With their new construction, the Mary C. Jenkins Community and Cultural Center commissioned the creation of a beautiful Sweetgum wood conference table that now graces the larger conference room in the new Center. When construction plans indicated that the large Sweetgum tree near the old Center would have to be cut down, community members chose to utilize the tree’s wood to bring elements of the old Center and its landscape into the new.
This unconventionally large and unique conference table was created by the artisans at 3Oak Handcrafted. Hannah Councill and her team were “honored to give this tree a second life so that it can welcome and serve the community in the new space.”
One notable feature is a “live edge”, which means that the side of a piece of planed wood is left with its natural contour and character, rather than being sawn into a regular straight edge. The character of the highly resinous Sweetgum grain is remarkable and eye-catching. Councill said that while the table was in their showroom/workshop, the beautiful table often garnered comments and requests for similar work. The 3Oak artisans shared their process and the challenges of working with this uncommonly utilized wood. They realized that working with Sweetgum was going to be a challenge when the table was commissioned. Sweetgum isn’t a common tree at this elevation and is therefore not a wood that they had worked with previously.
Sweetgum trunks grow very straight with little branching, which would make them seem ideal for furniture construction; however, their grain is unusual in that rather than running parallel, it interweaves, making it more difficult to get clean, even splits. Furthermore, interwoven grain can cause shrinking and warping as the wood dries, so extra measures have to be taken in order to prevent this from occurring. The size of the table was also challenging. Many of the tables created by 3Oak use two side-by-side planks of wood; this commission used three. The size was intentional to accommodate as many people as possible when seated at the table.
The Sweetgum tree was already a fixture in the minds of the community members who frequented the Mary C. Jenkins Center and will continue to support the building of community with its new purpose. Photographs and information for this column are provided by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room, Transylvania County Library. This article was written by Local History Librarian Laura Sperry. For more information, comments, or suggestions, contact NC Room staff.