|The Completed Altar|
There is a story told of a woodcarver commissioned to carve a large carving for a church in Europe. the carving was vast and reached up to the highest parts of the church. One day, a priest saw the carver near the top working intensely on a part of the carving that was completely obscured from view when seen from the floor. The priest was curious and decided to scale the scaffolding to see what this carver was doing. When the priest finally reached the top, he could see that the carver was carving exquisite detail into the face of an angel, that no one would ever be able to see. The priest asked the carver why he was spending so much time and effort on this detail that would remain unseen once the scaffolding was removed. The carver's reply to the question was " Because God knows it is there."
While I am by no means known for my exquisite carving of angels, This story has been rattling around in my head for the past few weeks. The reason for this is that I was asked to build an altar for The Holy Trinity Orthodox Church of Reston, Virginia (http://www.holytrinityvirginia.org/). The church furnished photos of the altar they had in mind as well as the dimensions that were needed so that they could use the vestments from their old altar. I was told that once the altar was delivered it would be consecrated and then covered by these vestments. Once the vestments were on they would cover the altar completely and rarely by taken off. With this in mind, the question in my mind was how much time I should and effort should I go through to make this altar a beautiful thing to behold? Using sound joinery techniques and solid, strong timber were a must for the structural integrity and function of the piece, but beyond that, how beautiful should it be if it will be forever covered?
The decision was really not mine to make at first, and I offered several wood choices to the church, of which walnut was decided on as the wood to be used. Walnut is a naturally beautiful wood and because of this choice, I new that I would be making something fine. But in addition to this in the back of my head, I kept telling myself the story of the wood carver. Of course this should be a thing of beauty. God will most certainly know it is there!
With this in mind I furnished drawings based on the photos the church had presented to me. The altar was completely rectilinear in form, and followed traditional orthodox designs that go back hundreds of years. Below are the initial drawings of the altar rendered in Sketchup.
Once the wood was selected, it was milled to the overall dimensions necessary. Below is a photo of the milled walnut used for the altar.
The basic idea is to turn the lid and base for the cylindrical box from one piece of wood. By using a narrow parting tool, the grain seems to flow from the base to the top. This effect is seen from the side of the box and in this instance would be totally unseen because the box would be inlayed into the top of the altar so that the top of the box was flush with the top of the altar. even though the continuous grain effect was lost to the beholder, I still liked the idea of a turned vessel for this application and decided to go with my idea. Here is how I did it:
I started with a discarded cut off from one of the legs, which I cut into a two and a half inch cube. I then mounted the cube between centers on the lathe and turned it to a cylinder. The diameter of this cylinder was dictated by the hole saw I would later use to cut a hole in the center of the top. To test the diameter for a good fit, I cut a hole in a scrap piece of wood and used it to fit the cylinder. Below is a photo of the square blank and then the turned cylinder.
Thanks goes to Rick Herbine of Herbine hardwoods (http://www.herbinehardwood.com/) for the beautiful timber with the exception of the legs, which came from my friend Brad Chandler.