In the late fall of 1982 a friend told me he had a cherry tree on his property that had to be taken down. He thought I might be interested in it. At 17 feet in circumference it was the largest cherry tree I’d ever seen around here. I was having ecstatic visions of single-board, cherry dining tables four feet wide and eight feet long.
The tree was out of my league for harvesting so I contacted Michael, a tree surgeon friend from over in Bennington. He came by the next week whereupon he fired up a saw with an 18” bar, poked it into the tree’s base and walked around the tree as if undoing a zipper. It came down through the forest canopy like a brontosaurus tripping over a boulder. I refused to believe my eyes. The tree was rotten hollow. The heartwood was deep red and punky. Center rot had left this specimen with a rim of living wood about eight to ten inches thick. Michael had known this from the outside of the tree. I had not and was devastated. My board-lust limp, I went home.
Such trees can be very dangerous to cut down because the logger can’t really know what’s going on inside it. The stresses and loads within can cause it to behave in unpredictable ways; “ widow-makers,” as every logger knows. Historically, hollows were used by loggers as culverts for logging roads in remote areas.
It took me a while to get over it, but by the spring of 1983 I had begun to think of the hollow cherry tree as a cylinder. That lead me to think about how carved hollows might work as bases for tables and other furniture components. I’ve been working with hollows ever since; usually maple or yellow birch but occassionally cherry, red oak and beech.
My initial explorations were drum-type tables: a carved base with an inset piece of glass flush with the top such as Double Dovetail. Often I carve an integral log section to create a base for a glass or wood topped table, but I also cut the cylinders apart and use the sections as the basic units for modified trestle bases or as legs on tables and benches. To generate a tractor-style seat for Writing Chair I carved three-fourths of a cylinder which I joined to the yellow birch root system base with a chair swivel.
After several years of working with hollows I was at the Museum of African Art in NYC when I came across some Cameroonian furniture pieces which were hollow-carved. I was excited to find that, though unaware of it, I had been working within an important tradition; at least in terms of the use of the materials and processes. This has led to a continued study of African and Oceanic carved work and further explorations with hollows. The possibilities are limitless.
David carving interior of hollow cherry log 1983; Logger delivering hollows, ca 1984; Sanding the outside of log to establish its attributes, ca 1985
Carving the interior; Miller Dining table in progress; completed Miller dining table, 2000.