New Beginnings

Well, there’s no hiding from the fact: 2012 is already here! The end of the world, if you’re into Mesoamerican calendars, the beginning of new and wonderful things, if you’re a “glass half-full” kind of person. For me, it’s the beginning of a project I have been cooking up for years.

As a woodworker, one of the people that have most influenced my way of thinking about and working with wood is George Nakashima. Nakashima was born in the Pacific Northwest, to Japanese immigrant parents. After studying architecture, he spent a number of years travelling in Europe and Asia, most importantly India and Japan. Upon his return to America, he settled in New Hope, PA, where he built his woodworking studio and raised a family. There, at the Conoid Studio, Nakashima created a unique woodworking style that became iconic.

One of the designs that Nakashima used to make (and his family continues to do so) is the Conoid dining table (one such example is pictured on the right, taken from Live Auctioneers, but there are many more in the wild, some of which you can see here). From the first time I saw one of these tables, 6 or 7 years ago, I knew I wanted to build one, so I have been carefully searching for the right opportunity. The opportunity finally arrived a few weeks ago, when all the necessary ingredients were in place.

First, I needed a large enough dining room for a 10-person dining table. No problem. We have just moved into a new house with ample space. Secondly, I needed walnut. Walnut wood, that is, and not just any old walnut, I needed two slices from a trunk that is at least 50cm in diameter, with the live edge (that is, the outer edge of the tree) intact. Oh and the slices would have to be consecutive, so I can open them up like a book to form the top. Is that it? Not quite; it also had to be thick enough (5+cm) and long enough for this table (~250cm). Well, those pieces (and then some!) were also found, courtesy of Robert Uenk at Dikhout in Groningen, by far the most exciting lumber purveyor in the area. Incidentally, Robert is an exceptional cabinetmaker. Check out his work here.

And so it begins. I am now the proud owner (with a somewhat lighter wallet) of three French walnut boards. Yes, three. Two for the top, one for the base (see below). Now for the small part of putting it all together. The work has already begun and I intend to document the entire process here, so stay tuned.