I got the chance recently to work in a very special woodworking shop before moving from Brooklyn. I was allowed to build a personal project during a 3 month apprenticeship.
Before I continue I would like to give a very special thanks to Nathan Shellkopf, the owner of SouthSlope Woodworks. I credit him with singlehandedly changing the way I perceive the art of wood. Without his generosity this project would not have been possible. The commissions that passed through his shop in the short time I was there, were simply inspiring and his work speaks for itself.
A few months ago, I was asked if I could produce a coffee table for my brother's new apartment and accepted the challenge happily. I had an appetite for walnut that has proven unquenchable; I thought what better way to pay respect to the material then to pay homage to George Nakashima and build a piece in his timeless style.
My inspiration was a table I found featured in the online inventory of Moderne Gallery located in Philadelphia:
I found the beauty of this piece to be in its understated lines, simple construction and concentration on the qualities of the material.
Nate, outdid himself and sourced an exquisite slab to form the top.
The slab measured roughly 25" x 55" x 2.25" and the first step was to dress the faces mostly flat. I say mostly because I did not find it necessary to get it that precise.
We took the fence off the 16" jointer and got the bottom flat enough to move on to the planer. The planer surfaced the slab beautifully and with ease, with a capacity of 25.5" in width and powered by a 10hp motor this was not surprising.
As with any live edge material, there is always some finessing of the edges to remove loose material where bark appears. This was accomplished using a brass brush and a drawknife.
I must stress that my goal was to manipulate the slab as little as possible.
Once the slab was dressed I used a track saw to square the edges to the centerline of the slab:
When dealing with material of this size and with no straight edge to reference, a track saw is the right tool. Of course a regular circular saw and sawboard will also accomplish the task aptly.