Nakashima Inspired End Table Spalted Sycamore Natural Live Edge Top walnut base contemporary modern

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Project by Mark A. DeCou posted 05-09-2011 04:20 PM 15522 views 15 times favorited 25 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I just finished this Natural Edged Nakashima Inspired end table. It is the first finished in a set of two tables. The extraordinary wood for the top is Kansas Spalted Sycamore, with a Kansas black walnut modern contemporary base. The matching table top on the next table will be the bookmatched board cut just below this one on the log

If you would like something similar, you can commission this piece here

If you have questions, please email me:
[email protected]

If you like Nakashima Inspired Work, you might enjoy seeing this Conoid Base Table Project:

Click for details

Here is another Nakashima Inspired piece, Coffee Table Project:
Click for details


Project Story:
I ordered a “sycamore” log for this project, and expected the standard light colored wood, with a rather boring grain pattern. Actually, that’s what I ordered, since it was to match a coffee table slab top that I built in 2006 that had rather plain grain.

I wanted the bookmatched center boards from the log, so that I could pull out the quartersawn features of the boards cut close to the center of the log. That’s really all I was expecting.

Sycamore can be really pretty when quartersawn cut, but is rather plain grained in rift, or plain sawn lumber. Still it makes an interesting contrast in color to black walnut, so I enjoy using them in combination. Kansas has a lot of sycamore trees that grow along the rivers and creeks in the Flint Hills, Tall Grass prairie area that I call home. And, it’s an unappreciated wood around here, so I enjoy giving it’s wood “new life” in a piece of furniture.

So, I ordered the sycamore log, but when the log was cut, what I discovered when the boards were delivered to me was this extraordinary spalting. I knew immediately that it would be beautiful and stuck my thumbnail all around the surface cautiously, not expecting it to really be possible, worrying that I’d find that it had already gone “spunky”. It was all hard and solid, the spalting process was perfect without any rotted areas.

So, you see I waited patiently for a year to get the sycamore log, and another two years to let the wood air dry. I could hardly wait until the wood had seasoned enough to use for a commissioned set of end tables, purchased by a customer of the previous coffee table project I built in the Nakashima Inspired style.

One thing about natural edged, wide and thick boards, you can’t rush the drying process. If you do, it can split and warp to where it is unusable, unless just for firewood. If the drying is rushed, later when it does fully season in your home, the shrinkage causes all kinds of things you don’t want.

I’ve found the best way is to be patient, and that’s hard for me, and hard for my clients at times. But, patience pays off every time. Some things can’t be rushed, even in this computer generated world filled with factories and robots. I guess that’s something I like about working with wood.

The patience, the singular focus, the effort…..all of that makes it an enjoyable activity for me. The final project result is just the end of a long list of activities in the process….like a journey. I’m not trying to be all “mushy” or philosophical, I’m just trying to explain the reasons why someone like me would cough up dust all night, wear band-aids, be willing to invest their life savings and best years in a low-margin venture, where buckets of gold at the end weren’t expected, nor found. That’s a hard thing for some folks to understand. The nice thing about “Lumberjocks” is that these folks “get it”.

I added walnut dovetail butterflies to the top to secure some long cracks, and also to compliment the grain in the top. What I love most about Nakashima work is the use of unique, live edge boards, with all the flaws and bark inclusions, and knot holes, and those subtle butterfly dovetails. In other styles of furniture, we cut around the knots, and rip out the splits, and throw out the spalted sections, and the bug eaten edges are cut off. When I look for a log nowadays, I look for something with lots of bumps and limbs, and twists on the side of the tree, as those “flaws” seem to yield the most unusual pieces of wood. Those “flaws” are sometimes a real pain to work with, so I can understand why furniture factories stay away from such wood.

So, I felt this little table was a wonderful way to use a tree in it’s natural state…..natural state, what am I thinking? I guess so if you include cutting it down, sawing it into boards, stickering & weighting it down, and waiting on it to air dry, rough sanding it flat, adding butterfly dovetails, stabilizing the cracks with glue, filling in bark inclusions, sanding, sanding, and more sanding, mop sanding the edges, saturating it in Danish Oil, and finally spraying on two or three dozen layers of hand-rubbed nitrocellulose lacquer finish….....a lot of work really, but without the natural extraordinary spalting, this table would just be a table. If I could get every board to look like this, I’d never leave sycamore and walnut.

A Cross-Cultural Arranged Marriage?
For the base, this is something of a design I came up with on my own, at least I can’t find anything exactly like it in the two Nakashima books, but it is based on their design ideals and concepts.

I was looking for something of a modern sculptural design that would say,”hey did you see that incredible top!” Something interesting, but yet, not distracting from the top board.

In my opinion, the genius of the Nakashima work was/is the combination of natural live edges on a base that has an architectural feel to it. It’s like bringing together two cultures that don’t fit, but are bonded together through an arranged marriage. You can’t get that “feel” with log feet on a table like this.

emaila P1050977

emaila P1050968

here is a photo showing the base frame I made to hold the top flat and allow it to do it’s seasonal movements

emaila P1050987

thanks for reading,
Mark DeCou

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

25 comments so far

View HerbC's profile


1821 posts in 4139 days

#1 posted 05-09-2011 04:37 PM


You are a true artisan. You’ve done a wonderful job showcasing the beauty of the wood.

The spalted sycamore is spectacular. I just hope that some of mine (I have about 1000 BF drying currently) approaches the beauty of your piece.

Keep up the masterwork!

Be Careful!


-- Herb, Florida - Here's why I close most messages with "Be Careful!"

View mafe's profile


13403 posts in 4369 days

#2 posted 05-09-2011 04:52 PM

Beautiful work.
And what beautiful wood.
Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

View mmh's profile


3697 posts in 5002 days

#3 posted 05-09-2011 04:55 PM

What a gorgeous, gorgeous piece! It’s so wonderful to see how an artisan can salvage a piece of wood that would otherwise be tossed or burned.

-- "They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night." ~ Edgar Allan Poe

View rwde's profile


45 posts in 4838 days

#4 posted 05-09-2011 04:59 PM

Stunning wood, and great work with it, Mark. I’ve been accumulating boards, hoping someday to turn out something like this. Amazing and inspiring.

Question about the top/base connection – when I zoom in, the last pic appears to show 7 brass circles on the underside of the top. Are the tabs screwed into the underside of the top, and also attached to the top of the base? Thanks for sharing.


View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 5686 days

#5 posted 05-09-2011 05:06 PM

RWDE: those are figure “8” fasteners. They allow the wood to move, while holding it down. I fasten them so that the width of the board can grow and shrink with the seasons. Since the width moves more than the length I position the “8’s” accordingly. I paint them with a hammered copper color paint by krylon. I could make those from copper plate, but I think the steel is stronger against bending and flexing. The paint is just so they don’t look like hardware store metal. I paint the screw heads and other hardware pieces many times throughout the pieces I make.

thanks for all the nice comments folks,

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View Obi's profile


2214 posts in 5517 days

#6 posted 05-09-2011 05:26 PM

Again, your work is outstanding.

View Ken90712's profile


18081 posts in 4469 days

#7 posted 05-09-2011 05:31 PM

Amazing work and wood. It beautiful!

-- Ken, "Everyday above ground is a good day!"

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 4583 days

#8 posted 05-09-2011 05:43 PM

when i look into my email box and see a mark decou project…i always wait to open it last in my mail as i know im about to see something worth looking at …and im never disappointed…you sure came across some beautiful wood, ive got some sycamore myself…small pieces at that , but they are all spalted and beautiful at that…i love the table and the leg system is spot on..using the figure 8’s is a good call and i actually have a table in the works that will have a natural edge this one except its walnut…and i just might use the same sort of legs for mine as you have done here…thanks for the inspiring work mark…grizz

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View prompt's profile


341 posts in 3873 days

#9 posted 05-09-2011 05:48 PM

Natural tree… Always beautifully

-- Elhan, Azerbaijan

View llwynog's profile


288 posts in 3859 days

#10 posted 05-09-2011 05:54 PM

This is a pure beauty !

-- Fabrice - "On est bien bête mais on sent bien quand on se fait mal" - my grandfather

View 58j35bonanza's profile


395 posts in 3973 days

#11 posted 05-09-2011 06:36 PM

Just amazing the wood and craftsmanship that this piece shows.
Looks like the stars & moon were aligned just right for this project.
I would have a hard time letting it go.

-- Chuck

View Dennis Zongker's profile

Dennis Zongker

2859 posts in 4872 days

#12 posted 05-09-2011 07:08 PM

Very Nice! That is one beautiful piece of Spalted Sycamore!

-- Dennis Zongker

View Karson's profile


35279 posts in 5681 days

#13 posted 05-09-2011 07:48 PM

Mark: An amazing piece of wood, an an extraordinarty project to show it off.

I think that Nakashima wanted to piece of wood to stand on it’s own abd the base was jusdt to keep it off the floor.

A great design and piece of furniture.

-- 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]

View Damian Penney's profile

Damian Penney

1142 posts in 5271 days

#14 posted 05-09-2011 07:48 PM

Fantastic Mark – love everything about this.

-- I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it. - Pablo Picasso

View CharlieM1958's profile


16292 posts in 5498 days

#15 posted 05-09-2011 08:37 PM

Thanks for posting this, Mark. Amazing work as always. I don’t know how you had the patience to let this gorgeous wood dry properly before digging into it.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

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