I was recently commissioned to design and build a conference table for Bridging the Gap, a local organization that ‘works to make the Kansas City region sustainable by connecting environment, economy and community.’ Given the ethos of Bridging the Gap I knew that the materials for the conference table had to be reclaimed, recycled and/or recyclable. We decided that the table top would be glass so the focal point of the table became the pedestals. My initial thoughts turned to heart pine given the building Bridging the Gap currently occupies and heart pine’s prolific use in old historic buildings. Of course, I turned to my favorite reclaimed wood supplier, Elmwood Reclaimed Timber, for my lumber. The FSC-certified heart pine used to create the pedestals was reclaimed from the Curtiss-Wright Airplane Factory, located in Garfield, NJ, built in 1929. The Curtiss-Wright Corporation was the result of the merger of several companies originally founded by Glenn Curtiss and Orville and Wilbur Wright, all pioneers of the aviation industry. (Dramatic pause as you consider the history of this wood!)
My design process starts with sketches. I then create quarter-scale models of the most promising sketches to get a feel for how the piece will look in 3D and to help refine the scale.
Once we chose a design, my first step in the creation of the pedestals was to peek beneath the patina of age and see what the grain looked like. This allowed me to choose the best way to place the planks next to each other and have the grain harmoniously blend from one board to the next in the glued-up panels.
Another design consideration was how to preserve the splits and other beauty marks that tell the story of this lumber. Once they were cut into the lengths I needed, the splits compromised the structural stability of some of the boards. I could have cut the splits out and re-joined the boards but I really wanted to preserve them. To stabilize the wood I ‘stitched’ the boards where the splits were by creating long, narrow wedges of heart pine and gluing them into the splits. They were then cut flush and sanded. The stitches are now a decorative element as well as providing the needed structural stability. Additionally, I spent quite a bit of time dressing up the splits, enhancing them and rounding over their sharp edges. I really wanted them to be a prominent feature of the pedestals.
The panels were then miter cut at the 30o angle needed to create their final shape. Finally, the mitered pieces were glued together to create the pedestals. One of the features I like about this design is how the grain wraps around the pedestals, from one face of the ‘V’ to the other. After their final sanding the pedestals received 4 applications of my special home-brew coating. The final step in the finishing process was the application of 2 coats of wax and hand-rubbing the pieces to a soft, glowing luster.
When I did the final installation I used tape to recreated the layout lines of my original quarter-scale table top on the floor of the conference room. This allowed me to place the pedestals and top exactly where I wanted them. (I’m just a bit of a micro-manager with hints of OCD… 🙂 ) Then the glass was delivered and set without a hitch. (Well except for the fact that it weighed about 270 pounds and the delivery guys were in jeopardy of loosing their spleens from carrying so much weight!)
I’m really pleased with how this project turned out. I love the history of the wood and the story of its travels from the airplane factory in New Jersey to the old Wells Fargo stagecoach building in Kansas City where the pedestals were built to its new home in the historic Hobbs Building. Quite an interesting journey!