|Project by Pete Tevonian||posted 543 days ago||2467 views||12 times favorited||21 comments|
This table started over two years ago, when a 60-yr old Siberian Elm “weed” tree on our parkway had to be taken down due to a gas leak underneath it. I had a few logs milled into planks, and had the tree guys cut me two large cookies—one from the base of the trunk and one from about 20’ up. Both were then soaked in Pentacryl for a few weeks and then covered in cardboard to dry slowly in my cool basement.
Siberian Elm is largely considered a weed tree since it sucks up all the available water, grows rapidly, drop branches on people, and smells like a barnyard when being milled. It’s been called “the worst tree in the world”. Still, the grain is spectacular, it mills wells, and it’s reasonably hard without weighing a ton. And now I have about 1900 bd ft of the stuff waiting for projects!
This table uses the larger of the two cookies—about 49” x 39” at the widest points. I spent an eternity researching methods and designs (and waiting for the wood to dry) before I finally started cutting. A very generous fellow Lumberjock, Mark DeCou, gave me all kinds of advice and guidance, both in building my big-slab flattening router jig and in the overall approach to the table design. The butterflies are 1” thick black walnut. The mortises were freehand routed close to the layout lines and then chiseled to fit. I then used another pass or two of the router jig to bring the whole surface flush.
There are certainly Nakashima influences here. My original plan was to build a Minguran-style base, but it occurred to me that our wavy, old hardwood floors wouldn’t work well with a foot that wide. It would be almost impossible to level. So I raised the foot an inch and made it a stretcher. The stretcher is made in three parts, so that the individual tenon shoulders can capture the leg tightly. Each pair of stretcher segments’ tenons actually form a lap joint within the leg mortise, and are pinned from below the leg with a long oak dowel. So the dowel runs up from beneath the legs, through overlapping half-height tenons, back into the leg, locking them all together. Originally, I planned to be able to pull the pins back out to disassembled the table, but in the end I opted for stability over portability, and I glued them all together. Now it’s rock solid. The top is held onto the base with simple screw blocks set into notches in the legs, to allow for wood movement.
The finishing process was an adventure, as I had never done a natural finish other than a couple coats of shellac and some paste wax. In this case, I started with BLO to add some warmth. I did two coats of dewaxed shellac to lock in the oil, and then a few coats of home-brewed wiping varnish. After those coats were taking a long time to dry, the fine folks at LJ advised me that my brew had way too much oil. I let it cure for about a week, and then switched to 50/50 P&L 38 Gloss Varnish and Mineral Spirits. Three wiped-on coats of that left the surface pretty. But I had also planned to use automotive polish to really bring up the shine. Instead, I tried a set of sanding/polishing discs for my orbital sander. They start at 1200 grit, and go through 8 grits ending with 12000. At first, I thought I had killed the nice shine from the gloss varnish, but by 4000 grit, the gloss was coming back, and by 12000 it’s almost mirror-like.
The pictures above were taken with only daylight, and therefore the finish looks a bit cooler. Here’s a shot of the table surface under incandescent lights.
At the end of the day, this table was in progress for over a year and a half, once the wood was dry. Knowing what I know now, I could probably complete another one in three weeks! But hey, at least I’m learning!
Comments, questions and advice always welcome…
-- Pete in Wilmette, IL