A Table for a Lifetime
“What you’re paying for is an idea,” Shackleton said. “An idea that fell as a seedling 80 years ago.” He explained how Vermont’s colder climate and high-nutrient soils make it the best place in the world for sugar maples. Then, after a quick snapshot of how the day would unfold, he asked us to move upstairs to the shop room. There was work to do.
So we did. The crowd of us–a husband who’d come to make something for his wife’s home office, a father-and-son team who were using the weekend to enjoy some time together, a middle-aged couple curious to see what they could make for their breakfast nook–found our workstations and pre-made tabletops, sides, and legs.
And then a funny thing happened: Those randomly assigned table pieces instantly became ours. Each of us marveled at the thick slab of boards that formed the tops, adored the slightly tapered legs, and examined the straight side pieces, slowly running our hands over the beautiful wood with the same care any of us would use in coddling a newborn. With our sandpaper we carefully followed the grains of our boards, inhaling the sweet aroma of the maple dust we were creating. By lunch, we’d all made good progress. Edges had been softened, surfaces smoothed, legs and sides glued up, and tops received the first of two coats of a locally produced natural clear-coat finish, partially made from whey discarded by Vermont cheesemakers. With the exception of the wood glue, our tables’ components were all grown within 50 miles of Bridgewater.
In the afternoon, we piled into cars and followed a winding dirt road up a hill to the Woodstock property where the trees for our tables had grown. With forester Pat Bartlett, we walked the land, marking a new generation of maple trees to replace the ones that had been felled for our furniture.
It was a fitting act of renewal, and a reminder of Shackleton’s goal behind Naked Table. It’s not a deep lesson plan on furniture making; none of us finished that weekend with any expert knowledge of joinery or how to true up a board. There are other classes for that. What it did for me, and I believe others, was to spark the idea that we can all be makers, not to mention appreciate more fully the origins of the materials that go into making the things that make up our lives. When you understand that it takes a lifetime to grow the wood to make your table, maybe you’re less likely to ditch it after a few years for a newer, more polished version.
The impact of Naked Table was all around me the following day in downtown Woodstock. As a slight drizzle fell, our new tables were lined up end to end down the center of Middle Bridge for a feast of locally made roasted-beet salad and slowly poached chicken breast. Grace and I sat down at my table, which was still less than 24 hours removed from its last sanding and final coat of finish. Seated next to us were all the people who’d played a part in its creation. There was Richard Wright, whose sawmill had cut and dried the lumber. Next to him was Bryce Limlaw, who’d cut down the timber. And across from Limlaw sat Dave Dugdale, who’d machined and milled the finished table pieces. They congratulated me on my new table, and we chatted about the role it would play in my young family. The story of these tables was being rounded out for them, too. “Most of my work is contract manufacturing for other companies,” Dugdale told me later. “I never get to meet the end customer. So to meet the customer and find out how they’re going to use the table, that’s very cool.”
Our new family table fit seamlessly into our kitchen. “It’s like it’s always been there,” Grace said. Two months later, in late October, our son, Calvin, was born. We’ve had some family meals around it, but its main role has been to serve more immediate needs: as a repository for mail, a temporary landing spot for newly washed baby clothes, a place from which to unpack our groceries. It also serves as a surface where we can prop Calvin up in his infant rocker. He babbles as we work quickly to make our food. It’s early, but I take that as a sign that he likes what his dad has made. I hope so, anyway. Someday, after all, it will be his.
For more information on project workshops, visit: shackletonthomas.com