The Completed Tables
The Walnut was milled in Cumberland, Maryland sometime about 50 years ago according to the customer. The customer also informed me that the wood was steamed. The customer went on to tell me that the process of steaming the Walnut involved burying the Walnut in it own shavings in an effort to darken the sapwood. I had never heard of such a thing and decided to investigate. What I found was that steaming Walnut is primarily done on a commercial level in an effort to maximize yields of clear Walnut lumber. The clearest wood (free of knots and defects) is on the outside of the log. This is also where the sapwood of the Walnut is which is a pale creamy color. By steaming the wood in a closed environment, the sapwood takes on the color of the heartwood and gives the board a uniform color. For a more detailed explanation of this process, follow this link:
what I find amazing about this is that, like many other aspects of woodworking, There is controversy concerning this practice. Some woodworkers feels that this makes the wood to uniform in color and robs it of some of the delicate colors that can be found in Walnut. While I can see their point, I found this wood to have a very pleasing color and its workability was great. Besides, as you will see by reading below, this wood had a lot going for it anyway!
Now that that is out of the way, back to the story. When the customers proposed the idea of these tables to me, the first thing that I thought of were two boards that I had milled when working on the hall tree. These boards had amazing figure and curl and also had evidence of bore holes left by the ambrosia beetle and the corresponding ghostly rings that surrounded them. In essence, these boards were very beautiful. I made some calls and found a sawyer willing to resaw them so that they could be bookmatched. This resawing would double the surface area of the boards giving adequate space to make a two board top. The only problem was that by resawing them I reduced the boards thickness to about 1/4 of an inch. To thicken these boards I decided to glue them like veneer to a stable substrate, in this case MDF (medium density fiberboard). To conceal the MDF, an edge banding would surround the edge of the top made from Walnut. The apron for the table would be pretty straight forward but have an applied bead around the bottom. ( a favorite element of mine, because it gives a feeling of termination to the bottom edge of the apron.)
The legs would have a simple taper on the two inside faces and suspended near the bottom would be a shelf to store books and such. After all of the design elements were approved by the customer, I drew the tables in SketchUp to give the customers a plan to okay and for me to work out all of the details (or most of them). Below are the resulting drawings of the tables to be made. You can click on the individual photos to enlarge them.
The method I eventually decided on I had seen on a Victorian table I restored a few months ago. Wooden paddles were made that tapered down to a round tenon that would fit into a corresponding hole drilled into the inside corner of each leg. The flat part of the paddle would lie beneath the shelf and be attached with a screw. The corners of the shelf would be notched out to receive the legs and the notches would be cut at an angle to match the leg taper. Sounds simple enough, right?
Below are the boards used for the paddles. Four paddles to each board. I decided to make these using the band saw and the router rather than the lathe, but either method would have worked.