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Studio D Conference Table, Part 1

May 4, 2015

(The first post on this topic will be light on pictures, unfortunately. But it is necessary to set up the scene. After that, I’ll have more images for those of you who prefer the visual story.)

I have a tenuous relationship with social media. I try not to approach any of it lightly, knowing that anything you say or post can and will be used against you in a court of social contempt at a later date. I have to counter that, however, with the realization that I need to participate in at least the more common forms of it if I am to market/promote the things I say.

So even though I struggle greatly with the concept of saying things in 140 characters or less, I decided to set up a Twitter account sometime last year. (Conversely, I really love using Instagram; the #IGWoodworkingCommunity there is outstanding.) The real delay in setting it up was in coming up with a name, honestly. These things are important and “thekiltedwoodworker” was apparently too long. But I finally decided on something and… well, I don’t use it very often, but I at least have a presence there now.

A little one, anyway. I use Twitter so infrequently that the app on my phone is constantly trying to draw me into using it with updates about trending topics or what friends of mine are commenting on. It doesn’t work, though; I find the platform to be cumbersome and, like I said, I struggle with presenting a complete idea in 140 characters or less.

But occasionally I get a notification that catches my eye. Back in February, I received this one:

@builtinakilt Looking for a craftsman to build a conference room table. Pls msg me with your contact information
– @StudioDMarCom

This 129 character tweet began my small journey into a whole other world of woodworking I’d not yet touched upon – creating a piece using live edge slabs.

The requirements for the project were fairly short, but not really simple. The client wanted a large conference table, about 9’ x 4’, 6/4 thick, with live edges. They wanted it to be walnut, if at all possible. They had a fixed budget for the entire project. And they wanted it in about one months’ time.

They contacted me because they wanted to give a local artisan a shot at making it before they looked for a more commercial option. They liked my blog and photography and the work I’d posted to-date.

After some long conversations with my wife, to make sure we were both aware of the time that might be involved, I let them know I was up for giving it my best shot, with some concessions. We extended the time frame and I agreed to do my best on the length, but that I would meet the other requirements with no problem.

The first step, and one of the hardest parts of the entire process, was to source the wood. Even though Missouri is rich in walnut trees, trying to locate a slab (or sequential slabs for a two-piece glue up) near me proved to be a challenge. I contacted my normal wood suppliers, but none of them had anything close to 9’ in length, or they didn’t have it in walnut. Apparently there are some companies in the St. Louis area who buy up most of the walnut lumber while it is still in trunk form, waiting to be milled. What slabs I did find were priced so high they would have taken up 80% of the entire budget of the project, which didn’t leave much room for any remaining supplies, much less a profit. Another problem is that most people tend to cut logs right at 8’ when they are milling them. When you start accounting for waste after squaring them up, you’re going to end up with a table that is barely 7’6” long. So I had to expand my search for materials of the right size at the right price.

After most of two weeks, I finally found someone who had two sequential 8’6” slabs, 8/4 rough, that would yield a 4’+ top after glue up. Joe’s prices were right. He seemed very knowledgeable in working with slabs. He even had a pretty solid website. The only problem was that he was outside of Evansville, Indiana, about three hours from Saint Louis! But with few other choices before me, we made plans for me to drive out there to see what he had and, should they look like they’d work, buy some slabs.

Some people might not care for it, but I love fog. I love the mystery and the secretive nature of it. Good thing, too, because I spent more than two hours of my drive there in it! Really, it was quite a pleasant drive.

I swear I was just taking a picture of the fog...

I swear I was just taking a picture of the fog…

I made it to Joe’s farm without any problems. I pulled into his turn-around, parked my car, and got out. We struck up a conversation just outside his barn and I noted during the 10 or so minutes we talked, his eyes kept darting back to my car. He didn’t look very smiley. Finally, I let him off the hook.

Me: You keep looking at my car. You’re wondering if I’m really going to get those two slabs of walnut in there or if I’m just wasting your time, aren’t you?
Joe: Ayup.
Me: Well… let’s go find out, shall we?
Joe: Sure!

We looked the slabs over. They had been cut three years earlier and were run through a kiln last summer, so they were stable and plenty dry. They were big enough (or, at least, the biggest walnut slabs I could find in a 500 mile radius). And they cost me a quarter of what I would have paid in Saint Louis. They would serve my purpose.

We went back outside. I opened the hatch of my Toyota Venza and showed him the cavernous inside that was quite sufficient for hauling the two slabs; I’d even laid most of a 4×8 sheet of luan plywood down to facilitate sliding them into place. He was impressed. When we finally got the two slabs in the car, he was even more impressed.

Walnut slabs and sycamore boards on the ride home.

Walnut slabs and sycamore boards on the ride home.

(Oh, he also had some quartersawn sycamore, which is one of F’s favourite trees, so I picked up two boards of that, as well. I’ll use it to make him some boxes for storing the rocks and treasures he collects.)

Three hours later, my new “biggest challenge” of the build would become evident and remain the biggest challenge for the six weeks that followed – manipulating two 8’6” long 8/4 slabs by myself that probably weighed 180+ lbs each. It occasionally took some creative thinking, but I persevered.

The two slabs adjusting to their new temporary home...

The two slabs adjusting to their new temporary home…

The next part will cover the initial preparation of the slab…

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