Friday, December 19, 2008

Dining table and chairs

One of the reasons we wanted such a big home was the hope that ours would be the one that our whole family gathered at for the holidays. Ever since I saw the massive flitch inventory at Hearne Hardwoods I've wanted to have a dining table made from a single slab of wood. With time, I came to consider that perhaps a dining table made from two slabs, bookmatched together, might be an acceptable alternative. This is due partially to the lack of massive boards available in colors complementing the dining room's rather dark wainscotting within our budget - while we could afford something in maple, or even sapele, walnut was just too expensive.

A couple weeks ago, I went to talk to Dean at Metro Hardwoods at 5901 Train Avenue, in Cleveland, Ohio (216-651-2345). He tends to keep late hours - generally about 4 in the afternoon to two or so in the morning - which is actually quite convenient. There's only a small sign on the door of the industrial building where he has his space, but the lot of massive tree trunks across the street provides an obvious sign. On this visit, the most interesting thing I saw was some Siberian elm with a natural edge on one side, 15-18 inches wide, at a mere $3 a board foot.

I described to Dean what I was looking for in a dining table - something about 10 feet long (the dining room is 14 x 15), 40-48 inches wide, made from a single slab of wood. As his bandsaw is only capable of cutting 30 inch wide boards, we agreed that two bookmatched boards would be a reasonable compromise. My hope, I told him, is for a reasonably rectangular table, though I definitely want at least something of a natural edge on one side of the boards.

I'm not absolutely set on walnut - I just want something dark enough to look good in the dining room without having to resort to a stain - I'd strongly prefer to only use an oil and wax finish. For instance, a lighter color wood with a significant bark inclusion would probaby look good, too.

The base of the table will be of a trestle design, the exact nature of which will be determined by the top and available materials. If, for instance, the table top has significant splits or other structural issues, the base will have to be more extensive to evenly distribute the stress. I hope for the base to be cut from the same log, perhaps with natural edges.

Dean said that he should have some wood ready to show me in about a month. When I pressed him for a ballpark figure, he said that it would be in the neighborhood of $300-400 for walnut, which might also take longer to obtain/cut, or less for other species. This was great news - given the offerings at Hearne Hardwoods, I'd been expecting to spend 2-3 times that. What this really means is that Metro Hardwoods will be getting more of my business as I am able to start on other projects sooner, like a desk for the library, some coffee tables, and a massive freeform bookcase for the living room.

Another part of my decision to stay local was the lack of chairs available in sapele or in colors that would go well with it (as well as the issue of how one moves a board from this flitch like 2492 or 2493 three hundred miles without it splitting further).

I don't see myself as the sort of person who makes chairs. Cutting boards and things with square edges, sure, I can handle that. But all of the shaping and bending that goes into a chair just seems beyond what I want to learn, especially as these are skills that I doubt I'd put to use in many other projects. Finally, I'd rather defer to those other individuals who have learned how to make a comfortable chair, something that would surely take even more time for me.

The plan, I think, is to buy one or two chairs a year, so the chair needs to be something that is in production from a furniture maker who will still be making them in five or six years. Based on the size of the table, I expect to have eight or ten side chairs and two armchairs.

I really really like the lines of Thomas Moser's Eastward Chair, which is available in walnut. I've had the pleasure to spend some time in their New Gloucester Rocker and if these chairs are as comfortable as it is, I'd be quite pleased with them. The price, however, is about two times what the very high end of our budget is, I think. Comfort is important - I'm not going to get a chair simply because it is sexy.

I also really like birdcage Windsor chairs. These are a good example of exactly what I think would look good, although I've yet to find one in production that I really like. Of course, I'll keep looking.

I'd love to read some suggestions of other chairs worth considering.


Beth Cruz said...

Very interested in an update on the table as that's exactly what I've been searching for myself. Please keep us posted! I may be checking out Metro, too! Thanks!

Christopher Busta-Peck said...

Beth, I still don't have the lumber for the table. I've been so busy recently and the basement has been such a mess that it hasn't been an issue.

To be fair, I know that Dean was working to get a fair amount of stuff done for other people for the Christmas rush and that he wanted to be sure to offer a good selection of material for me to choose from. When he asked whether I needed this for Christmas, I told him that I was hoping to have the table done by next Christmas.

I'm going to stop by the sawmill to see his progress sometime after the inauguration and should have an update at that time.

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