MY JOURNEY WITH WOOD
THE STORY OF A LITTLE FROG
In one of his sermons John Wesley tells the story of an ancient tree being felled during his time. When the tree toppled over, the woodsmen realized that there had been a hollow chamber which they had sliced open in the heart of the tree. From the chamber hopped a live frog up onto the stump and then off into the forest. My experience of wood is analogous to that frog’s. Wood has always been all around me – in the trees in the forest, in building construction, in furniture, sculpture and art. Like the frog things have happened to me which have caused me to get a perspective on it beyond my first surround.
At 12 I was introduced to some of the industrial uses and settings for wood. I volunteered with a cabinet maker and got some basic notion of wood as a resource for making a living. Also, I got a sense of the beauty of wooden cabinets when someone with the prequsite skill fashioned them. Gradually, I came to be aware of the beauty and resilience of solid wood furniture and began studying and experimenting with its qualities. At the same time I became aware of working with wood as a business. This makes wood primarily a resource rather than a muse.
The wood resource is available to me as I can afford it. This comes primarily through my business. People order chairs, tables, small objets d’arte, and I take a deposit which helps me acquire the wood necessary for their project. Thus, a lot of the wood I handle is chosen by others. I also gather wood although this is not usually a good idea unless I have a specific idea of what I’d like to build with it. My shop is full to the bursting point with wood.
I both categories I have red oak, maple, walnut, poplar, pine, and cherry. I have some small amounts of specialty wood (e.g. blood wood). These latter I use primarily for inlay and accent work. In my furniture poplar and pine are used for secondary wood and unless someone wants it painted. They are both relatively soft although poplar is easy to work. Red oak has a road grain and is hard, but it does not do well with moisture. Also, it is heavy. Large pieces of furniture can be hard to handle. Maple tends to have a more subdued grain and profile although curly (or satin, or birdseye) maple is quite striking. It is also a little hard to work. Hard maple has an almost paper-like aspect, and this makes it a good surface for inlay. Walnut is pricey, but many people want it anyway because, finished properly, it can project a depth and beauty. It is easy to work although I find it takes patience to get it just right. Cherry is an affordable wood with a nice profile. It is easy to inlay and machine (once you understand that you can’t leave the blade or whatever to linger on a particular spot). All these woods can be acquired plainsawn or quarter sawn although the latter tends to be more expensive.
These species of wood – by no means an exhaustive list – tend to be the major pieces of my design palette. Design for me is a function of machinery, cost, skill, aesthetics, and building styles (e.g. gothic, victorian, postmodernist, etc.). I have taught myself inlay and some very simple carving. I have learned ways to cut down the time of a project and increase convenience (most of the time, for instance, it is easier to tackle the joinery prior to the shaping of a piece).
These are, then, the broad strokes whereby I have like that little frog hopped up on the stump and out into the forest.