Big Leaf Maple Round Coffee Table

Big Leaf Maple Round Coffee Table

Custom-made Furniture Design Review

This table was crafted from a live edge slab of Big Leaf Maple. Big Leaf Maple grows in the Pacific Northwest, as opposed to the Eastern US (and Canada) where “Hard Maple” grows. Big Leaf produces a more intense grain pattern than other maples. It often has highly figured grain, burl (A) and curl (B) in various places throughout the wood.

We fashioned a low, round table from the slab to create a very contemporary coffee table that would look great in any modern space. It is in the truest sense of the word, a minimalist coffee table that has a very natural appeal.

When Distress Actually Produces Characteristics that One Desires

This piece was cut horizontally, known as a cookie or disc cut, as opposed to lengthwise. This cut allows one to see the history of the tree – and in this case – the mystery of the tree as well.  Once completely finished, the growth and death of this wood slab produce a unique and beautiful piece with highly figured grain.

Although it is unknown exactly where the tree came from it, just by looking at it one can tell this tree was highly distressed. Wood is a bit like people: it gains character and becomes more interesting as a result of such distress.

I believe the tree probably grew on a steep hillside or rocky crevice, based on the shape of the trunk. You can see one portion is clearly not as “circular” in shape (C) as the rest. In addition, the grain here (D) looks different than in the rest of the tree, which was likely the result of stress from the pressure of the tree leaning away from the hillside.

Big Maple Leaf Coffee Table Greenwood Bay Woodworking of Houston, Texas
Big Maple Leaf Coffee Table Greenwood Bay Woodworking of Houston, Texas
Big Maple Leaf Coffee Table Greenwood Bay Woodworking of Houston, Texas

It was rotted in the middle (E), which is another sign of stress: this tree had a tough life, but was beautiful inside! Rocks, gravel and dried weeds needed to be cleaned from the crevices. Some stabilizing was required, but I was able to maintain a completely natural look.

Big Leaf Maple is characterized by a very sort of unruly outer edge. One can say it has a significant amount of character to it. Gnarliness if you will (F).

There are three smooth Cherry legs fastened directly into the tabletop itself, which complete it’s contemporary styling.

In all, the distressed history of this tree makes for a magnificent end product.

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This table measures roughly 45 by 50 inches across, and about 15 inches tall. It’s low, round shape produces a truly contemporary furniture piece that surely would be the focal point of any room.

Questions or comments? Leave them below or contact us directly by calling (281) 684-7102.

Amish Spalted Maple Waterfall Coffee Table

Amish Spalted Maple Waterfall Coffee Table

Furniture Design Review

This spalted maple slab came from an Amish farm in western Pennsylvania. Spalting may cause a variety of wood coloration, including these black inky lines and is caused by fungus. Spalted wood is highly sought after by furniture makers for its intense beauty.

In this case, there’s a darker form and lighter form. Then black lines – like zone lines – separate the two, building up a defense barrier between the two colonies of fungi. The drying process completely kills all the fungus.

Spalted Maple Waterfall Coffee Table by Greenwood Bay Woodworking
Amish Spalted Waterfall coffee table by Greenwood Bay Woodworking in Houston
Amish Spalted Waterfall coffee table by Greenwood Bay Woodworking in Houston
Amish Spalted Waterfall coffee table by Greenwood Bay Woodworking in Houston
Amish Spalted Waterfall coffee table by Greenwood Bay Woodworking in Houston
Amish Spalted Waterfall coffee table by Greenwood Bay Woodworking in Houston
Amish Spalted Waterfall coffee table by Greenwood Bay Woodworking in Houston

As wood dries, it shrinks, which typically results in some portion of the wood cracking, particularly in large slabs of wood. Sometimes the crack is large enough that the slab is unstable. There are a number of ways to address this. My preference is to maintain the natural beauty caused by the crack and to play it up as a design feature in the piece. Where many artisans use a “butterfly key” to stabilize cracked slabs, I prefer to use non-intrusive joinery applied to the underside of the crack, which stabilizes the wood while maintaining the most natural appearance.
I further enhance the beauty of the crack by sanding it as smoothly as possible, so that it is a feature that is as beautiful to touch as it is to look at.

This design also incorporates the waterfall effect. The slab of wood gets cut in half and then essentially folded over on itself. There is a mechanism inside, called a mortise and tenon joint, which makes it more solid because otherwise, this would be an unstable joint.

This piece of wood was not quite long enough to make the table I wanted into a full waterfall table so I added an extension to it. In this case, I had a custom fabricated, black metal extension designed. Lines were etched into it to echo the lines that are caused by the spalting.

The final size resulted in 48” x 24”. This table is currently on display at the Greenwood Bay showroom and will be entered into a juried furniture competition and show in late 2018, at which point it will be released for sale.

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Project Overview: Cherry & Big Leaf Maple Console Table

Project Overview: Cherry & Big Leaf Maple Console Table

Where Art and Craftsmanship Merge

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a charity auction benefitting one of Houston’s premier arts organization Diverse Works. The event was called “Art Design Life” and was held at Match in midtown Houston. At this event, several vignettes were arranged featuring designs and pieces from local designers, makers and other vendors. Each vignette had a theme of sorts, and all of the pieces in the vignette were available for auction.

Top of Cherry and Big Leaf Maple Wood Table by Greenwood Bay Woodworking Studios in Houston
Waterfall wood design of a Cherry and Big Leaf Maple Wood Table by Greenwood Bay Woodworking Studios in Houston
Waterfall edge of Top of Cherry and Big Leaf Maple Wood Table by Greenwood Bay Woodworking Studios in Houston
Bottom of Top of Cherry and Big Leaf Maple Wood Table by Greenwood Bay Woodworking Studios in Houston
Top of Cherry and Big Leaf Maple Wood Table by Greenwood Bay Woodworking Studios in Houston
Top of Cherry and Big Leaf Maple Wood Table by Greenwood Bay Woodworking Studios in Houston

I designed and built this handmade wood console table just for the auction. It is made from solid cherry hardwoods and topped by a waterfall of heavily figured Quilted Maple. I had previously spotted the Maple at my favorite mill in New England and bought it immediately because of its outstanding figure, even though I didn’t have any particular project in mind for it. So when I was planning this auction piece, I knew immediately that I wanted to include the Quilted Maple.

Creating a Waterfall Design

Since the Maple wasn’t especially large, I decided to show it off as much as possible by making it a waterfall over the edge of the Cherry table, which itself is a waterfall style. The Cherry had some nice color variation in it which enhanced the natural appeal of the wood. The lighter areas of the Cherry are called “sapwood” which is often cut off from the “heartwood” to create a more uniform color. In this case, I decided to leave it on.

The design is known as a “waterfall” because of the way the wood appears to flow over an edge. This effect is created by cutting the wood at the point of the “waterfall” at a 45-degree angle, and then “folding” the piece over to create the waterfall effect.

I always add “mortise and tenon” joinery to make the joint strong. Tenons are simply a piece of wood that protrudes from one piece and that fits into a perfectly shaped recess (mortise) in the mating piece. Then both pieces are glued together to create the waterfall.

Final Prepping

This entire piece is finished with hand rubbed penetrating oil. I use a special European plant-based product that is actually marketed to commercial flooring contractors. It looks great and gives excellent protection. I also love the fact that there are no solvents and no VOC’s, which means there are no bad fumes and off-gasses to contend with.

I attended the auction itself with my wife, Cynthia. We had a lovely time seeing all the other great pieces on display, eating great food and mingling with the crowd. Cynthia found some lovely jewelry pieces which she bought.

A day or two after the auction, I had the pleasure of meeting the family who bought my piece, and they were kind enough to stop for a photo op with me just before loading it in their SUV.

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Maintaining Outdoor Wood Furniture by Type of Wood, Plus More

Maintaining Outdoor Wood Furniture by Type of Wood, Plus More

Outdoor Wood Furniture

With summer approaching, people are getting ready for more backyard activities. Whether that involves dinners on the back porch, a day in the garden, or an afternoon by the pool, the enjoyment possible from each of these activities is enhanced with good furniture.

As a woodworker, I’m inclined to select wood for my material of choice for outdoor furniture. But people are often concerned about the durability of wood in an outdoor setting. Will it rot? Does it need to be chemically treated? Is teak the only “good” wood for outdoors?

Below is a brief introduction to selecting and maintaining wood furniture to assure you will be able to enjoy your new piece for years to come.

Tropical Woods

The truth is, some species of wood are excellent for outdoor settings, while others are not. So it’s important to begin the process by selecting the right kind of wood. Most people are familiar with the rot-resistant properties of teak and mahogany – two wood species commonly used in shipbuilding. These are both very rot-resistant and are truly beautiful woods.

However many are beginning to steer away from them due to concerns about over-harvesting. In fact, this has caused prices for these species to go up and has led to some unethical marketing practices where lesser quality species are substituted and sold as their higher quality counterparts.

North American Species

But exotic woods are not the only rot-resistant species available. Several good sustainable North American species are commonly available throughout the U.S. and Canada. These include Western Red Cedar, Cypress, and White Oak.

Western Red Cedar

Western Red Cedar is commonly used for privacy fences. It is inexpensive, easy to work with, and handles the elements well. It can be left untreated, much like most wood fences. I made the above garden work table from Western Red Cedar. Over time, the wood will begin to fade to gray, much like the wood fence in the background. Or it can be refreshed with more oil to maintain the richer color seen here.


Cypress is more commonly found in the south and the southeastern U.SA., where it grows in swampy areas. It too is easy to work with, and due to an oily nature, it is very rot-resistant. Some believe the newer plantation grown cypress is not as durable as older growth wood, but overall it still makes a good choice.

White Oak

One of my favorites is White Oak. The pores of White Oak are not porous, so does not absorb water. (Red Oak, on the other hand, is porous, and not water resistant).White Oak is not only used outdoors but is a common species for floors, cabinets, and furniture throughout the home. It is heavier than the others mentioned above and very durable.

Protect from the Sun

While rot-resistance is an important concern, equally challenging is the damage caused by the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. UV rays can fade, discolor and even damage wood because it changes or destroys the wood’s lignin, a component of wood that hardens and strengthens the cell walls.

By simply keeping furniture out of direct sunlight, the damage caused by UV rays can be greatly reduced. If possible, place furniture on a covered porch, under a shade tree, or in other areas not in direct sunlight.

If the wood must be left in direct sunlight, consider one of the many products on the market that have UV protection built into it. We prefer to use oil finishes with UV protection, rather than varnishes, which can begin to flake off over the years. Once they begin to flake off, film finishes must be stripped off to bare wood prior to refinishing. By contrast, an oil finish can simply be refreshed by lightly sanding the surface and then re-applying more oil. Not only is this a fairly simple process, it brings out more of the rich color the wood had when it was first finished.

Winter Care

Here along the Gulf Coast, winters are almost non-existent. But in more northern climates, special attention should be given to wood furniture during the winter. Ideally the furniture should be brought in from the elements. Otherwise, snow may cover it and cause the wood to remain wet for extended periods of time. Further, repeated thaws and freezes can cause damage to the wood. If it’s not possible to bring furniture in for the winter, try to at least place it on a well-draining surface so it doesn’t stay wet where it comes in contact with the ground.

Keep it Clean

Dirt can hold moisture, which in turn can retain a variety of molds that can damage your furniture. Clean your furniture by periodically power washing it. This will deep clean the wood without the need for harsh cleaners that can damage nearby plants. Most home centers rent power washers by the hour or buy one for your home so you can keep porches, sidewalks and other areas clean. An added benefit of power washing your furniture is that it will reverse the transition to gray, and bring out more of the original wood tone.

Relax and Enjoy

Wood furniture has a warmth and beauty not found in other options such as metal or plastic. It is a natural, sustainable product. With just a little care and maintenance, it will bring years of joy and comfort to your outdoor life.

Solid Wood or Veneer?

Solid Wood or Veneer?

My clients often tell me they don’t want veneered furniture. Instead, they want real “solid wood”. I understand that concern, but the truth is veneered furniture can actually be quite good. Like so many things in life, the devil is in the details.

Unfortunately one of the “details” is the veneer itself – and the substrate to which it is applied. Today’s mass marketed furniture is made with paper-thin veneers as thin as 1/64”. Worse still, they are often applied over particle board. Particle board is simply sawdust and glue that is pressed into a flat substrate, and so is sometimes called “solid wood.” The extremely thin veneer and poor quality of particle board combine to make furniture that cannot stand up to the rigors of daily use.

Higher quality veneers are somewhat thicker. They range from 1/16” to 1/8”, and when applied to a more substantial substrate, can last for generations. Sadly, this is almost never found anymore on modern store-bought furniture.

While we normally use actual solid wood (with no veneer) in the pieces we make in our studio, there are times we do use veneer. Why? Several reasons:

1. Solid wood is always in a state of expanding or contracting. It expands in warmer, more humid weather, and contracts in cooler, drier conditions. This can create “wood movement” problems in cabinet doors, for example, causing them to stick in the summer. By using veneer over a quality plywood substrate, the door becomes more stable.
2. Sometimes a piece of wood has beautiful grain patterns that we want to repeat across a surface, making the right and left grain mirror images of each other, like pages of a book. By slicing the wood into thinner sheets, that pattern can be repeated in a “bookmatched” process.
3. Veneer can be bent and formed into shapes not possible with thicker wood.

We cut our own veneer for some projects which typically is just a hair less than 1/8” thick. Other times we buy veneer from boutique marketers who can provide a fantastic selection of beautiful wood that is somewhat thicker than the mass marketed variety. Either way, these are durable, beautiful veneers that we apply to high-quality substrates of solid wood, laminated solid wood, or specialty substrates.

So which is better: veneer or solid wood? Of course, there isn’t any single answer to this question. But by understanding some of the basics of each, and more to the point, by understanding how some furniture sellers use lower quality manufacturing techniques, buyers can be prepared to ask questions that will lead to informed choices.

Nakashima Table

Nakashima Table

Earlier this year I was commissioned to make a live edge table inspired by the style of George Nakashima by the New York design firm owned by Bob and Cortney Novogratz. They had a client on Long Island and they thought a Nakashima table would be just the right thing for the den.

It turns out this clients project is going to be featured in an upcoming episode of HGTV’s “Home by Novogratz” on Saturday, September 1 at 7:00 eastern / 6:00 central time. I’m not sure if the table will be part of the episode, which will focus on the kitchen remodel, but if you follow this link to the Nakashima Table on my website, you’ll see a picture of it in the cozy den of the newly remodeled home.

At the time I was commissioned to make the table, I didn’t know the home was going to be featured on the show. But I did know the client’s move-in date was getting very close, and that they hoped to have this table done by that time. To make a long story short, I ended up making the 3 day drive myself to assure it got there in time.

Though it was a long drive, I’m so very glad I did it, because I had the pleasure of touring the home just as it was nearing completion, and to meet Anabel and Allison of the Novogratz team. And what a delight that was! Although things were hectic, with the deadline for completion (and filming the episode) right there, they both took the time to show me some of the beautiful features of the home. It was simply gorgeous!

I was especially pleased to see their reaction to the Nakashima table. One of the true rewards of being a craftsperson is when a client responds so positively to one of my creations. That they were also so very pleasant to work with made this project extra special.

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