The kitchen table, says Sabrina Brown, represents a tradition of both nourishment and nurture. For Charlie Shackleton, a woodworker all his life and furniture seller for over 20 years, “I knew a table was the easiest thing to do, and the most wanted item.”
Both of those views come together in the Naked Table Project, a weekend table building experience run through ShackletonThomas, the family business that sells Charlie’s furniture and his wife Miranda Thomas’s pottery.
At a Naked Table project, people gather at the Shackleton Thomas workshop to make kitchen tables. So far, over 50 maple tables have been created — available in either rectangular or oval styles — by participants who prepare the finish, sand all the parts (cut previously on a CNC router), glue them together, apply the finish, and attach the top — before concluding their weekend with a meal of locally harvested food served upon the tops of the tables they have just built.
The program is designed, Charlie said, to “attract not just people learning to be fine furniture makers. The skill levels required attract all sorts of people.” The program’s also designed to highlight the concept of sustainability — not surprising when it was developed partly as a result of Charlie’s attendance at a meeting of the Sustainable Woodstock [Vermont] organization.
Although he claims to have been half asleep when he thought of the idea, a conference exercise sparked the connection in his mind between these tables and the notion of sustainability. “It’s a very interconnected story,” he said. The personalities of the tree farmer, forest ranger, chainsaw wielder, skidder, the trucker who takes the log to a sawmill, the kiln drier are all within 15 miles of his Vermont location and are all local, interesting people, he said. The Naked Table events incorporate meetings among the participants and these resource providers.
During the day of the workshop, participants like Sabrina actually visit the forest the wood for their tables came from, and are given the g.p.s. coordinates of a sapling that marks the symbolic replacement of the tree that was cut for their table — marking wood as one of the most sustainable resources, Charlie noted, since it can be regrown. Tracing the circle from where the trees for the tables were cut to the location of the replacement saplings, “was kind of a spiritual thing,” Sabrina Brown said — another of the aspects Charlie Shackleton is trying to capture in this project.
“It’s connecting people to nature, to making things by hand,” he said, “using handwork to also connect with each other.”
The day after she and husband Fred Haas loaded their table into their vehicle and brought it home, Sabrina said, most of their five grown children and their grandson gathered around it for a traditional New England dinner of roasted chicken and fall vegetables. Replacing an old kitchen table that came from a rental property, the new table “is really important to us,” she said. “We created something special in our home.”