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I went to head to head with Josh to make some beautiful projects in a single board build off! We made some walnut pieces for a Thanksgiving table setting.

  1. Determine Your Needs
  2. Mill the Lumber
  3. Use What You Have

1. Determine Your Needs

For this initial build off between Josh and I, we agreed to make some items for the upcoming Thanksgiving meal from a single walnut board. Josh has a huge collection of rough-sawn walnut he purchased on Facebook years ago. The rough-sawn nature of his collection means that the boards are not ideal. All of his walnut boards need to be milled before they are useable. Walnut that you’d buy at the store is usually already jointed and planed into a dimensionally stable piece of lumber.

For this challenge, Josh picked out some thicker pieces he had, but they have bows, cracks, and bends in them. These boards had chalk “Xs” on them from the mill, indicating that they were throw-away, undesirable boards. We want to show that even with nasty boards, we can make some beautiful pieces to help set the table for a Thanksgiving meal or any family gathering. Josh plans on making a large serving tray and some chalkboard placards while I am making some napkin rings, a trivet, and a carved bread bowl.

2. Mill the Lumber

Like we previously mentioned, we will have to mill this lumber before we can begin our projects. Milling lumber is the process of cutting away the roughness of the wood using certain tools, to produce flattened and squared lumber. We made a Bits video all about Milling Lumber in case you want more information. Josh used the jointer, the planer, and the table saw to make his longer straight pieces for the serving tray. I used the drum sander and the table table to knock off the high spots for my glued up walnut blanks.

While the napkin ring and bread bowl blanks were drying, I used some extra walnut scraps and some fabric to make a rollable trivet. A trivet is a mat that you set hot dishes on so it doesn’t harm your tabletops. I cut the strips at an angle and glued them to the fabric. The high points on each strip will support the hot containers while the fabric holds them all together.

Josh cut up some 1/2″ thick walnut and cut small rectangular placards. He then used the drill press to add an angled hole to the back and inserted a dowel. Each placards now has a little kickstand to sit beside buffet-style dishes, explaining what is in each dish. He also began to assemble the bulk of his serving tray while I used the power carver to sculpt my bread bowl. I really liked the organic and artistic nature of the rough, power-carved surface. I put the napkin ring on the lathe and power carved the outside of the blank into an organic cylinder. Then, using the bandsaw, I cut that cylinder into thick rings and drilled out the centers. The napkin rings were pretty thick at this point, so I cut each one in half making thinner rings that are perfect for napkins and also a nice housing for tea lights.

3. Use What You Have

Once Josh had the serving tray all assembled, he used some brass drawer pulls as side handles. He cleverly matched the handle’s radius with the surrounding walnut creating a gradual curve on the outsides. We really wanted these table setting elements to be accessible and finished in a two-day time frame. We were able to create some really beautiful pieces using some scrap boards and left over hardware that we had laying around. You can impress the guests at a family gathering by adding specialty pieces you made yourself. Our projects were a mix of show pieces and functional table settings. Either way, you can add some crowd-pleasing elements to a gathering by using some scrap wood in your shop.

Challenge Indeed!

This challenge was indeed challenging because it forced Josh and I to go outside our comfort zones to make some really nice pieces. Yes, we did use walnut in this project which is usually pretty expensive. Josh found this wood on Facebook Marketplace from a random seller. Buying rougher boards in bulk reduced the price of each of these wonky boards to less that $1 each. Most milled walnut boards could go for around $80-$90 a board in woodworking stores. Yes, you will need more tools to use this cheaper, rough-sawn wood, but you can be the judge if the end result is worth it.