|Project by Mark A. DeCou||posted 08-14-2006 09:07 PM||33807 views||36 times favorited||24 comments|
This Table was SOLD and went to Albuquerque, NM USA.
Want your Own Table??
During 2008 I acquired about 15 beautiful thick walnut slabs with burls and knots and a lot of “Nakashima” style character. If you would like to discuss the possibilities of using these treasures for your home, business, or office, please email me to discuss your project.
I also have sycamore, Osage Orange, Ash, Oak, and a few other Kansas woods in slab form.
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This was a fun project. Sometimes, a guy takes the time to build something he wants. This was one of those times. Of course, since I didn’t make any money while I was working on it, so it is now for sale.
I first heard of George Nakashima on PBS’s TV show, “The Antique Roadshow.” As I saw the episode for the first time I thought, “what in the world is happening, and who is this guy, that is so collectible that his work is only 20 years old and shows up for appraisal and it is worth a small fortune?”
I decided after that to start reading about this important American furniture designer and builder. After reading several of his magazine articles over the years, this Summer I decided to read George Nakashima’s book, and was so enthralled that I bought his daughter’s book also, which has many more photos and her insight into their combined work. Mira Nakashima is continuing her dad’s work, with much apparent success. I believe from what I read, that the shape of the base on my coffee table/bench was actually inspired by Mira Nakashima’s designs.
The top of this table/bench is a 2” thick slab of Kansas Sycamore, with two walnut butterfly dovetails to halt the natural drying crack. For those that have never been to Kansas, there is a lot of wind here, almost to the point that we don’t notice it anymore, almost.
The word “Kansas” reportedly means “people of the south wind,” which is a Native American name with several dozen different spellings, but this spelling was adopted by the State. Sycamore only grows naturally along the creeks and river banks in Kansas, and so I assume that it needs a lot of water.
Sycamore trees grow to be some of the largest trees in the Kansas Flinthills, maybe only being equaled by the Cottonwood Tree. The largest example of a Cottonwood I have ever seen sits out in the Prairie Pasture along a creek that I can see from my North-facing office window. Some of the Sycamores are as big as this Cottonwood Giant. One of these days I intend to brave the Chiggers and walk out to this Cottonwood Tree and measure it’s circumference.
Due to the Sycamore’s size, soft wood, and apparent need for steady water, it seems to only flourish naturally here along a water source, below a Flinthill, or in a grove of other stronger trees, which provide protection for the Sycamore’s soft boughs from the strong Southern winds.
Sycamore’s naturally white, smooth, bark is a beautiful sight in the creek across the road from my house, and in the winter time when all the green leaves are gone from the creek and only the dark branches of the forest remain, these majestic Sycamore beauties show up like Aspen’s on the side of a granite mountain.
After admiring these trees for several years, I decided to look into what the wood grain was like. Borrowing a couple pieces of Sycamore firewood from a customer’s house, I found the wood to be very plain in appearance, white-light gray, and stringy to work, and softer than walnut, my favorite Kansas wood to use.
The Sycamore wood was hard to carve due to the stringy grain structure. All of these factors thrown together demonstrate why so many of these majestic Forrest Giants end their useful life as cheap wood pallets on which to ship something important to another destination. I’m not against the harvesting of trees for human use, but I wanted to give at least a portion of one Sycamore tree a chance to “live-on” in a table that I expect will be around for quite some time, at least longer than a piece of firewood, or an old cheap shipping pallet.
My findings and experiments with this wood were at first a disappointment, until by accident, I ripped a piece of the firewood in half on the bandsaw, and discovered a most striking quartersawn grain appearance. The rest of the wood is very plain, but the quartersawn wood is similar in appearance to lacewood, only lighter in color. I then decided to use the light color of the wood to advantage by setting up an environment for my test boards to spalt with mold spores.
What I discovered, was that a piece of quartersawn sycamore that has been left to spalt, can produce a beautiful piece of wood. “Wonderful”, I thought, “I will surely find a spalted, quartersawn piece of Sycamore at some point, large enough to use it on a Nakashima-inspired table.”
I should also add, that using natural slab logs in Kansas is a chore and often an engineering challenge, because if a tree grows anywhere in the wind, it has twists, leans naturally to the North, and often has large cracks that run in the center wood of the tree, making it’s use a challenge, especially when a large natural edge top is needed. These open Prairie trees make great firewood, but using them as Nakashima-style table tops is a chore. But, since the Sycamores are large, and grow only in wind-protected areas, they are perfect to use if a woodworker wants to use a Kansas wood for a thick, natural edge slabbed table.
The second natural challenge for building this type of table with Kansas wood, is that we don’t have many old trees here, compared to other parts of the country. Awhile back I was reading a Kansas History book, written by the State Department of Education about 30 years after the territory became a State, and it said that for travelers of the Santa Fe Trail, the last point to find any wood, for any use along the trip would be a little settlement called Council Grove, about 15 miles for a bird, from where I live.
The reasons for the lack of trees was given to natural Prairie Fires, hunting fires started by Native Americans to assist in the hunting of wildlife, dry conditions in the areas past, and huge herds of grazing buffalo that used to travel these grassy hills looking for anything tasty to eat.
These days, cattle ranchers dislike trees as they believe they reduce the grazing land for their cattle, and so trees are poisoned, cut down, burned, and generally just scorned as “moisture suckers” by many people living on the Prairie today. They do disregard the natural aeration of the soil that trees provide, and that they also help hold down top soil on an overgrazed hillside in a wind, or rainstorm.
So, due to Prairie fires, strong winds, huge grazing herds of buffalo, and humans, trees have only been given a chance to grow in the last 130 years or less, making large trees hard to find from several different perspectives in this area.
Since this top board is 24” wide, and I only have a 12.5” wide surface planer, the challenge was getting it flat on both sides. I built a fixture where I use my router to flatten the top surface, and then I turned it over and flattened the bottom surface, followed by an orbital sander. In a few hours of dust, sweat and work, I had a consistently flat surface for the table, and I can brag that I did not send this top to a commercial cabinet shop that has a wide belt sander, as so many others that do natural edge tops have resorted to doing. The base on this piece has been built from 8/4 Kansas air-dried walnut.
If you’re a Nakashima fan, send me an email, I’d love to hear from you.
Thanks for looking,
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Want to See More of my Furniture Work?:
If you go to my Mark DeCou Website you will find that I have not updated my website in quite some time. I realize that I need to invest in improving my website, but until that is accomplished, here are some more Lumberjocks related lilnks with updated postings of my furniture work, sorted into categories. Thanks for your interest in my work, and your patience with my website.
- Arts & Crafts Entry Table; with Carved Oak Leaves
- Arts & Crafts Orchid Stand w/ Wine Bottle Storage
- Arts & Crafts Style Morris Inspired Chairs
- Arts & Crafts Display Top Coffee Table
- Arts & Crafts Style Inspired End Table Set
- Arts & Crafts Style Inspired Prairie Couch
- Table Lamps
- Arts & Crafts Carved Entertainment Center
- Mission Entertainment Center
- Carved Communion Table
- Carved Roll Top Sound Equipment Cabinet
- Fancy Church Side Altars
- Processional Cross
- Fancy Speaker's Lectern
- Church Hymn Number Board
- Communion Chalice (Cup) and Paten
- Sam Maloof Inspired Walnut Rocker
- Original Art Carved Tilt Front Desk, inspired by Birger Sandzen
- Natural Edge; Nakashima Inspired Coffee Table
- Decoratively Painted Box End Tables
- Birch China Cabinet for Cut Glass Collection
- Naughty (Knotty) Refined Rustic White Oak & Black Walnut China Hutch
- A Kansa Indian and Buffalo Accent Art-Chair
- Refined Rustic Dining Chairs
- Refined Rustic Dining Table
- Cowboy-Western Style Suitcase/Luggage Support Racks
- Fun With Cedar Logs #1; Sitting Stool
- Fun With Cedar Logs #2; Coat/Hat/Spur Rack
- Fun With Cedar Logs #3; Western Style Hat/Coat Rack
- Fun With Cedar Logs #4; Entryway Stool
- Kennebunkport Style Adirondack Chair
- Outdoor Garden Wedding Arbor
- Outdoor Project: Cedar Wood Double Settee
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Still Want to See more of my work?
Start with each of these links, and they will take you to other organized lists of my other niche products:
-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan - www.decoustudio.com