This Dirt Is Older Than I, or Elizabeth Duffy’s Witness

Nigh on two years ago I received an email from Elizabeth Duffy, a writer from Indiana, wanting to ask me a few questions about my art for her blog at Patheos.  She sent questions and I sent back my answers.  It went on for three or four months like that, and trust was built.  In the end she shared our interview in four parts on her blog.  Meanwhile Elizabeth felt the fruit of our dialogue merited a wider audience, and she went in quest.  Image Journal took the bet, and Elizabeth went to work.

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I owe a debt to Elizabeth, but not necessarily for publishing an article about me in a magazine, although, that too is cool, and I expect that the measure of artistic validation it lends me is not insignificant.  It is for her time and her witness that I am grateful, it is for her trustworthiness.  I suspect most artists wonder, like me, if all the labor and turmoil that goes into making art, which purports to have emerged from a deep place in the created heart, is not the dead end of futility that it so often seems to be.  I know at least that it matters to Elizabeth, so much so that she built a soap box and voiced it to as large an audience as she could muster.  More sacred, she proved her trust with those treasures in my heart which I was able to share with her.  That carries weight.  Thank you Elizabeth.  You came along side me and we plowed together.  We even made the cover.

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You can read the article online if you wish, or even buy the whole journal it here.

With genuine authenticity (I know it’s redundant) and authentic hunger, Elizabeth writes for a variety of different outlets, including Image Journal’s blog, Good Letters.   The best place to start and catch most of it, is at her personal blog.

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Fumed White Oak

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The above are eight turned pieces from a single 24″ section of a 24″ diameter white oak from Boaz, Kansas. The tree fell over and across the Van Horn Branch Creek about 10 years ago- We finally pulled the log out 2 years ago, and it has laid in my log pile since then, although I did mill a portion of it. The heart wood is still green, so these bowls were turned green and allowed to warp as they dried. Ultimately all the pieces were exposed to ammonia vapors (fumed) which reacted to the tannins in the wood, darkening the surfaces.

The Champion Table

After about five months the Champion Table is finished and in its new home outside of Chicago.  The woods in this table are Kansas Black Walnut and White Oak (the base uses oak from Kansas, the top uses oak of lesser known origin, beyond my friend, the lumber man), the top features also a small amount of Ebony and sulfur.  The design is original, and evolved throughout the building process.  Central, is a crucifixion theme and the arc.  There are other symbolic elements as well, throughout.  I am deeply grateful to the Champion family for the opportunity to build a significant piece of furniture for their home and living.  I am also humbled and thankful for all the encouragement I have received throughout the building process.  Ultimately I am glad in my heart, laboring to make something that celebrates the goodness of God.

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The Champion Table Build, Part 5: Carving and Inlay

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sanding and refining the shape of the legs

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carving some details into the lower horizontal member of the leg assemblies

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“C” for Champion

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the lower leg joints, reinforced with screws, concealed by pegs

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cut flush and sanded

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the legs are finished, awaiting only final sanding immediately prior to finishing

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refining the shape of the arc, the brace between the leg assemblies

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one of many facet transitions and chamfers across the arc

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another of those transitions, in this case, the arcs contribution to the connecting joint

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adjusting the shoulder of the arc where it meets the walnut of the leg assembly

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a lot of enjoyment watching the play of light and shadow

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lets of test fitting of the base

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my son roughing out a billet of walnut for some stubby spindles. The spindles will connect the arc to the top-central horizontal rail connecting the leg assemblies, preventing any propensity to rack along the length of the table

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here are the spindles in place as well as a bit of carving on the side of the arc

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another view of the arc, upside down, an enjoyable shape- part moon, part smile, part rainbow, part horns, it is one of my favorite parts of this table

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beginning work on the table-top again- softening the edges with a block plane

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after making paper versions, laying out some walnut shapes that will be inlayed into the table-top

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re-sawing bits of highly figured walnut for all of the special details

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along with the decorative inlays, being positioned here are some butterfly-keys, which help to stabilize the splits and inclusions in the walnut making up the table-top

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after determining the composition and placement, all the parts get some double-sided carpet tape…

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…and are then stuck in place so that they don’t shift when their outlines are being scribed into the top with a knife

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after everything has been scribed, the majority of the cavity is established with a small spiral carbide bit in the electric router

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the rest of the inlay cavity is cut out with sharp chisels. The scribe-line is particularly nice at this stage, giving a positive registration for the tip of the chisel

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there was a place on one of the walnut planks that had a corner that couldn’t get reconciled in the flattening stages without making it too thin- the remedy was a patch of really pretty walnut

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clamps were used on the top, where they could reach whatever was being inlayed

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cleaning the floor and corners of one of the recesses for those butterfly keys

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glue and clamp…

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a little congregation of butterflies ready to be made flush with the top, the crack itself, will get filled with epoxy, after the bark has been removed

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cutting out some of the inlay cavities for the central design

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lots of chopping up to the line

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there are a lot of pictures of me hunched over the top of this table, because I was hunched over the top of this table a lot

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piece by piece, being tapped into place with my indispensable two-sided rubber mallet

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planing the first round of inlays fush to the surface

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glueing up some ebony for the next round of inlay work

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the elements of the central design positioned and ready

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a few more ebony details being cut out at the scroll saw

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the slow process of accurately scribing every edge with an “Exacto” knife

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clearing out as much as possible with the router, carefully to stay just shy of my lines

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my life for a good portion of October

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ofter hours of knife, chisel, and dental tool work, the inlay cavity for the crown of thorns is about ready for the ebony

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a modified dental tool in action clearing out the acute corners of the cavities, somewhat appropriate

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…still hunched over…

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some of the inlay uses molten sulphur… being melted here in a spoon

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molten sulphur is an eerie and beautiful thing, if not pungent to the point of being toxic

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poured into carved voids it marks a lovely luminous contrast to black walnut

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also very porous- not so good for a table top- an improved sulfur inlay was devised. First grinding some sulphur crystals with mortar and pestle…

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the sulphur pigment is then introduced to some two-part epoxy

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the resultant paste is pressed into the top layer of the earlier sulphur inlay, filling the pores and yielding a slightly tougher surface

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the inlay work done and all the other voids being filled with epoxy, final sanding has begun

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as the process goes, there are many flaws in my inlay work that need to be addressed. Out come the pigments and filler

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it is an enjoyable process that takes me into the realms of another of my lines of work

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then more sanding

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this marks the end of this second to last post in the building of the Champion Table, I won’t reveal the finished piece until it’s new owners have had a chance to see it in person. Thank you all for offering your support and comments, or just following along silently. I remain immensely grateful for the kind encouragement which each represents, and I look forward to sharing the finished piece with you all as well.

Husbandry in Harvest

Sally In The Garden, traditional fiddle tune performed on banjo and fiddle
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Champion Table Build, Part 4: Base & Arc

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preparing to fit the base to the leg assembly

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defining a semicircle with 3 saw cuts

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3 saw cuts get refined into facets with a paring chisel

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and again

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then shaped with a rasp

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the base of one of the leg assemblies after the 1/2 lap-tapered dado has been cut

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here, mated with the white oak leg

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a different piece of white oak being shaped with a rasp, one of three slats joining the top of the leg assemblies together and to the table top

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the slats also receive a long bevel

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the slats will rest in the notches being cut into the top of this leg section

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clearing out material from the notch with a 1″ chisel

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establishing the final depth with a router plane

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here the slats are temporarily in place

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an arsenal of shaping tools to begin sculpting the legs

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shaping inside-curves of the leg assembly with an aggressive rasp

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forming a radius where the legs meet the base

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the preliminary drawings had a horizontal stretcher connecting the two leg assemblies at floor level. Having rough-shaped the components and taking a look, I started visualizing an arc instead. PVC pipe (already bent from a previous life in some low garden tunnels) offered a quick prototype to help see how it would look.

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the arc made sense, so now setting about squaring up a white oak timber for re-sawing

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re-sawn white oak and a glue-lamination form ready to make an arc

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the glue lamination in the form- my 8 year old son was indispensable in this process, helping to roll glue, assemble, and clamp

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rhythm is in unity to woodwork

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the white oak timber, reconfigured as a messy arc

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work for the jack plane

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now the smoothing plane

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cutting the tapers along the length of the arc at the band saw

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marking the taper at the width

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cutting the taper at the width

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more elbow grease with the smoothing plane

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shaping the many curves and facets along the arc, first with a drawknife

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then with spokeshave

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establishing details with knife

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facets ease into curves

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test fitting- some refining-shaping to go yet

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setting the location of the chamfers on the leg-base

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shaving away rasp markings

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carving corner transitions

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so many details to bring together- here the leg base is about done.

That’s it for this round- next week there will be lots of sanding, also carving and inlay work as the table finally starts to become unified. Thank you to everyone for following along, and for your encouraging comments.

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