For Clara Funk, With Megan Woods
Flattening and Joining – Nov 2013
I pulled a fast one on Clara. I agreed to make her a coffee table in exchange for one of her watercolor paintings. Not only do I get a watercolor out of the deal, but I also get her massive slat of walnut out of my ever shrinking shop. So it was that I set to work in a coffee-infused binge. Clara has an aesthetic, and this was my attempt to work inside its confines. An unfortunate consequence of Clara’s channeling of Nakashima is that we spend a lot of time working with curved edges and cracked wood (check out her work here). To alleviate the natural splits in this chunk of walnut, Megan and I embedded ash insets into the table top – providing a visual feature and preventing the board from splitting further. Megan comes from a lineage of accomplished woodworkers heralding from all three west-coast states.
God, I am glad someone paid attention to geometry in high school. We are cutting angles on the insets to make them parallel with the natural curve of the wood. Megan is using spacers to ensure the distant between the insets is even (what a good idea). The ash was originally slated to the be the keel of our canoe project, but found it way out of the boat design and incorporated here.
Cleaning out the grooves that our geometric pattern will be inset into. I had a genius idea, to use my pin gun to attach the insets to the walnut, we then traced them with a pencil and knife, before pulling out the nails. Next we sawed as much of the grooves as we could, worked them over with a chisel, spilled coffee on them and then finally cleaned them up with a router plane. Megan and I spent three hours wielding sharp objects in close quarters to make this happen.
Fitting the ash into the walnut, clamping it together and hoping for the best. Shockingly, things got flatter with a little elbow grease and patience. I usually error towards the former, but maybe I should be aiming towards the latter.
Yup, I spent a lot of time trying to smooth the board. To the left, some beautiful multi-tone shavings from card scrapers. To the right, after 45 minutes with a power sander, the sawdust that collected on my Harry Belafonte record (thanks Brian). I need to figure out how to clean records. If that’s what the record look like, just imagine what my hair looked like. Also, I listened to the “sound of things failing” during the weekend, now I wouldn’t be able to sleep both because I have a project unfinished and the haunting but beautiful telling of crime and its impact in Bogota.
All wood speaks for it self, but damn, does this board ever speak with authority. After breaking one too many coping saw blades I bought a jig saw to add the curves on the top and bottom. I was going for sorta a tree shape.
Epoxy and Finishing – April 2014
We took a half-year hiatus on the project to figure the final touches. There was also an incident with a cat and epoxy which set us back further…and so it goes…
Messing around with epoxy and cracks but hopefully not cracking epoxy. We inserted some epoxy into the deeper cracks to add strength. We followed it up by adding several layers of dyed epoxy on top of the cracks. Yes, I spilled lettering ink, and yes I left footprints across my shop. I got helpful hints on epoxying from the incredible woodworker Chris of Flair Woodworking (check out his table named: relationship study). By way of recommendation, I suggest using the west system epoxy for tables and their brilliant pumps which ensure that the hardener and resin are mixed in at a consistent ratio – I tell these tales as one who walked down a different path
step one: Did some base-filling of deeper cracks (probably should have did more of this).
step two: globbed the stuff on. We ended up using a five-minute epoxy – I would recommend using a longer open time to allow the epoxy to self-level more. In some places I squeegeed the epoxy into the the cracks but largely we used gravity to fill the craves. It doesn’t take newtonian physics to harness its power
step three: scrap it flat and smooth. then repeat. We scraped between coats which brought down the overall level. I tried scraping when the epoxy was both semi- and full cured and didn’t notice much of a difference. When everything was fully cured and flattened – Clara passed back over the table with a sander.
step four: Admire your handy-work. enough said.
step five: get it out the door! Clara applied four or five coats of poly-urethane, hopefully giving the table a robust finish for spilled drinks and all. She hand-rubbed the first coat, and than applied three coats with a foam brush. She sanded softly between coats to smooth out any anomalies she hit along the way.