Oak Woodland Table

At an Oakland lumber yard several years ago, Evelyn and I ran across a pair of California native valley oak boards that offered vivid evidence that wood is, after all, biodegradable.  They showed the dramatic effect of fungal decay, not a usual sight in a commercial yard.   The hardwood dealer had seen potential in these boards;  my creative partner did too and insisted on taking the boards with us.  You can see in the picture below that the decay makes a book match, because the boards were adjacent in the original log.  There was, however, extensive crumbly material right in the areas with the most visual interest.

The boards lay on the shelf for a number of years until last winter, when something led me to pull them out again.  The dramatic figure could make either a wall hanging or a table top, but the idea of trying to make a functional table out of something crumbly turned out to be irresistible.  So we made a coffee table top about 32 by 48 inches, with the book match in the middle.  We stabilized everything with epoxy sealer, and we were able to find a clear slow-curing epoxy product to fill the numerous large voids and further stabilize the whole.  Filling the labyrinthine voids turned out to be an adventure, requiring numerous repeat applications of epoxy.  In the end we used over a half gallon.

The finished table is shown in the second picture.  The complex surface includes highly polished transparent “pools” you can see right into, which are bordered by satiny bits of wood surface.  The two reflect light quite differently.  It’s a surface for someone who enjoys looking at and through things.

There is a gap in the table, right where the center joint would be if the boards had been glued normally.  They couldn’t be, of course, because there was almost no sound wood to make a joint.  So we decided to bolt the two halves of the top together with long threaded rods, with an emphatic reveal in the middle.  Besides accentuating the bilateral symmetry, the gap gives the viewer an interesting side view of the epoxy-filled voids.  Finally, we designed a sort of skewed trestle base, with wide coopered ends, to provide a geometric counterpoint to the complexity of the top.  The table was on display at Jessel Gallery in Napa during Open Studios Napa Valley 2018 and can currently be seen at Highlight Gallery in Mendocino.

The Live Oak Tree Revisited

I wrote about this live oak tree in 2014.  I found out from a local engineer working on a project near Napa that this very striking tree was coming out to make way for a new vineyard, and he thought I might be able to use the wood.  The base of the tree seemed like one great mass of oak burls to him.  He thought it just looked interesting.

At the time, I was just getting interested in making furniture out of locally salvaged wood like this, not only to reduce my impact on the physical environment but also because of what such unique material offers.  I keep finding that an arresting tree or board tells me what I should make out of it.  So I went and looked at the tree with him.  Here’s a picture.

The tree lived up to its billing, and I fell for it.  we got the tree contractor to bring us the burly base in chunks, milled it into slabs, and air-dried it for four years.  Now it’s ready to turn into furniture, and I’ve flattened and finished a sample slab.  It is on display this weekend at our workshop/studio, as we participate once again in Open Studios Napa Valley.   This snapshot gives some idea of the dramatic figure hidden in this old tree.  If you’re local, stop by 340 Foothill in Napa, either Saturday or Sunday, between 10 and 5.  You can get the full Open Studios catalog at the link below.


Good Karma Cabinet

Telling the story of the Good Karma Cabinet, which sold earlier this year:

This mahogany cabinet combines antique curved glass with a thoroughly contemporary design:  all four sides of the cabinet have an irregular natural edge, with the frames for the curved glass nestled within this enclosure.  The geometric regularity of the front elements is fitted to the natural edges in much the same way that a house is fitted to the shape of the landscape.

The curved glass was salvaged from a display cabinet that had been abandoned outdoors.  The second photo shows the remains of the original cabinet, with its symmetrical placement of the two curved windows.  This is a familiar design popular about a hundred years ago, at the height of the Arts & Crafts movement.  The old cabinet had a glass door panel and a back mirror, as well, both of which found their way into the new piece.


The new piece aims for a lighter and dynamic touch, combining a bold modern line with the natural edges, while the wavy imperfections of the old glass provide a series of gentle surprises.

Several design constraints arose from the basic concept of accommodating the old glass pieces in this particular cabinet, and the resulting solutions add a measure of charm to the piece.  For example, finding a way to support the right-front shelf corner led to an interesting threaded-rod solution, just visible in the picture.

So the old glass was reborn in our new cabinet, perhaps by virtue of good karma accrued during its long previous life.