The Walnut Tree that lives forever

There was a time many years ago when I felt that selling my furniture was best achieved by standing in front of a few carefully chosen pieces at an exhibition and talking to people. In many ways I still think that’s the best way of doing it as you learn very quickly about what kind of furniture people want and the best way of meeting new clients. Exhibitions like this are hard work and stressful so thankfully I dont have to do it quite so often now. I tell you this because it was at one of these exhibitions that I met Jo Cassabois.

Jo was not then a client, she was a fellow exhibitor and she had the stand in the aisle opposite me selling rather nice expensive French fabrics. I love your furniture she said. One day Ill have a piece made for us. Thank you I said and thought not a lot more about it other than it would be good to make something for Jo as she was so nice. But fine words, as the saying goes, puts no butter on your parsnips. However, in this case, they did, for three or four years later I get a photograph and a note in the post. Hi, remember me? Weve had this walnut tree cut down and I wondered if you would be interested in helping us turn it into a piece of furniture? Now people often come to me with stories of garden trees that have blown down and how they would like to make a whole pile of furniture from this tiny little log that usually wouldnt make more than a couple of decent fires. But this wasn’t one of those cases. This was a real serious log of English walnut. The photograph showed Jo and her daughter standing alongside this fallen log and the log came over this child’s head and well above Jos waist, and the log was lying flat on the ground.

So we began the process of working out how to get this log cut up into boards and dried so that we could use it for furniture making. We worked out that they were looking for a dining table and a set of eight chairs. They were building an extension to their home utilising an adjoining barn so creating a large high ceiling room in which this table and set of chairs would form a focal point or centrepiece. Jo had grown up in this house. She had seen this walnut tree in the field across the road since she was a little girl and was really glad that we could use the tree in a positive way and it could remain a part of her life and her familys lives. Knowing this, I suggested that we had the log sawn up into largely 1 boards, with some boards of 2 timber for the chair legs. My strategy was that we would have a large solid walnut dining table top and use a 2 to give us some of the leg and rail components and if necessary wed buy in extra wood for the table legs and this is in the end exactly what happened. Jo and Philippe, her husband, found a local sawyer who could deal with the log and I gave him the instructions necessary to cut the log to the sizes I required. Im sure this guy actually cheated us because Jo and Philippe told me this butt was probably 14 foot long and the log that I got was a whole 4 foot shorter than that so I reckon he cut the base of the log off which probably had the greatest colour and sold it for gun stocks but as I never saw the log at this stage I cant prove a thing.

I talked Philippe through the process of what he needed to do to sticker the log out, which is stacking it with thin strips of wood separating each of the planks allowing air to get around each surface to dry out. This we left in their barn for 2 summers before I went out and fetched it and took it down to my workshop in Devon. Here we continued the drying process by putting it in a mild dehumidification kiln. Once it came out, the slow process of making the table and chairs began. Keith Fernely took responsibility for overseeing the job, making the table and supervising the work on the chairs whilst Brian Moon took responsibility for the work on the chairs.

The table and chairs were finished with a lovely oil polish and Brian burnished it up to a nice shine. When I took the table to Jo and Philippes house, the place was pretty much still a building site, but they promised me they would send me photos when the room had been finished. As I mentioned earlier, they sell very beautiful French fabrics and their table and chairs were going to form part of a room set that they would use for a promotional photograph. I left it at that, except a few weeks ago I got an anxious e-mail about their fluffy table. Apparently, Jo had lovingly applied a coat of oil to the table before going away on holiday. Its not essential that clients regularly apply oil to an oil finished table, but it does help if occasionally it is given a reviving wipe over with an oily cloth. The trouble was was that this time Jo had thrown a blanket over the table and left it there over the summer before the oil had dried. When she came back, the blanket had stuck to the table leaving her with her fluffy table. I went up to see the damage and have sent them a pack of do-it-yourself table rescue kit, including mild abrasive, wire wool,white spirit and instructions as to how to get back their shiny table. All they need apply is the elbow grease. Ive not heard from Jo recently.


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