Our house was built on land that was once an apple orchard, and I’ve found that using apple wood for carvings is a good way to preserve the memory of all those delicious apple pies and apple pancakes we’ve enjoyed over the years.
But when we had to cut down our 50-year-old black walnut tree, I knew I needed something special to commemorate the decades of shade and splendor that tree brought to our backyard.
I’ve always had a deep appreciation for the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi. “Wabi” means finding beauty in simple things. “Sabi” means appreciating the value in old and imperfect things — a cracked vase, an old door handle, a rusty pitchfork — as long as they still work. That was the aesthetic I was looking for in this project.
So, when I asked the arborists who cut down the tree to save some logs, which otherwise would’ve taken two men to drag to their trucks, they were more than happy. And, as soon as they drove away, I set to work with my chainsaw, cutting off beautiful walnut rounds for some possible “old wood” projects.
I finished a variety of projects made from the wood from our walnut tree. These included a parquet coffee table, a bird house, a picture frame, drink coasters, and, because of the wood’s considerable weight (40 pounds per cubic foot), the bases for two photographic light stands. But none of these brought out the special characteristics of black walnut.
Black walnut slabs and oval cuts are very popular for fine furniture, so I finally settled on a project that would capture the swirling, amazingly beautiful rings — a small, round-top table, using an end slice from the tree trunk.
The stand to support the table top came from the trunk of a dead tree we’d propped against the fence to keep deer out of our yard one winter. Weathered by time, its heritage was unknown. However, it was solid and had roots that, when trimmed and stained dark walnut, made a perfect four-pronged base for the table.
Happily, 90 percent of the time I spent on the project was spent hand-sanding, using progressively finer grits. For me, hand-sanding has all the elements of meditation — simple, focused, repetitive action (with a dust mask). And, although it was to be a Christmas present for my wife, the fact that I didn’t finish it until April wasn’t a problem for her — or for me. The wabi-sabi journey was as satisfying as the destination.