Walnut Crotch – the “heirloom” table top
Every once in a while a piece of lumber comes your way that is just incredibly beautiful. And thanks to my friend, Charlie, I’ll be using one of those “once-in-a-lifetime” examples of Mother Nature’s art for the top to the Cabriole tea table. But, before I get into where this beauty came from and how I’m finishing it, just take a look.
First, where’d it come from. Well, Charlie is in the construction business and from time to time he finds out about “orphaned” logs that need a good home. With the help of some significant heavy equipment, Charlie carted a sizeable crotch log to another mutual friend who has a commercial sawmill. The log was cut up into 12/4 flitches and stacked for air drying. That was several years ago. Now the rewards are being reaped. Les and I cut up one of the flitches into rough dimensioned stock and then set it aside to “rest” in the shop for a couple of weeks. This allowed it to acclimate and give up several percentage points on the moisture scale. It was only then that we realized just how incredible some of the figure was.
The decision as to how to finish the project didn’t take much time to make. It was really pretty simple. Some type of oil finish would make the figure “pop” like crazy, no matter what type of top coat would be used. I’m a great big fan of tung oil varnishes. And I’m not shy about admitting that I’m a real devotee of Waterlox. I’ve never had anything but an excellent result when using that product. I decided not to fill the surface with any grainfiller. Instead I used the slurry finish technique that Les and other period furniture makers are very fond of. It’s really very simple. Put on a substantial amount of oil varnish and “wet sand” the surface. Then remove the excess varnish, wiping with the grain. (A squeegee would probably work but I opted to get ride of a couple of old t-shirts.) This creates a slurry (dust suspended in the oil) that, ultimately, acts as a fill. I started with 220 grit for the first coat, 400 for the second used a 3M Grey pad (ooo) for the third. I’m using Waterlox Medium Sheen. It’s fairly “thin” and requires multiple coats, especially on crotch that displays a lot of end grain. In fact, that end grain pretty much acts like an “oil sponge”. I could use a more viscous varnish for the final coats, but the depth of the Waterlox finish is really stunning. I’ll probably wind up with between eight and ten coats (remember these are thin), when I’m done. But I’ll have a top that is not only striking, but well protected and easily repaired.
If you want to know more about oil varnish finishes, get hold of a copy of “Flexner on Finishing”. It’s full of expert advice and goes along way in tearing down a lot of the myths that have developed over the years about various products and techniques. It’s probably one of those books that every woodworker should have in his or her reference library.