Syrian Inlaid Gaming Table #1 – Home Entertainment Center, ca. 1890

February 20, 2016

It all started with a trip to the dentist.  After my teeth passed inspection, he looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and said, “I’ve got a table I’d like you to look at.” Little did I know…..

Eventually he brought an ancient looking table from the Mideast to the shop.  Every visible square inch was inlaid with complex patterns made of tiny pieces of several types of wood, mother of pearl, bone, and ivory.  It was in terrible shape – large areas of inlay were simply not there.p16 copy 5

He related part of the cause to me.  His father long ago was buying a building in Washington, D.C.  Its owner was showing him through.  Noticing this table in the basement, his father asked about it.  “Oh, that piece of junk?” the owner said, then kicked it over.

It was a Cinderella story.  Also daunting and overwhelming.  Where would you start?  I’d done nothing like this – I couldn’t find any one (pre Internet days) who’d done this, or any books about it. Usually when stumped, I pray for guidance.  I did now!  For clues plain enough for me to know how to go, a step at a time.  Then I started doing The Next Obvious Thing.

985 3/4 hours and 4,709 pieces of inlay layer, it was done (see Portfolio).  This included 12 types of wood, mother of pearl, and ivory.  Two years later, I could write a book on how to do it.

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Now, 15 years later, I received an inquiry from a couple in the Midwest.  They had a Syrian Inlaid table they bought in Damascus 40 years ago.  It arrived much damaged and crudely repaired. They’d tried to have it restored by a Chicago cabinetmaker but, after 2 years, he returned it saying, “I can’t do it”.  Thus it sat for 40 years.

They’d seen on the Internet that I’d restored one.  Would I be interested in looking at their table?  “Sure”.