A cross grain situation can be disastrous. Gluing two boards of perpendicular grain orientation together will almost certainly lead to the piece of furniture tearing itself apart. Wood moves after all. Even though the tree died long ago, the board behaves and reacts to changes in humidity. If two boards don't move in concert and harmony, one will most likely crack or the joint fail.
Paradoxically, this cross-grain situation is required by the bread-board end on this coffee table. A bread-board end is a mortised board that receives the tenon on the end of the table top. The perpendicular boards can only be secured with a small amount of glue and importantly, wood dowels, which have to be able to move with the changes in the wood. In essence the dowels keep the maple end pieces from sliding off the walnut, but allow the walnut to expand and contract width-wise. Even though the grain situation is one of opposition, the bread-board allows one to wrap a table top with a contrasting wood.
For this table, I chose contrasting walnut and curly maple. At first the color difference is most stark. Fresh-cut walnut is darkest and it mellows to a honey brown with time. Similarly, maple is lightest when cut, then deepens to a warm gold. The curly maple's holographic shimmer is caused by wood fibers that undulate through the board like waves. This can be seen in the walnut in places too. Unique to one walnut board in this table, is quilted figure, which can be thought of as two sets of waves through the walnut, traveling perpendicular to each other. Quilting in walnut is especially rare and this is the first time I've incorporated it into a project.
The structure of wood dictates how it's best worked and if you ignore it, you invite struggle. To plane a board by hand the "wrong way" leads to unsupported wood fibers being ripped from the surface, leaving rough pits. The board teaches you a profound and painful lesson when you resist it's nature. Wood's strength is also its weakness. The properties that allow a house to be built of boards also let you split logs with a wedge. Once you understand the structure of the grain, and you read it correctly, you can exploit this essence and plane or chisel with ease. Anticipating wood's qualities can make carpentry a joy.
Most furniture construction culminates with the finish. Wood is strong and durable naturally, but not nearly as water resistant as I'd like. Polyurethane, oils and other finishes provide a barrier between the wood and everyday use that would damage it. A finish also brings a depth to the wood that doesn't naturally occur. Another paradox is that something of the wood is revealed, only when it's covered.
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J0hn Hunter Speier
Recent work, and explorations of techniques, aesthetics and poetics.