dayton, OH

View zarno's profile


28 posts in 3429 days

#11 posted 07-31-2009 01:48 AM

Fantastic job Im nuts about live edge stuff and a big Nakashima fan Im also nuts about wood with crazy figure! Wow did you ever find a great piece. Wish there were a few more pictures.

View kolwdwrkr's profile


2821 posts in 3612 days

#12 posted 07-31-2009 06:07 AM

she’s a beauty

-- ~ Inspiring those who inspire me ~

View JoeinDE's profile


444 posts in 3345 days

#13 posted 07-31-2009 02:19 PM

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4321 days

#14 posted 07-31-2009 04:32 PM

Very nice craftsmanship, & beautiful.

Welcome to the competition.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View TampaTom's profile


74 posts in 3775 days

#15 posted 07-31-2009 05:02 PM

Hey, I’m just happy to be in it! :D

-- Tom's Workbench -

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