Fine furniture sprouting from the ground: Turner woodworker makes high-end table from apple trees

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Picking through a pile of apple-tree limbs – looking for the wood that would connect the legs of a $3,000 custom-made coffee table – the woodworker tossed away the straight branches.

John Leavitt aimed to be crooked.

The furniture-maker threw out every impulse of his 25 years of woodworking experience and his usual quest to find unspoiled grains and elegant, straight lines in wood.

He plucked several apple limbs and stumps from a trash pile in a nearby orchard and went to work in his basement shop.

In his day job, Leavitt, 49, works for Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers, the Auburn manufacturer of heirloom-quality furniture. Leavitt travels up and down the East Coast, visiting well-to-do customers and making rarely needed repairs.

It’s exacting work given the cost of the pieces – $1,400 for a rocking chair, $3,500 for a desk, $6,700 for a TV cabinet.

Leavitt was visiting a Moser client in Massachusetts when he was shown a rustic-looking bench. The client asked Leavitt if he knew someone who might make something similar.

Leavitt volunteered.

In his shop at home in Turner, he photographed the stumps and limbs, double-checking with the buyer, and went to work when the OK came back.

Most everything was done by hand.

He sliced away the bark with a draw knife – a two-hand tool that looks like a cross-cut saw – and did the detailed stripping and sculpting with a spoke shave and chisel.

“In the end, it was pretty much whittling away,” Leavitt said.

He estimated that he spent between 60 and 80 hours on the piece.

As Leavitt soaked the table in 10 coats of finish, enough to give the legs a deep gloss, the buyer was picking out a marble table top in Italy.

The two pieces, table and top, were joined on July 24.

Leavitt hopes to make more.

“I’d like to see where this goes,” he said. “This is apple table No. 1.”

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