Table Top Crack? Butterfly Key Solution

What to do when your live edge table has a large crack.

We love our wooden slabs with their gorgeous grain and natural edges.  We embrace their natural defects for they tell the story of the tree’s life.  However, large splits can make big slabs unstable. Consider a contemporary butterfly or dovetail keys, made popular in the 1950s by George Nakashima, a Japanese-America woodworker.

While the inlay process is simple in concept, it can be tricky in practice.  Some people use a template and router but not me.  I do it the old fashion way.  It allows me to shape or size the key to suite the job at hand.  For the Viking table I wanted one large 6” key to bridge the largest gap at the end of the slab.    This handmade touch is now both decorative and structural. 

Side Taper is the Secret.
Stealing a page from the master, I add a slight bevel to the sides of my keys—roughly 1 degree or so, depending on the hardness of the woods—which makes the inlay process more forgiving. Stray a little with your knife or chisel, and the key fills the gaps as you drive it into place. The wood in the slab compresses a little to accommodate the slightly over-sized key.

To add that bevel in a consistent way I used a bandsaw to cut out the key with a 1° angle on all six sides, ripped it to about 2.5” thick and then used my disc sander to fine tune all sides.  There are several youtube videos to give you ideas on how to do this with the tools you have.

For wood selection I decided to go with leftover oak burl from a bowl I turned.  As the slab does not have too much variation in colors I did not want the key to dominate the table’s look by being too much of a contrast.  Selecting a piece of burl provides subtle interest.  It is also a much harder wood and the pecan gave way as I drove the key in, not the key itself. 

The rest of the process is pretty typical for all types of inlay: you rout to establish the depth of the pocket, and clean all sides with chisels.  After checking my work a few dozen times I am ready to glue the mortise walls and drive the key evenly in place.  A bit of sanding while the glue is still wet creates a mixture of glue and sawdust that will fill any defects and I am done, after 3 hours work. No need to use epoxy to fill defects.  Wood moves and it will eventually pop out this small amount of epoxy.

Modern Kitchen Complement

This client’s home has a modern design with clean, crisp lines, a simple color palette.  Rather than replace all kitchen countertops with the same hard surface material the owner elected to bring warmth into the kitchen by replacing the breakfast bar and bar top with Texas native pecan. 

To make sure the two countertop are a perfect match we started with one 13’ long slab from an old growth pecan tree what was 30” wide and 3 ½” thick.  This requires a few helpers to unload this 316 pound beast.










To level or flatten the slab we used a router.  For a slab this wide it required that we build a router sled that allow sore multiple controlled passes over the surface of the slab to level out the surface.  

Once level we strategically cut the slab into two pieces and shaped the countertops to match the curves in the walls.

The first coat of finish brought out the natural characteristics of the wood grain.  Texas native pecan never disappoints the client with the movement of the growth patterns.  The heartwood, dark reddish brown center of the tree, is spectacular with the mild grey accents.  The countertops also included a slight amount of the sapwood, the lighter white wood nearest the bark.   The client is extremely pleased with the final project.

Waterfall Wonder

Waterfall side table

Furniture made from wood slabs with natural edges still intact has a soulful, sculptural quality, thanks largely to the handiwork of Mother Nature. And creating projects with waterfall joints—a miter joint with the continuous-grain appearance of water going over a falls—only adds to the beauty.  But cutting tight-fitting, precise miters on stock with no straight reference edges and then gluing the miter together can be tricky. And, of course, you’re not making a four-sided frame so conventional clamping techniques aren’t going to work.

Here are some pictures and links for instructions on how I crafted side tables for The Sawyers House available at https://www.vrbo.com/1744359?noDates=true&unitId=2305861

Flatten and stabilize the slab

Your natural-edge slab will likely have rough-sawn faces and bark-covered edges. In order to create perfect-fitting miters, though, both faces must be flat and parallel. You can achieve this by running the slab through a wide planer or drum sander, but if that’s not an option, use a router and shop-made jig. This requires patience as you make repeated shallow passes across the width and along the length of the slab, but it’s effective.

Miter the waterfall joint

Because you can’t use a tablesaw, radial-arm saw, or sliding mitersaw to cut the miters, I used a portable circular saw equipped with a 60-tooth blade and a simple straightedge jig.

Set the circular saw for a 90° full-depth cut, and trim one edge of the jig to provide zero-clearance support. Position that edge on the cutline, clamping it as close to perpendicular to the slab’s edges as you can by eyeballing it. Then cut across the slab.

With the slab now in two pieces, tilt the saw blade to 45° and trim the other edge of the jig for zero-clearance support. Reposition the jig on the slab’s top face with the mitered edge aligned with the tip of the just-cut end of the slab, clamp it in place, and make a miter cut.

Strengthening and gluing the joint

Regardless of whether you’re making a table, desk, or bench, it’s crucial to strengthen the miter joint beyond just glue. Do this by concealing a loose tenon or two in the joint. This also helps align the joint.

For gluing the joint I used clamping blocks as a temporary addition, allowing me to clamp wood in a spot you might not otherwise be able to get a clamp. The drop off of the two 45° cut above will have the perfect angles for this purpose.  Keeping in mind clamping blocks are a temporary addition, we need to be able to get them off later. That’s where the CA glue comes in. It’s plenty strong for what we need to do here, but we’ll be able to easily remove the blocks after the joint is glued up.

Drawing the joint close

With a well-executed miter it shouldn’t take much to close the joint. A clamp on each block will be sufficient. Take it easy as you tighten the clamps, working your way across the miter.  Once the glue dries remove the clamps and knock the gluing blocks off with a rubber mallet. 

Dennis Banks
Waterfall Nightstand


Bartlett Pear Tree

Bartlett Pear Tree – It might appear to be a small log but when you consider the size of the ornamental pear tree in your yard, this is a score. Pear wood has a very delicate texture and quiet dignity making it a fantastic wood. It would not be practical as a primary wood in a large project such as a dining table or chest of drawers. Rather, it stands out as a contrast or accent wood to flashier or more deeply pigmented or figured woods. Consider using it as drawer fronts and panels in frame and panel designs.

A few years back we scored a few pieces of a pear tree stump from a curb side trash pile. The tree trunk had been cut into small pancake pieces. We used the wood to make small heart shaped boxes. It was a very easy wood to work as pear is a hard wood and moderately dense. I would show you a picture of the final product but my phone has since been stolen and they were the first boxes to be sold.

This tree is now at the warehouse and headed for the kiln.  It will be ready in just a few days for you fine woodworking project.  Call if interested 713-899-4587


Sycamore Salad Bowls

Last year I started to turn two sycamore salad bowls. The wood was too wet so I put the bowl blanks in a large bag of wood shavings.  The concept is that the dry shavings pulls the moisture out of the bowl blanks.

Yesterday I pulled the blanks out to find that I left them in there too long. Spalting has started to form in the wood.  Great from a visual artistic standpoint.  Not so much for a salad bowl.  Today I will turn the second bowl blank to see if it faired any better.

Natural Wood Countertop

After being pushed aside for years by showy stones like granite and marble and maintenance-free engineered materials like quartz and solid surfacing, natural-wood countertops are enjoying a real revival. Recently delivered to a new home construction, this island countertop offers all the one of a kind unique qualities of granite or marble. It has similar lines and movement with color variations of natural stones. In addition it is also a cure for the cold of common stainless steel. Visually rich and warm to the touch, these natural beauties are making a comeback

Salt Creek Creations crafted this 58” square island out of two 3” thick pecan slabs milled by Pepper Creek Creations. Sourced from the San Saba area this island top will provide a welcome textural contrast and a furniture-like finish to a new home in rural Texas.


Increasingly, homeowners and interior designers seek and appreciate natural wood countertops custom-created by quality craftsmen. They provide a warm, organic landing surface in a kitchen, one that is wonderfully forgiving, gentle on dishware, and able to absorb the noise of a busy household. Our variety of woods available is impressive, from subtly grained maple to deep, rich pecan to dramatic mesquite.

While wood countertops can add warmth, balance and beauty to any modern home, they also require a fair amount of attention. Because wood is susceptible to damage from heat and moisture, it must be sealed on a regular basis. The best part about wood, though, is that it can be refinished in the event that damage does occur.

Wood countertops are green. All of our wood is sourced from trees that needed to be removed from urban environments because of death, disease, damage from storms or insects, new construction or other hazards. Urban logging makes the best use of trees by reclaiming them and making them available for your heirloom projects. And while wood counters last for years, once worn out, they can be recycled.

Call us to discuss your next project.

Where do we get our wood inventory?

There is a benefit to the slowness of What a buger


Where do we get our wood inventory? Anywhere and everywhere.  Waiting in line at ‘What a Burger’ I noticed that the lot across the street was being cleared. At first I did not think there was much there, mostly small brush. Then I saw the sweet gum trees. One was already fallen by the heavy machine operator and the other was next on his list.




The man clearing the lot was very friendly and said I could take any of the trunks I wanted. Since he had the equipment I needed to take advantage of the situation. I grabbed my logging trailer and chain monkey wife and headed back over there. Within 20 minutes he had loaded two trunks on the trailer. I thought about getting a third but was concerned about the weight behind my truck and being able to stop in a safe manner.

Sweet Gum is native to warm temperature areas of eastern North America. You may not recognize the tree itself. The leaves are close in shape to a sugar maple. Fall color is variable but can be quite dramatic, with a combination of yellows, reds, and purples. Best way to identify a sweet gum is by the spiny brown balls of fruit it produces that drop off the tree over an extended period. The spines help protect the seeds from being eaten. If you step on them in bare feet you will not be happy.

Got to love a Deere

Sweet Gum is considered a hardwood and can be used in all types of projects. I have no idea what I will do with this tree. Once I slab it up I can see the amount of variation in the wood grain and color. For now I will add it to my other sweet gum collection at the mill in Lometa, Texas.

Black Walnut Table & Sap Wood

Black walnut is the king of all woods. Not only is the chocolate-brown heartwood beautiful it has cooperative working characteristics. For this entry table the chocolate-brown heartwood is surrounded by a thin band of cream-colored sapwood and two outside live bark edges remain intact. It is a joy to work with black walnut.

This entry table was commissioned from Texas Native Black Walnut. Black Walnut is a large tree to 100 feet tall and a trunk to 3 feet or more, with a straight stem. They can be found in East Texas on rich bottomlands and moist fertile hillsides, as far west as the San Antonio River. This tree was found along Buffalo Bayou in Houston Texas.

The black walnut tree once grew abundantly in the eastern U.S. bottomland forests, where the soil was deep and rich. Trees 150 feet tall with 50-foot clear stems and 6-foot diameters were not uncommon. The rage for walnut as a fine furniture wood occurred in a period from 1830-1860, during the popularity of the Empire, Victorian, and Revival styles. Unfortunately by this time, black walnut wood was already becoming scarce.

Black walnut is a slow growing tree which accounts for the durability of its heartwood. It would be hard to overstate Black Walnut’s popularity among woodworkers in the United States. Its cooperative working characteristics, coupled with its rich brown coloration puts the wood in a class by itself among temperate-zone hardwoods. To cap it off, the wood also has good dimensional stability, shock resistance, and strength properties.

For this table I have included the thin band of cream-colored sapwood. Interesting fact – The sapwood, comprises the youngest layers of wood and is the network of thick-walled cells brings water and nutrients up from the roots through tubes inside of the trunk to the leaves and other parts of the tree. As the tree grows, cells in the central portion of the tree become inactive and die. These dead cells form the tree’s heartwood.

Black walnut never faltered in its use as gunstock material. It is unsurpassed, since no other wood has less jar or recoil, it doesn’t warp, shrink or splinter, and it is light in proportion to its strength. The smooth, satiny surface makes it easy to handle.

Bookmatched Live Edge Table

Bookmatch table top
Book Match Table Top glued

Client from Fort Worth has selected Pecan for their bookmatch live edge dinning table. The two live edge slabs were sequential cuts, being face to face in the tree. When opened, trimmed and joined the wood grain will be mirrored reflecting pages in a book placed side by side.

The outside live edge will be maintained.


A New Altar for St. Catherine’s

We celebrate mass this week with a gift from the Friends of the Mass: a new altar table created entirely from a single magnificent slab of cottonwood. A labor of love and handcrafted dedication, the altar features a distinctive mahogany “butterfly keys” on the surface, and a “live-edge” design that preserves the natural bark of the tree.

One of the many groups under the PSO (Parent Service Organization) umbrella is the Friends of the Mass. The group is a duo; two parents who were approached in the spring of 2015 by the PSO and staff to help out Upper El guide Tim Snow who had been handling the monthly masses. The mothers, Heather Kendall and Angela Fowler, were friends, and their daughters were studying for the sacrament of first communion together at the time. It was a good fit.


“One of our goals with Friend of the Mass is to make mass more beautiful and interesting, for the children in particular,” said Angela Fowler. “More community oriented and more friendly to people who aren’t of the Catholic faith. You have people who aren’t Catholic in the school, so we hope to make it interesting and open to all.”


“I was blown away by the All Saints’ Day mass,” added Heather. “Children drew those beautiful banners. The thought going into the masses now makes it more special.”


St. Catherine’s recently received a gift of priestly vestments, acquired new mass candlesticks, and hopes to purchase liturgical vessels. One of the most significant additions to the masses at SCM, however, will be the new altar. Blessed by Fr. Tom Smithson, pastor of Corpus Christi, and used for the first time at this week’s mass celebrating the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the altar is a magnificent slab of cottonwood, a hardwood native to Texas.



The altar has been over a year in the making, a labor of love and handcrafted dedication. Previously, the school had used “a small plastic table from Costco,” said Heather. “My husband [Ben Mull] is handy so I thought it [making an altar] could work.”

“Of course,” she laughed, “this is when we thought it would take five hours not the hundred it turned out to be!”


The wood was purchased and milled at Pepper Creek Creations & Sawmill Services in San Saba, TX. Dennis Banks, a master woodworker and the mill’s proprietor, remembered the sale: “Heather and my wife are friends. We got a Texas cottonwood from Lampasas TX, North of Austin. The cottonwoods there are massive, beautiful. They mentioned that it might be kids taking this apart so we picked a wood that was light. It’s soft, but the end product wasn’t going to be taking abuse so it worked.”


Key features of the altar include that portability. It’s a single slab that rests upon a base of two legs supported by a trellis. Four dowel joints connect the slab to the base, fitting tightly without nails or screws needed. The table top has some remarkable design features: the sides are “live-edge,” meaning the natural bark of the tree is visible, preserved and integrated into the design without being cut away and discarded.


The top also features distinctive butterfly inlay keys: wedge-shaped wings of wood that are oriented across the grain, locking a split in the wood into place. The surface of the wood had a crack, and rather than cutting, sanding, gluing or otherwise erasing this feature, the table was designed to highlight it.


The altar came to life in the Kendall-Mull garage as parent Ben Mull designed, cut, sanded, chiseled, polished and shellacked it in frequently consultation with Dennis Banks of Pepper Creek Sawmill. “It was very nice having his support through this,” said Ben Mull, especially once the scope of the work became apparent. “The notches on the trellis took three hours per notch,” he recalled. “I wondered what I’d gotten myself into more than once. [The project] seemed to get bigger and bigger as we went on.” He persevered because, “I knew it was for the kids. So I was inspired to get it done so they could have it.”


“When Ben Galvan and Augustine Ponce [SCM facilities staff] came to pick it up, it felt like part of me leaving,” reminisced Heather Kendall, adding with a laugh, “but now we can park our car again.”


“Ben [Mull] did a beautiful job,” said Angela Fowler, noting the way the altar integrates the overall sensibility of the school. “St. Catherine’s is so nature-oriented, and now we have this piece of cottonwood…it adds just adds so much to the environment.”