Cara had been looking for a rocker her size for ten years. I made her a Comb Back Rocker one thickness of Nancy Evans’ ‘American Windsor Chairs’ shorter than it’s usual height, put simpler hand-holds on it and made the seat of walnut. Walnut seats on traditional chairs are not my thing (I feel like the seat is screaming ‘look at me!’), but long ago I decided that I would take any order that I enjoyed building so I took happily took this one. While I was carving the walnut I had second thoughts, but maybe I’ll make some with butternut seats and see if they sell.
Here’s how I got that piece of walnut:
It was the biggest walnut tree I had ever seen, laying there in someone’s back yard, dead. Acting on instinct alone, I slammed on my brakes and sent a torrent of apples and herbs shooting out of the grocery bag onto the truck floor. But what did I care for apples?
I knocked on the door of the closest house and a man answered.
“Do you know who owns that tree down in the yard back there? I’m a chairmaker and I might be interested in it.” I’ll admit that was quite an understatement.
“I just put that walnut log up on Craigslist for $1000, but I‘d take a couple stools for it.“ he replied.
Now I know, and he probably knew, that no walnut log is worth $1000. I since learned he hadn’t even put the log on Craigslist yet, and he never did. Craigslist was just a threat to get me to act – and it worked.
“I’ll give you a couple stools for it,” I said.
The log was so big it barely fit onto Glen’s sawmill and the boards were so big two people couldn’t lift them. Using rollers and crowbars, I stacked them under a tin roof on the north side of my shop. They lay there for three years as sap slowly evaporated and the color deepened to a rich chocolaty brown.
As I brushed shellac onto the walnut seat of Cara’s comb-back rocker, I remembered all the effort and care that went into getting that piece of walnut. Looking at the rich colors emerging under my brush and I knew it was all worth it.