Nakashima-Inspired Table

After sawing out the bulk of the waste with a coping saw, chisel the remaining waste. Make certain your cuts are perpendicular to the face. After cutting halfway down, turn the panel over and work from the other side to avoid tear out.

After sawing out the bulk of the waste with a coping saw, chisel the remaining waste. Make certain your cuts are perpendicular to the face. After cutting halfway down, turn the panel over and work from the other side to avoid tear out.

After marking the centers of the template and panel bottom edge I cut the sloping slides of the dovetail using the ripping teeth of my Japanese pull saw. Next I removed most of the waste with a coping saw then chiseled the edge flat. I found the fit of the beam just a bit tight so I pared the sides of the panel dovetail opening until achieving a fit that went together with just a slight amount of force. I then removed the beam and made the 11-degree bevel cuts on the ends. To complete the work on the panel I put a slight bevel on the panel edges. A hand plane was the tool of choice for this chore.

The leg that supports the other end of the table is simple enough to make. I started with a blank that was 2″ square. I wanted the leg to taper from top to bottom so I penciled lines to follow on the band saw. After cutting, I cleaned up the edges with the jointer.

The leg cants at a 101-degree angle so I chopped the bottom edge at 11 degrees. To determine the length, I simply set the leg on the beam with the bottom edge seated evenly and the side touching the top edge of the panel. I made the mark there and made the final 11-degree cut on the top of the leg.

The leg is joined to the beam using two 1/2″ dowels. First drill dowel holes into the bottom of the leg; then, after inserting dowel centers, mark the dowel locations in the beam. It is then a simple task to drill the holes.

To assemble the base I used polyurethane glue because of its superior bonding characteristics in gluing non-long-grain to long- grain joints. I first glued the beam to the panel making sure the beam and panel were square. After this dried, I finished up gluing the leg to the beam using a band clamp with a little assistance from a pipe clamp to maintain the desired angle.

Each edge of the leg panel has a slight bevel detail that’s made with a handplane or a spokeshave.

Each edge of the leg panel has a slight bevel detail that’s made with a handplane or a spokeshave.

Fastening the top to the base was a snap. On the top edge of the panel end I used three figure eight fasteners, setting them flush. For the leg, I used a common “T” shaped bracket that I screwed down to the top of the leg, then up into the top.

To finish, I sanded everything to #150 grit and broke all the sharp edges. Next I mixed small but equal amounts of Olympic brand Early American and Red Oak oil stain and combined seven teaspoons of this blend with a pint of boiled linseed oil. The diluted color won’t blotch the cherry but will give the wood a nice color to start. Time will enrich the color more, encouraged by the linseed oil, which speeds the photochemical reaction that occurs naturally in cherry. After wiping away all excess oil I let the prefinish dry for two days. I completed the finish with a clear top coat of lacquer, although any clear coat will work fine.

I was quite pleased with the outcome of the table. Realizing this style may not be everyone’s cup of tea, I think most woodworkers would have to agree on one thing. Using the free edge of boards sawn straight off the log and showcasing “defects” in the lumber clearly celebrates the material we all enjoy using so much. It instantly reminds us of just where all the wonderful wood we use comes from. PW

Sidebar: The Extraordinary Life of Nakashima

Among woodworkers, none has expressed through design and use an unabashed reverence for wood as a material like George Nakashima. He strongly believed the objects he designed and built were giving a once-living tree a second life, and it was his objective to allow the natural beauty of the wood he was working to showcase itself.

His design skills in furniture were absolutely unique, forging cross-cultural and cross-generational lines. You see in his furniture the western influence of modernism, Arts & Crafts and Shaker styles wonderfully blended with the simple yet powerful Japanese design, expression of materials and the exacting execution of woodworking skills.

Transfer the dowel hole locations using dowel centers. A slight tap on the top of the legs drives the center point of the dowel center into the beam. Then drill the holes.

Transfer the dowel hole locations using dowel centers. A slight tap on the top of the legs drives the center point of the dowel center into the beam. Then drill the holes.

He was born in Spokane, Wash., in 1905, and was awarded a master’s degree in Architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Later he traveled by steamer to Paris and Japan where he lived for a number of years. While there he became immersed in his Japanese heritage and worked in the Tokyo office of an architectural firm owned by a Czech- American. He was sent to India by the firm to supervise the construction of a building at an ashram. He returned to Japan briefly before returning home in 1940. Two years later, he and his family were interned with most Japanese-Americans living on the West coast as the United States went to war with Japan. At the Idaho internment camp he learned traditional Japanese woodworking methods from an older resident.

He was released from the camp and moved to eastern Pennsylvania where he established a home, shop and design studio. Over the years his furniture was collected by numerous wealthy clients. His work was exhibited by most major art museums. In 1952 he was awarded the Gold Medal of Craftsmanship by the American Institute of Architects, and in 1979 he was named a fellow by the American Crafts Council. In 1989, the American Crafts Museum in New York selected his work as the first exhibit in a series called “American’s Living National Treasures.” He died the following year. His workshop and studio continue to operate today under the direction of his Harvard-educated daughter, Mira Nakashima-Yarnall. The expression of his work, design and philosophical approach to both is wonderfully captured in his book, “The Soul of a Tree” published by Kodansha International Ltd. In it he wrote, “Each plank. . . can have only one ideal use. The woodworker must find this ideal use and create an object of utility to man, and, if nature smiles, an object of lasting beauty.”

To clamp the tapered leg in place, use a band clamp. The pipe clamp is essentially used to maintain the leg in the right position. The “T” bracket is later screwed to the top of the leg and is used to secure the leg to the underside of the top.

To clamp the tapered leg in place, use a band clamp. The pipe clamp is essentially used to maintain the leg in the right position. The “T” bracket is later screwed to the top of the leg and is used to secure the leg to the underside of the top.

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Steve Shanesy is publisher of Popular Woodworking.

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