More wooden fruit and other items from the natural world
My friend Steve Der-Garabedian, who has penned many great articles for us, always seems to have a pertinent and interesting woodworking story in his back pocket. After I wrote about wooden watermelon slices last week, he sent me a photo of a wooden apple, complete with a well-fed worm.
Der-Garabedian: Attached is a wooden apple complete with a happy worm. I was demonstrating at the Woodstock Woodshow, before COVID, and there was a gentleman across the aisle using an antique pedal scroll saw. He was just making small items like the apple and giving them away. He wasn’t selling anything and didn’t have a business card. He was just a nice guy on his pedal scroll saw. We talked a bit during the slow times but sadly I don’t even remember his name.
Any more wooden fruit out there, Canada?
All this talk about wooden fruit got me thinking about another furniture maker. Mark Levin is an American maker who has made a number of fruit-inspired pieces of furniture, mostly in coffee table form. His most successful piece is called “Heidi Pear Coffee Table” and is made of Australian lacewood. Levin has also made furniture inspired by apples, peaches and cherries. His work is well respected and sought after by collectors.
The outer structure of the pear-shaped table is made with a technique called stacked laminations. This is where, as the name implies, layers of solid wood are stacked on top of one another, like the bricks on the side of a house. The wooden bricks are shaped to a general curve before being glued to each other, then they can be worked with woodworking tools to reach the final shape. It’s a technique that American woodworking pioneer Wendell Castle popularized in the 20th century, though many other wood artists have used the technique since then. Levin specifically uses a hollow-core stacked lamination technique to make these tables, which is a slight variation on the theme. The result is a hollow form with solid wood walls that can be shaped and refined by the maker.
Not fruit-related, but I think Levin’s leaf-inspired work is stunning. It’s rare to see lines in furniture as fluid, natural and seemingly delicate as with this series from Levin. I’m sure many, many hours were spent power carving these pieces, followed by many more hours sanding the curved surfaces smooth. See more of his work at marklevin.com.
A few of my tables
About 25 years ago I made a coffee table in the shape of a cherry leaf. It wasn’t power carved in any way; it was a flat piece of black cherry, about 1-3/8″ thick that I cut on the bandsaw into the shape of a cherry leaf, complete with 6″ long stem. The simple base consisted of four gently curved legs and four gently curved stretchers. I had photos of it, but I’ve somehow lost them.
Shortly after I made that table, I tried my hand at a much smaller maple leaf shelf. It was about 15″ long and was essentially 2/3 of a maple leaf with a simple support piece that would keep it perpendicular to the wall. It was shaped in the round, which essentially means it was shaped in three dimensions. A few of the leaf tips extended upwards from the main shelf surface, and a few leaf tips dropped below the underside of the shelf. I glued on extra material to give me something to shape. I remember it being a very fun project, though I never put it up anywhere.
About 10 years after that I got into power carving and decided to try my hand at making a larger leaf table. At that point I hadn’t a clue who Mark Levin was, and I had never seen any of his work. I was just inspired by the shape of many natural objects and after walking by a ginkgo leaf one day I immediately knew that was the form I wanted to create. I practiced on some 2×4 spruce material I laminated, just to get an idea of how the stacked laminations should be created to get the best end result.
With a bunch of 8/4 black cherry on hand, I set to work to make my ginkgo table. The top was first. To glue up the pieces I decided to cut the parts into wedges, so the viewer would see the grain radiating from the stem area of the wooden leaf. I then added extra laminations on top of the main lamination to give me extra material to shape.
The process took a lot of work, but I was pretty happy with the end result. I entered the table into a woodworking competition put on by the Ottawa Woodworking Club and while on display at the show it sold.
I remember stumbling onto Levin’s work afterwards and being amazed at how refined and gorgeous his leaf series was. It’s very hard to create a piece from wood with flowing lines that not only look natural, but also functions perfectly as a piece of furniture.
I’ve power carved many things since, but never a leaf. Maybe it’s time for another.
One Happy Worm
Steve Der-Garabedian, a frequent contributer to Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement magazine, was given this apple by a fellow vendor at the Woodstock Woodshow.
Heidi Pear Coffee Table
One of Levin’s most successful pieces from his fruit series, this table measures 16"h x 42"l x 30"w and weighs about 110 pounds.
Shoshana Apple Table V2.0
Available in either cherry, sapele or walnut, the stem is removable for transportation.
Morgan Apple Side Table
Another one of Mark Levin’s fruit series tables, this piece features a piece of glass for a top
Sun Valley Leaf Hall Table
Mark Levin’s table is a great example of how power carving can bring wood alive and add an extra dimension to a piece.
Sun Valley Leaf Hall Table Detail
Levin does a great job of creating a flowing, natural looking line where the leaf edge terminates.
My Ginkgo Table
I made this table many years ago after walking past a ginkgo tree that had lost its leaves in the fall.
Shadows highlight the power-carved texture on the edge of the wooden leaf table top. Here you can see the wedges of solid cherry I cut and assembled to keep the grain pleasing to the eye
Keep the Natural Lines
One of the main tricks when shaping a table top like this is to ensure the edges are smooth and flowing.