Ted’s Altar 1

I'm a P.K.  A preacher's kid, that is. 

My father, who passed away a year ago, was a Lutheran pastor. Ted didn't know a lick about woodworking, but he was a great admirer of contemporary furniture design. A couple of years ago, I built this small altar to honor his ministry.

It's all made from one gigantic piece of 8/4 cherry. The board was 12 ft. long and about 16 in. wide. I could barely move it by myself.

Designing and making an object from one board can be a real challenge. If the board has knots, cracks, sapwood, and so on, you've got to work around them. It gets to be something of a game. And I cheated a bit here-I'll tell you about that later.

That huge board had been sitting in my woodshed for almost twenty years, waiting for the right project to come along. It was roughsawn and dark with age. My first task was to figure out what the figure was like underneath, so I could decide how to cut it into manageable pieces.

I didn't want to lose any thickness, so running it through a huge planer was out of the question. (Gee, I don't have one, anyway.) So I grabbed my scrub plane, sharpened its curved iron on my grinder's fine wheel, shoved the iron back into the plane, and went to work planing the entire board.

Just enough to see the figure, that is. Not to make it flat. Planing diagonally across the grain, it only took about an hour. I needed a workout anyway, I figured.

And of course I discovered knots, cracks and sapwood. Great.

I started laying out all the pieces of the altar. My design inspiration was an engraving of an 18th century woodworker's bench, below.

This illustration is cribbed from The Workbench Book, by Scott Landis. The original drawing appeared in L'art du Menuisier, by Jacques-Andre Roubo. This bench has come to be known as "Roubo's Bench."

I thought a cabinetmaker's bench would be an appropriate model for celebrating the son of a carpenter who lived over 2,000 years ago.

Back to that huge board: I used chalk to lay out all of the altar's pieces on top of the board, avoiding the cracks, knots and sapwood. Oops! I came up a few pieces short. What to do?

Well, I said this was a bit of a game. I could have simply cut up some other board for the missing pieces, but that would be too easy. Plus, I wanted all the wood to be the same color under a natural finish, and the chances of finding another board that would exactly match the monster were remote, to say the least. So the monster had to provide everything.

I decided to resaw some of its best chunks into thick veneer, and glue the veneer onto the sapwood. On all four sides, as it turned out. All of the stretchers under the top are made this way.

Crazy, right? But I did it anyway. And now, it's impossible to tell. Orienting the veneer the right way made these pieces look exactly like solid wood.

If you're still with me, stay tuned for another post on this project. If you have any comments or questions to add to this blog, please scroll all the way down to the bottom of this page, below the ads.