On a recent trip thru the Pocono Mountains I decided to stop at lewis lumber in Picture Rocks, PA. Turns out they had just received a delivery that included a wonderful selection of rough cut American Walnut slabs. I decided the time had come to try my hand at a bench or table in the style of George Nakashima.
I look care selecting the slab from about 20 beautiful pieces. I selected a 6 feet 4" long slab and tied it to roof of the jeep. In the studio I spent some time sketching my design based on the feel and look of the slab I selected. I decided to have it stand at 18".
I wanted to try to produce 4 compound angle tenon legs out of Hickory. Before drilling holes into this beautiful piece of wood I recalled a joinery method used by Paul McCobb in the
1950's to secure a similar bench leg. Employing this method I made 4 mounting bases for my tenon legs. This allowed me to adjust the angle and placement of the legs prior to fastening and reduced the possibility of a misplaced hole or bad angle.
I marked the depth on each leg, cut the shoulder on the band saw and used a chisel to trim them round to the depth of my cut. In preparing the slab, I stripped the bark with steel wool and sanded the surface with 3 courses of paper 80, 120, 220. then mounted the legs and made some small length adjustments until it stood firm and level.
One quintessential detail and ultimate challenge for me was to include a hand carved butterfly inlay over a split at one end of the plank. I considered purchasing a router jig to do this but decided at the last minute that the look achieved using a router was to mechanical, also I don't care for the template shapes provided in the kits, moreover I want this bench to show off my abilities not my router's.
The trick to making a clean and flush butterfly inlays is to first design and shape your hardwood inlay piece, I made a couple of sketches and produced one out of
soft wood just to get a feel for the size and look of my pattern.
I chose Ebony to make my butterfly because its very hard and will provide elegant contrast against the deep brown Walnut. I cut it out of a piece of Ebony stock on my band saw. position your stock so the butterfly's grain will intersect the repair. I'm careful to cut slightly outside the lines so can use a file to chase it up and create perfectly straight clean edges. I used a metal file to angle the sides inward slightly so that the footprint of the piece will be slightly smaller
than the top. Position the piece and trace its outline with a marking blade or scribe. Obviously this is a critical step - it cant move and the angle of your marking blade must be maintained all the way around the perimeter.
Cut out with a flat sharp chisel making sure to produce a flat bottom and straight vertical walls that are the same depth as your inlay material.
Apply some glue to the center of your piece and carefully
hammer it in using a board to protect the surface of your wood, clamp it and
let it dry for 12 hrs.
The next day I sand it flush and its done.
I used a 50/50 mix of Boiled Linseed oil and applied this liberally with a rag fully saturating the surface for 24 hrs. then applied liberal coats once a day for a week. The color of the wood became dark and even and the grain filled in beautifully. To produce a super smooth finish I wet sanded the surface with my last coat of oil and 400 grit sand paper. I finished the whole bench with oil based poly urethane and gave it a couple more passes with 400g and fin.