In one of my first blog posts I mentioned that I have had a number of hobbies over the years. Some of these have been more “successful” than others. For example, I think it’s pretty universally agreed that my two-play stint in Community Theater is probably one example of an interest that is best left as a distant memory. Woodworking on the other hand has been particularly gratifying!
I believe one reason woodworking has been so personally rewarding is because it comes relatively easy to me. When I look at a piece of furniture, it just makes sense to me how the original maker must have created it and I can visualize the steps required to recreate it myself. I’m also still healthy enough to do the physical labor involved and find it quite invigorating. A while back, I recognized that the reason anything comes easy to any of us is because we all have particular gifts, For me woodworking is a gift from God; a gift that I wanted to say thank you for.
The communion table was presented to my pastor as something that the church would have for generations to come, a truly heirloom item. So the stakes felt pretty high when I started the project. I began by gathering an understanding of the needs the table were required to fulfill, strictly from a utilitarian perspective. Communion is only taken once a month at our church so the table has to be mobile but once in place, locked into position. (We don’t want it rolling away from the people who are serving from it!). When stored, it has to fit into a particular place in the storage room. The surface area of the top has to accommodate four stacks of element trays and be at a good height for serving from. Finally, it has to be sturdy and with a durable finish to hold up to many different people using it over time. It has to last the generations that it was promised for so the construction must be sound.
The next consideration then was the design. I looked on-line for inspiration but found very few examples of exemplary design aesthetics. I found several that were very contemporary and artistic but I thought these all had a trendy appeal that would not last for generations. The rest were overtly formal. They seemed to be focused more on functionality with a bit of design embellishment thrown in as an afterthought. I wanted this table to be a careful blending of these two divergent styles and set about doing sketches to find that design.
From the beginning, I had two specific design elements in mind. The first was the top. I wanted to find a highly figured and naturally beautiful piece of wood that could stand as a fitting frame for the element trays. The other was the front which I wanted to be an inlay of some sort. The front is the view primarily seen from the congregation’s perspective and it needed to be appealing enough to draw the viewer in without being gaudy or overly distracting. My initial design called for a dove with an olive branch made from various woods and mother of pearl. But the church preferred a simple cross which I believe in the end was the correct decision. The dove was more of a personal opportunity to “show off” but would have looked contrived and… frankly ugly.
Wood selection took quite some time. I originally purchased a large piece of Claro walnut for the top panel. It was beautiful but just “felt” visually heavy to me. I also tried leopard wood and Birdseye maple but these were both too busy and would overwhelm the piece. I finally discovered a perfect slab of curly maple at my local saw mill. It was wide enough that I could use just one piece and had enough figure to be beautiful and elegant… not busy.
The construction was my next great concern. I needed to use techniques that would allow movement of the wood (especially that large top panel) but satisfy the design that I had created. There were countless decisions to be made. For example, all common thought tells you not to create an apron with 45 degree miters around a panel of wood as the wood movement will break those mitered corners. But that is exactly what I did on the top. But I did so with careful consideration to how to fasten those joints and to direct any movement in the particular direction that would not cause damage. I check each season now praying that my decisions were correct. So far so good!
Thanks goes to a good friend who owns a CNC mill and did the lettering for me! It is finished with shellac followed with four coats of spray on poly. The top is hand rubbed with European furniture wax as I believe this will be the easiest to maintain and refinish when it inevitably gets scratched.
In the end I am quite pleased with this table. To me, the overall size and shape, the design elements, and the use of positive and negative space and light and dark woods all work together to create a compelling piece that causes the viewer to be drawn in. Everyone I’ve seen view this table in person do so similarly; They stand back and take it in, step forward to run their hands over the beautiful maple top, then bend down to take in the individual design details in front, and finally step back to take it all in again. This is the way I was trained to view art in a museum and I am very pleased to see others viewing this table in that same way.
James 1:17New International Version (NIV)
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights..”