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"Conference Tables" by Jim Boesel
Fine Woodworking Magazine, June 1990. Page 90.

Solid Wood, however, is Lewis Judy's specialty. Although Judy, of Jefferson, Ore., appreciates the fancy veneers and intricate designs on many conference tables, he feels that making large tabletops from solid wood may very well be the best possible use of a magnificent natural resource. The table's effect should come from the majesty of the wood itself and not from a labor-intensive process of piecing together veneer to achieve a designer's conception.

Like most furnituremakers, Judy was asked periodically to salvage the timber in an old hardwood tree that was doomed because its roots threatened a home's foundation or its limbs a roof. Finally, about five years ago, he began taking people up on these offers and found local workers who had the necessary equipment to fell and load the large walnut trees found close by on the western side of the Cascade Mountains near Salem, Ore. Although Judy already had a thriving business building a line of solid no-nonsense oak furniture, this new resource inspired a whole new line of furniture: more formal, more geared to one-of-a-kind pieces and especially designed to show off the incredible color and figure of the 50-year- to 200-year-old walnut trees he was cutting. Because he supervises the milling, he sometimes gets several planks up to 24 in. wide from a single tree. Judy has wood that will make a 20-ft.long, 4-ft.-wide conference table with just to book-matched boards. These two-board, walnut tables, like the 14-ft.-long table in the top photo, are certainly impressive, but there are times when a client prefers a different wood or the room itself demands an unusual shape.

The mahogany table in the bottom photo at left shows how a conference table's design can be dictated by a room's size and shape. Because the room is an irregular hexagon, a long rectangular table was not the best use of the space and although circular or square shapes were possibilities, a triangle seemed more appropriate. The triangular table, which is 13 ft. on each slightly curved side, complements the odd shape of the room, and still preserves an open area near the entry. By building the table in three separate triangular sections that are keyed together with brass splines, Judy accomplished several things: he reduced the overall potential for the wood to expand or contract, divided the table into manageable-size pieces and added a design element to break up the monotony of the large surface. The mating sides of the three table sections are grooved to receive ½ in.-thick by 3-in.-wide brass splines. A central brass hub, with "spokes" that extend about 18 in. along each joint, supports the center of the table and a single Tite Joint fastener in the center of each joint holds the tabletop sections together. The base consists of three veneered-plywood barrels, one directly under each of the joints where the top sections come together.

This triangular table resides in the center of a hospital and unlike some of the more elite conference tables pictured in this article, it receives daily hard use. in fact, after less than two years in service, it's already due for refinishing. This prompted Judy to point out that durability and reparability may be the best to arguments for using solid wood for any table. Seeing the wear and tear on this table reminded me that for every fancy, pampered conference table, there are at least a hundred others that, though smaller and humbler, serve the same purpose- to provide a place for ideas to be discussed and decisions to be made.

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