The Hugs and Kisses Belly Table is made of recycled White Oak. The bottom has carved bumps that tapper in size biggest in the middle to thin towards the edges. There are 29 hand chiseled wood X shaped stitches that I snuck between the mounds on the bottom. I was ten stitches in before I realized I was graffiting “xoxo” all over the bottom. Hence the name.
The top has 23 stitches and lots of patches too.
Photographer Matt Lee taking photos.
Matt set up this shot. He plans to comp it so I look like I am floating over LA.
This is a similar photo my friend Julia Wollenhaupt took when I lived in NYC circa 2004. It is the third belly table I made. Called the Triple Belly Table. After I saw Matt’s photo I found this in a scrapbook. Funny right? The tables are getting better and I am getting worse.
I don’t buy wood it usually just comes to me. When I lived in New York City I found tons of giant beams everywhere. You can read about the excitement of finding this wood in a story called The Great White Shark Hunt. All of the wood was being thrown out and I felt like I was doing the soul of the tree, the beam made out of it, the environment and therefore the world a favor by using it. But lets face it I was a poor punk kid. I used it because it was free. My designs have evolved out of using thick perfectly cured old beams. In fact if you tried building a table like this out of fresh cut, kiln dried wood it will warp like a Frisbee in the sun.
I found some beautiful Douglas Fir Beams I wanted to use but this table was commissioned by my good friend Anna who was working with an interior designer named Zenzi Gadson.
Zenzi is a talented interior designer. With her husband Justin she is co-owner and operator of Maurice Gadson Interiors located here in LA. I am grateful for the chance to team up. Zenzi’s heart was set on a Walnut table and really whose heart doesn’t gravitate towards that beautiful Native American wood. I love it. However, finding beams of solid Walnut that have been air-drying for 60 to 100 years is near impossible. We settled on White Oak because it was the only Native hardwood I could find in nice thick beams. I wanted to drive down to Temecula to pick up White Oak I found at a lumber store called Vintage Timber Works. Temecula is beautiful and I regret not taking the drive but in the end I was concerned about my truck making it there and back full of heavy wood.
Instead I decide to patronize a local recycled wood yard called The Reclaimer. I first met Gary, co-owner with his partner Dave, at a trade show called Alt Build which showcases green materials in Santa Monica. I was showing a line of furniture made from all recycled Douglas Fir and he really liked it. He explained with care and passion the beautiful old growth timber he was finding and I realized he was sincere.
And here I am, 3 years later, at Gary’s yard buying White Oak reclaimed by one of his cousins from a barn in Southern Wisconsin. Lets face it Douglas Fir is everywhere in Southern California but hardwoods are something you have to seek out and pay for. It is nice to be able to purchase it so close to LA. Thanks Gary!
Gary recently acquired this horizontal band saw called the Wood-Mizer. His partner Dave was just learning how to run it. We set the board up on the machine and Dave started cutting. Right off the start the blade began rising as it moved through the wood. Instead of cleaving the beam in half Dave was making a door wedge for a giant. Jared notice it first, “Andy look the blade is raising. You should stop him.” “stop stop,” I yelled over the noise. The settings were fine for the soft old growth Redwood beams they were slicing up earlier but not for the dense, hard White Oak.
As a third generation boat builder from Maine, furniture maker, master ukulele maker I guess I should have just assumed Jared had “logged a quite a few hours on one of these Wood-Mizers.” He patently explained the proper way to reset the saw to cut harder woods like White Oak and his favorite fallen Koa trees harvested from the forest floor in Hawaii. He show us how to adjust the opening of the mouth, the tensioning of the blade and finally how to fine tune the pressure on the stream of soap and water that is sprayed on the blade aiding as a lubricant and clearing the blade of chips allowing the blade to pass through the beam smoothly.
Reset the blade sliced through the stubborn old beams like butter.
Look hiding in those beams was this book-matched pattern. It takes a lot of work to get to this point and I want to thank Jared and Joyce Kim who helped me mill this wood. Because the wood is heavy it is impossible for me to do by myself. The bonus of working with a professional photographer is that sometimes you are gifted great pictures and the bonus of working with someone as skilled as Jared is that from lumberyard to shop he helped me imagine and layout the pattern of the wood grain.
After milling the patching begins. All of the patches on this table I did by hand with a hammer and chisel. I did it this way because it is a process I enjoy and can do in my shop without the aid of any large machines. It is meditative and calming and I have to admit I quite enjoy this task, however it takes a long time. No really it takes a long time. Now I know I could have done this on the mill in a 1/16th of the time but I guess this didn’t sit well with me.
The act of cutting out the patches and matching the grain is very personal.
Repeat 54 times. Next time I am going to choose wood with fewer faults.
Finally, the table is glued up and ready for milling.
Los Angles Sunset
The mill bit hums, wines and screams along the surface of the oak executing the carving in two stages. The first is the rough cut which removes the bulk of the material with straight cutting bit.
The rough patterns are carved like rice patties tiered up a mountain.
Buzz. . .wine. . . white oak smells like whiskey.
A solid carbide ball end bit is used for the final smoothing pass.
All done. . .
Sometime when you remove too much wood from one side of a carving and not the other hidden tensions are released causing the boards to warp. Pushing the design to be so thin around the edge might have compounded the problem. My approach is to carve first, let the hidden tensions reveal themselves and then react to them. By clamping the board straight with cauls and carving out channels across the grain in the wood I was able to embed the supports into to the table to straiten and stabilize it.
The secret is the supports going across the table are not strait. They are cambered up on the ends so when clamped into place they force the bend edges of the table upwards straitening the wood. Once the glue is dry I started carving the supports back flush with the table. I want to thank family friend Roger Manternach who gave me his father’s 077 Record Rebate Plane which proved to be the prefect tool for carving and smoothing the wood between the protruding bubbles.
Check out this white line sphinx moth that landed in my pale of scrap wood.
Stitches are fun to do by hand.
Health, stars, love, fantastic, joy, laughter. These are just some of the things I wanted infused into the table so I wrote them in the patches before setting the plugs. Come on. . . I’m not a new age hippie. Well. . . maybe a little. Feel the energy in my moonstone crystal magnet bracelet it’s older than the Earth.
Stitches in a line x x X X x x x x
Carving the legs is my favorite part. I like it because of all of the pressure. One error in chiseling could render all the preparation it took to get to this point useless. In this moment in time, to be true to my design, it has to be done by hand because the mill I use only has three axis. In the near future I hope to acquire access to a five-axis mill to carve the angled mortis into the tabletop. I am looking forward to that day especially as my hereditary arthritis kicks in but I have to admit it will be sad because it will replace my fine honed skills and probably do a better job.
Craftswoman Kelly Moon was kind enough to volunteer her time to help with the final assembly. For timing reasons it takes two people to attach the legs. We have to move fast to get all of the leg tenons buttered up and in the table mortises before the glue starts to dry. Once all of the legs are in the mortises the table is flipped right side up and the wedges are pounded into the top of the legs spreading out the tenon and locking the legs in place.
Big big moon
Leg tenon sticking through the table surface.
Trim with a flush cut pull saw.
A finished Belly Table is tight like a drum. The stance of the legs is superior to most design because combine with the joint, gravity and the weight of the table a natural triangulation forces stability without the look of any supports. Striking the table with the flat of your hands in the middle and towards the edge produces deep rich tones.
I wanted a spot I could hit and it would sound like a cymbal or a rattle. You know something a little tinny.
So I mortised a spot for these three quarters. New Hampshire 2000, Maine 2012, and a bicentennial 1776 – 1976 from my Dad’s collection.
When all of the stitches are finally done comes the finishing. For this brittle, stubborn grained White Oak I forfeit my smoothing plane to use my Stanley #80 Cabinet Scraper Plane. Again I have to thank Roger Manternach who gifted me this piece from his Father’s collection. What a great tool! It saves me from burning holes in my thumbs with blisters from using the index card scraper to do the whole job.
I do the final smoothing with an index card scraper. It is more work then the scraper plane because I bend and hold the steel in the right position with my hands instead of aided with the plane. The reward is a greater sense of control and the ability to feel the blade engaged and cutting the wood.
My friend Ben Turner came over to sand the bottom of this table. He is a good friend of Photographer Joyce Kim. He is an artist who just moved here from Portland. I didn’t have to tell him anything he just knew or asked the right questions, even when he asked I could tell he already had the right idea in mind. As you can see his work is flawless. I really am lucky to have found such great people to collaborate with. Somehow I am honored to work with the pinnacle of people in their field right now. Artist Matt Lee used his time before moving to Shanghai, where he heads a team of artist creating special effects for the new Star Wars Movie, to help refine and draw the dragon table with me in 3D. He is talented and at the top of his game and he was kind enough to work with me again on some humble furniture.
I mean how lucky was it that Jared Buxton happened to be an expert on the same band saw the lumberyard had. Without his tutorial the project would have been doomed and I would have been arguing for my money back because the wood was miss cut and unusable. Or how lucky was I to have photographer Joyce Kim put down her camera and help with the backbreaking work of milling and dressing the heavy wood. We can’t forget CNC expert Thor Erickson who set up the mill file, Artist James Peterson who found time from traveling the world with his art to lend a hand with the mill, Craftswoman Kelly Moon who volunteered her time to help me with the glue up, Artist and Play Write “Little” Nik Gelormino for helping with the delivery, Zenzi Gadson for her honest insights into how to create a table that suited all of the space’s needs. I never had so much help on a single piece. Finally I want to thank Anna, my client, for giving me the opportunity to grow and push my designs even further by commissioning this piece! Thanks Anna!
Ready for finish.
First coat put it on thick.
Wipe it off.
Ahhh. . .
Another day sets in downtown LA. Delivery tomorrow.
XOX Belly Table viewed from the Bulthaup kitchen.
View from the living room couch. Perfect fit.
. . .and I was worried she wouldn’t like it.