A Few More Roots


It was mid-December.

I found myself standing in front of two gorgeous live-edged wood slabs that were potential candidates for a standing desk I’d been planning for the studio. The first slab was a fairly even rectangle cut from a catalpa tree - it was exactly the dimensions I’d been imagining and the EXACT price I’d set as my budget. But next to it was an organically round slice of black walnut. It wasn’t what I’d planned at all. Twice my budget, dark in color…but pure magic. I agonized over which to choose for more than an hour.

I’ve had this idea of making a live-edged work table for a few years now. It started when I found myself reading about a Japanese philosophy that says objects made from wood carry with them the spirits of the trees they came from (and I’m sorry I can’t reference this idea with a specific word or phrase - though I’ve searched, I CANNOT seem to find where I read this or what it is called!). It just seemed so beautiful to me - to have the spirit of a mighty tree watching over me and the things I make.

So I was walking around with this idea, just carrying it in my heart, and one day my Dad mentioned a company that salvages the trees cut down in our city and mills them into slabs that woodworkers can then transform into functional works of art. You can only imagine the jumping up and down that happened when I discovered they had a WHOLE WAREHOUSE full of live-edged wood - wood cut from trees whose roots and souls were tied to the same earth that I have rooted myself to my whole life.

And that’s how I ended up deciding between the catalpa and the walnut. But it really wasn’t a decision in the end - because the minute I ran my hand over the surface of the walnut, it called out to me and I was a goner.

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A couple of weeks ago, after hemming and hawing over how to honor this glorious old tree, work began on the table of my dreams. Our first step was to cut a bowtie - mostly for decoration (and because I’ve always wanted to do a little wood inlay!!) but also to help stabilize a crack that ran out to the edge of the slab. A template was made, the bowtie cut, and my dad did the scary job - using a router to rough cut the hole for the bowtie (I’m a coward when it comes to power tools). I then did the fun bit - using a chisel to open the hole to the exact shape of our maple bowtie.

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Then came a leap into the unknown for me - filling the cracks with epoxy to solidify the slab. The back was taped (thouroughly - with both painter’s talpe and clear packing tape!) and I slowly filled the cracks with layer after layer of epoxy. In the last layer, just before the cracks were completely filled, I added crushed Sleeping Beauty turquoise - because, lets face it, a person can never have too much of that sky-blue treasure in their life.

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After the epoxy had cured, we sanded. And sanded and sanded. Slowly, the beautiful walnut reappeared from beneath the epoxy and the turquoise-filled cracks revealed themselves. But my inexperience with the epoxy also became evident. After all of the cracks were filled, I had spread a thin layer of epoxy over the whole surface of the wood to seal the pores and help the slab turn out an even color. But this should have been my first step, before even beginning to fill the cracks.

Around the edges of my slab, I had areas where I think I used epoxy that was already starting to cure (you have 20 minutes of working time after the initial mixing - and I DEFINITELY worked longer than that with the first couple of batches- whoops!). The curing epoxy didn’t sink into the wood and instead acted as a resist…so our sanding revealed lots of lighter colored splotches. Big sigh.

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So began a process of sanding, adding a layer of epoxy to fill pores in the light areas, letting the epoxy cure, and sanding again to check that the splotches were gone. I worried, I fretted, I lost sleep - but in the end it all came together. Adding the final finish and a trio of hairpin legs felt like such a huge accomplishment.

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And now it’s all done - this beautiful new table. It’s the perfect height for working on my feet and I smile every time I see it. I wonder if I ever walked by this tree while it was still growing. I wonder if it remembers me. 

Either way, I’m glad our paths have crossed. I will treasure this piece all of my days.

Hayley JosephsComment