About a month after I moved back to WNC from a semester in Gastonia NC (Winter 2009), I began working at a small restaurant called the Mad Batter in Cullowhee. I quickly became friends with a co-worker of mine named James, who lives on Cope Creek Road in Sylva. James alerted me to some cherry logs that had been on the side of the road for some time so we decided to meet up at and take a look to see if the logs were worthy of boards. As I cut a four foot section from the log James stood by waiting to help load the piece in my truck (He did most of the lifting by the way).
His daughter was in his Jeep looking on from the open window while we cut the wood, but she was getting bored and the next minute we looked and she had climbed out of the Jeep window and come up the hill to our location. She was five at the time and this surprised us and scared us a little since I was operating a chain saw. James made sure she stood back as I finished the cut, and we loaded the log into my truck.
After the log sat in my driveway for a few months, I decided to cut it into five boards with my chainsaw. I stood the log on end (its diameter was around 15 inches) and cut down toward the ground until about there was a section of the log 8 inches long or so that wasn't cut. I laid the log on its side to finish so that I wouldn't cut into concrete. This took about an hour an a half, not the quickest way to get lumber, but if I had to by the equivalent number of boards of these dimensions, I would have spent around 500 bucks.
The boards were each around 2 inches thick, so I let them dry for around 3 years before I used them. It took around three full days to complete the coffee table above. I took my inspiration from George Nakashima, a world famous craftsmen known primarily for his use of large slabs of wood for table tops. Most of his tables incorporate the natural edge of the board and a simplified geometric base or legs. All of the joints are half lap joints, which are pretty easy to make, compared to something like a mortise and tenon joint. I finished the piece with three coats of wipe on polyurethane and I plan to apply wax to the top for additional protection and a nice sheen. This table will reside in our living room.
Nakashima passed away in 1990 when I was in kindergarten. It was around that time that I began to watch the shows on carpentry that would come on PBS every Saturday. In my youth my initial interest in woodworking was kindled by watching Norm Abram and Roy Underhill build furniture. In the last few years I've tried to incorporate design elements from various sources such as the Shakers, Thomas Moser and now George Nakashima. Incorporating new design ideas and strategies is risky at first and scary at times, given that it is difficult to reassemble wood once it is cut. The old adage "measure twice, cut once" should be amended to read "design, revise, revise, revise, only then measure twice and cut once." For more information on the life and work of George Nakashima, visit: http://www.nakashimawoodworker.com/
J0hn Hunter Speier
Recent work, and explorations of techniques, aesthetics and poetics.