Naughty (Knotty) Refined Rustic White Oak & Black Walnut China Hutch, Antler Handles, Antique Glass

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Project by Mark A. DeCou posted 05-04-2006 04:47 PM 22845 views 18 times favorited 36 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This is my entry in the ”A Knot Like No Other” category for the Winter Lumberjock woodworking Competition.

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Project Story:
I have a hard time choosing one knot that is special on this project though. I suppose the story behind the knot that started this commission is probably the one to tell you about. The middle board in the space between the walnut topped Base, and the top Hutch is really what started this project.

I was given a 12” Spiral Toothed Jointer from a friend wanting to help my business. The first board I ran across it was a waste board about 10” wide, with a knot in the middle that was about 8” wide. I ran it through the jointer a few times, and low and behold, that knot was gorgeous, without any tearout at all. A testimony for Grizzly’s spiral carbide technology. This feat would have been impossible with a straight blade set up.

I decided at that time to save that “First” board and make a clock face out of it as a gift back to my friend who gave me the jointer. So the “knotty” board was sitting quietly in my shop when a client came by for a visit to discuss their custom design for a china hutch, table, and chair set.

They had recently built a Stone House in the Kansas Flint Hills, and they didn’t want to use their old early-American style furniture from someone like Ethan Allen’s showroom, in the new house. They wanted something more rustic, more fitting to a stone house, and using Kansas Flint Hill’s wood. They have a vacation cabin in Southwestern Colorado and had been viewing custom furniture showrooms while on trips to their cabin, and decided that they wanted me to build the new pieces for them.

We had been “discussing” the project for about a year, and we could just never get to a final decision on the type of wood, or the look of the design. Then, quite out-of-the-blue that day they visited my shop, the Wife saw “that” board with the big beautiful knot sitting in my shop, and asked, “Can you do a knot like that on every part of the cabinet?”

I explained to her about the uncommon nature of “that” particular Knot and it’s future planned purpose, and how hard it would be to do that for an entire cabinet, and how time consuming it would be. She decided that she wanted the whole cabinet that way, and wanted to use “that” board in the project.

At the time, it all seemed like a lot of fun to try, and something I knew would look “custom” when it was finished. I try very hard to take only commissioned projects that will look custom-built, not something anyone would confuse as coming from a factory, or being a refinished antique. The reason is that I’m looking to build as original-a-looking things as I can find to build while I can still do it. This “Knotty China Hutch” sounded to be just along those lines. So, I was pretty excited that day.

So, with the “go-ahead”, I headed back to the wood miller and sorted through a huge pile in his old barn, looking at the boards that everyone else had rejected. I had just finished a two year commission of building Arts & Crafts Pieces from Quartersawn White Oak, and I had done most of the sorting of the boards into the discard pile. It is funny how things work out. For two years, I had been discarding boards as I sorted, and then the next year, I take those boards also. I guess you could call that “Green Woodworking.”

I then took the “knots” and “burls” from those boards and resawed them on my little Rockwell 14” bandsaw, jointed and planed them to 1/4” boards, and used them for the door and back panels.

There is no plywood in this project, as it is all Kansas Burr Oak (White), except for the Kansas walnut tops and drawer boxes, all of which have as many knots as I could work into the design.

The side panels of the cabinet were made from badly wormy pieces of wood, a “luck” find while looking through the discarded board pile in the wood miller’s barn. At night, when the room is dark and the Hutch interior lights are on, the worm holes look sort of like stars.

This project was quite a bit more work than I expected it to be at the onset.

For those of you that have planed knots before, big knots, especially down to 1/4” of inch in thickness, you can imagine the struggles I had trying to keep the boards in one piece while I worked them into the panels.

Since the project was a time and material contract, I took quite a polite-chewing-out at the final check writing. Eventhough the pricing was “blown” they couldn’t deny that it was a truly original “custom” looking China Hutch. And, it is about the first thing anyone new notices upon entering their house. Kachow!

I took this project as my judged entry in the Western Design Conference in 2006, and the customer paid about half of my expenses to get there, and loaned me back their furniture to take. Other friends and family paid the rest of the expenses for the show. It didn’t win any prizes, but I thought it fit fairly well in that show, and was received well by the public. I also knew that I was probably the poorest ($$) custom furniture builder in the show, only there by the gifts of love from family, friends and customers. It was a great experience for me on many levels. Someday, I hope to attend another “big” woodworker’s show.

I also made a dining table and set of chairs to match, using the knottiest burr oak tree I could find for the table top, and the chair seat bottoms.

As a side note, after the Hutch was built and delivered, the customer decided that she would rather not have a walnut top, or the antler handles. So, I replaced the walnut tops with more knarly, figured burr oak, and replaced the antler handles with wrought iron knobs that I bought from a catalog. So, if you like the look of the walnut tops, I still have them in the shop where they are quietly waiting for another project to be used with. If you are interested, let me know as my wife has her eye on them.


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Here are the other pieces in this commission:

Click for details

Click for details

And the prototype carved chair:

Click for details


Note: If you like the things sitting on the shelf in the studio photos of Hutch,
  1. The Flute I made and is posted here
  2. The powder horns I made and are posted here
  3. The maple and walnut music box I also built, and will post that someday, maybe.
  4. Turned Square Walnut Platter, another project for a future posting.
  5. The mahogany turned Communion Cup with Gold Guilding is another project for a future posting someday.


The front lettering is carved in a raised relief style, and was selected by the customer. I asked them to come up with a phrase of a length that I could fit on the board that they wanted to speak to every visitor to their home. I suggested they pick something that expressed who they truly are as people.

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Here is the photo of the Kansas Flinthill Prairie hills that I took that I used for the inspiration for the carved hills in the background of the carved letter board.

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The left side hutch carving is a representation of the customer’s house and oak tree sitting in their front yard.
Here is the Original Photo I took. I used this photo as a reference when creating the artwork for the carving.

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The right side hutch carving is of a stone arch bridge on a river close to the customer’s home.

Here is my photo of the bridge. I used this photo as a reference when creating the artwork for the carved panel.

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I used the same White Oak for the Secondary Wood, and Walnut for the drawer boxes.

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I started by building the base unit on the work bench. I used a strange type of post and beam construction method that I devised on some Arts & Crafts pieces I built before this. All of the joinery is mortise and tenon, pegged with walnut pegs.

Here is a side panel of the base unit after the finish was applied.

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I am showing here the process of carving the Side Panels. This artwork is the one with the Walnut Tree and the Customer’s House. I start off by taking a photograph of the area. Then, I convert the photograph into a concept that I can carve, adding elements, or taking out details to get the look I want. What I am after here is inspired by the late-Birger Sandzen, a famous Kansas Painter. I am trying to catch the prairie wind’s effect on everything, such as the trees and grass. After transferring the pattern to the wood, I use many power and hand tools to carve out the picture. Shown here is the first step, the free hand routering of the background. I have shaded with a pencil all of the background that will be removed with the router. Notice all of the worm holes in the carving blank. This was difficult to work around, but they added a rustic impression to the carving that I wouln’t have gotten another way. The Sandzen-Style of artwork is impressionistic, and thick, and wild, so that is what I am trying to do with the wood carving.

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After the finish and airbrushing, here is a bad photograph of the final carving:

Here is the finished bridge carving. When I was trying to figure out what to carve for the side panels. I had gone around the Flinthills and took photographs of many of the local icons. I converted those photos into a set of sketches that I let the customer look through to select their two favorite ones for the carvings. In that process, the kids and I were driving by this old Bridge at Clements, KS, and stopped to take a photo with them on the bridge. I stepped around and took some other photos, and then converted one of them into a sketch for the customer packet. I didn’t anticipate that they would like the bridge, so I didn’t really put a lot of thought into how I would carve it. Low, and behold, that is the one they picked. I ended up carving the grout lines in the limestone rock, and then airbrushed the shadowing and mildew on the rocks.

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If you want to learn more about these steps I use to carve, I did a tutorial from another project here:

Carving of the Panels Blog

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thanks for looking,
Mark DeCou

The good photos are credited and owned by Trey Allen, Wichita, KS

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Slide Show of other Art-Furniture Pieces I’ve built:

Want to See More of my Furniture Work?:
If you go to my Mark DeCou Website you will find that I have not updated my website in quite some time. I realize that I need to invest in improving my website, but until that is accomplished, here are some more Lumberjocks related lilnks with updated postings of my furniture work, sorted into categories. Thanks for your interest in my work, and your patience with my website.

Arts and Crafts, Mission Style Related Projects:
  1. Arts & Crafts Entry Table; with Carved Oak Leaves
  2. Arts & Crafts Orchid Stand w/ Wine Bottle Storage
  3. Arts & Crafts Style Morris Inspired Chairs
  4. Arts & Crafts Display Top Coffee Table
  5. Arts & Crafts Style Inspired End Table Set
  6. Arts & Crafts Style Inspired Prairie Couch
  7. Table Lamps
  8. Arts & Crafts Carved Entertainment Center
  9. Mission Entertainment Center
Church & Worship-Art Related Projects:
  1. Carved Communion Table
  2. Carved Roll Top Sound Equipment Cabinet
  3. Fancy Church Side Altars
  4. Processional Cross
  5. Fancy Speaker's Lectern
  6. Church Hymn Number Board
  7. Communion Chalice (Cup) and Paten
Art-Furniture Related Projects:
  1. Sam Maloof Inspired Walnut Rocker
  2. Original Art Carved Tilt Front Desk, inspired by Birger Sandzen
  3. Natural Edge; Nakashima Inspired Coffee Table
  4. Decoratively Painted Box End Tables
  5. Birch China Cabinet for Cut Glass Collection
Rustic, Western, Cedar Log, and Cowboy Related Projects:
  1. Naughty (Knotty) Refined Rustic White Oak & Black Walnut China Hutch
  2. A Kansa Indian and Buffalo Accent Art-Chair
  3. Refined Rustic Dining Chairs
  4. Refined Rustic Dining Table
  5. Cowboy-Western Style Suitcase/Luggage Support Racks
  6. Fun With Cedar Logs #1; Sitting Stool
  7. Fun With Cedar Logs #2; Coat/Hat/Spur Rack
  8. Fun With Cedar Logs #3; Western Style Hat/Coat Rack
  9. Fun With Cedar Logs #4; Entryway Stool
Outdoor Furniture Related:
  1. Kennebunkport Style Adirondack Chair
  2. Outdoor Garden Wedding Arbor
  3. Outdoor Project: Cedar Wood Double Settee

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Still Want to See more of my work?

Start with each of these links, and they will take you to other organized lists of my other niche products:

  1. Custom Knives
  1. Custom Walking Canes and Walking Sticks
  1. Artisan Hat Making Tools

(Note: Text, Photos, Carving Artwork, and Project Design are protected by copyright M.A. DeCou 2008 or as dated)

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

36 comments so far

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 5442 days

#1 posted 08-07-2006 05:08 AM

I love the details of this piece, the pulls, the pins and the natural edges. How great that something so fantastic sprung from rejected boards at the lumberyard. Congratulations on getting into that show on your first try, no small accomplishment. Well done!

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View oscorner's profile


4563 posts in 5426 days

#2 posted 08-07-2006 08:15 AM

500 hrs! You’re a very patient woodworker. The hutch is beautiful! I can’t believe you doubted that it would be approved for the exibit. Congradulations!! I’d love to see pictures of the table and chairs.

-- Jesus is Lord!

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 5521 days

#3 posted 08-11-2006 11:04 PM

Hey Scott B: thanks for taking the time to comment. Woodworkers will appreciate this piece simply for the use of those rejected boards. The rest of the “furniture using world” won’t notice it, or understand the difficulties involved. Thanks for noticing it,

Mark DeCou

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 5521 days

#4 posted 08-11-2006 11:20 PM

Hey oscorner:
I work slow I guess. I have a woodworker buddy in Nebraska that runs circles around me in terms of speed. The two carved panels in the wormy white oak took me right at 40 hours each to carve, with several more doing the photography of the actual locations I used in the artwork, and then converting the photos into a carving friendly sketch. The lettering and hills in the background took another 24 hours. Since I didn’t use plywood in this piece. I spent a lot of the 500 hours slowly surface planing all of the boards for the door panels, side panels, and back panels. Since they were knotty and burls, they flew apart in the thickness planer, requiring me to methodically run a few passes about 1/512ths of an inch thick on each pass, and then stop to seal up the cracks with CA glue. Once a guy has done that enough times for taking the boards from rough 1” thicknesses to 1/4” thickness, you can’t tell whether all of the CA glue fumes is giving you hallucinations, or whether it just seems like you’ll never get done with it all. I was seriously worn out on this project when it was finished.

I’m working on the matching dining table and chairs now, and was over at the customer’s house last week working on some design details with them. They have decided that they don’t want the contrasting color burled walnut tops on this piece, but rather, they want me to do them over again in burled/knotty white oak. So, at least I get the walnut tops back, and I can glue them together and make a dining table or something with them. Also, they have decided to do away with the antler handles, and use some hand forged black iron handles I will order from a catalog. So, this set of pictures documents a piece of furniture, that will not survive the next revision of work. The customer is always right.

I built myself a router surface thickness leveling system to flatten and work with the thick slabs of white oak for the table and also now for the hutch tops again. If I can figure out how to load them, I’ll put some photos of the fixture I devised in some section in the Forum one of these days.

Another challenge I encounted on this commission is that the customer decided that they would prefer to have the dining chair seats sculpted similar to a Sam Maloof Rocking chair, but out of one piece of white oak slab with a natural edge on the back. This has been a real chore, as the slabs that are 20” wide, 1.5” thick, don’t stay flat too easy. Also, since I was carving 6 chair seats, I didn’t want to do it with the carving gouge and mallet like I did when I made my Sam Maloof Inspired Walnut Rocking Chair (a project I just finished, and will upload to this site when I get it photographed).

One last thing: I did a stint in old Red Stick, LA right out of college. I worked in the Exxon Refinery there for 3 years, before moving back to Kansas. I don’t miss the summer humidity, but the seafood is sorely missed. Thanks for taking the time to comment on my project,

Mark DeCou

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 5430 days

#5 posted 05-27-2007 03:45 AM

Awesome work Mark. I was just showing my wife some of your beautiful stuff. This one is just amazing!

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 5521 days

#6 posted 05-27-2007 06:27 AM

Hey Dennis: this project was an exceedingly amount of work. I still shutter thinking about all of the hours I spent resawing and book matching, filling knots and planing to thickness all of the panels.

The China Hutch has had the deer antler knobs removed now, and in it’s place are black iron knobs, that the customer preferred. I’ll find a project/customer for those deer antler knobs at some point, but they are not widely called for in Kansas. I hope that changes over the years.

thanks again,

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View Chip's profile


1904 posts in 5208 days

#7 posted 11-22-2007 05:28 AM

This is extraordinary woodworking Mark. Really stunning.

-- Better to say nothing and be thought the fool... then to speak and erase all doubt!

View Steamdonkey's profile


16 posts in 4920 days

#8 posted 12-27-2007 09:06 PM

Amazing piece of work Mark. I love the live edge on your piece, something I have not seen used with oak before.

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 5521 days

#9 posted 01-19-2008 01:00 AM

I added some more text and photos today.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 5521 days

#10 posted 01-19-2008 01:04 AM

Seeing Oscorner’s comments from 529 days ago makes me sad that he is gone from LJ.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 5521 days

#11 posted 01-19-2008 01:16 AM

Seeing Oscorner’s comments from 529 days ago makes me sad that he is gone from LJ.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 5521 days

#12 posted 01-19-2008 01:18 AM

I also added some photos showing the pieces in the client’s home after the walnut top was taken off and replaced with White Oak, and the Whitetail Shed Antler door and drawer handles were replaced with black forged iron handles.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View rikkor's profile


11295 posts in 4990 days

#13 posted 01-19-2008 11:43 AM

Well that is just stunning. What detail!

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 5521 days

#14 posted 01-19-2008 03:53 PM

I added progress photos this morning. This concludes all of the photos for this project. If you have any questions, let me know.

Thanks for reading along,

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View Karson's profile


35276 posts in 5516 days

#15 posted 01-19-2008 04:07 PM

Mark Great additions. A nice set of photos. and construction details.

This is the stuff which sets this web site apart for all of the others.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

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