interlude: my walnut slab coffee table. In 2008 I became enamoured of live-edge tables a la George Nakashima and decided I could (try to) make one of these. I called around the Bay Area and found a place that stocks slabs, mostly Claro Walnut, kiln dried and ready for a project. Here are some photos of what I found there, gorgeous slabs of all shapes and ‘figure’ level (grain/pattern).
Not having a shop or any real tools, I selected a slab that needed only some good sanding and finishing. This was all going to take place in the basement of my building! I chose this slab below – resting on the old table in front of the couch to see how it would look.
I liked that this slab had an asymmetrical shape, some ‘burl’, good color tone, nice irregular edges – with bark still on – and the size worked for the room. Walnut has a unique smell, and over the course of weeks sanding it down I got to know it well… I did a lot of research and found the people on the Sawmill Creek forum to be really helpful – lots to read there! [My biggest mistake was starting with a low-grit sandpaper, which etched the surface and probably tripled the time it took me to achieve a really smooth surface..ugh..] For finishing I chose to go with Watco Danish Oil rather than a lacquer/polyurethane finish. I found that oil brought out better color, it could always be redone in the future, and after talking to some woodworkers I was convinced that this was a more ‘true’ treatment for wood. Poly would essentially encase it, not enhance it.
This is before and after the oil. I applied 3 coats. In the beginning I was paranoid about watermarks, spills, but now I’ve come to accept that these marks will add character and tell a story. I had a local metalsmith make the ‘legs’ out of 2″ wide 1/4″ thick steel, shaped into rounded rectangles, which I screwed into the slab bottom. So far, it’s held up well! Some completed photos below -