Thursday, June 3, 2010

Got Wood?

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After much debate, I think Laura and I have settled on a really lovely piece of birch for the Left Coast Eisteddfod spoon. It was almost going to be maple, but when I stumbled across this dramatic piece, I did a quick change of tack, sent Laura the seductive description "buttery to carve", and 'hey, presto', we're in business!
Without doubt, cutting into a piece of wood for the first time and seeing what beauties it reveals is one of my favourite aspects of lovespoon carving. In fact, I would have to say it is second only to hearing my customers say, "Wow, it's beautiful, we love it, here's your cheque!"

Non-wood types think that woodworkers are a crazy breed when they see us swooning over some lump of wood or other, but those in the know realize what a truly magical and magnificent substance wood is. With its infinite colours, figures and textures, nothing offers the visual and tactile variety of wood; and no single material has come close to aiding mankind in his journey from cave dweller to 'civilized' in the way wood has. It has been the thing which has sheltered us, provided heat, clothed us, fed us and enabled us to travel. That we should feel some measure of reverence for it shouldn't be a surprise. That most could give a fiddler's fart about it is, to me, absolutely astonishing.
Take a good look at this piece now it has emerged from the planer. A light touch of spalting (the dark lines caused by fungi) combine with delicate figuring and a soft, feathered grain to create a stunning image which could easily rival an Impressionist masterpiece. Think I'm completely off my trolley and talking a load of crap? Have a good look and maybe you'll see Monet's foggy evening settling over the Thames or any one of dozens of Turner's sunsets. But even if you aren't inclined to be as arty-farty or wax as poetic about it as have to admit, it's a damn-fine looking piece of wood and the spoon Laura and I will make from it will be a stunner!!
Wood is a capricious mistress though and there is never any way to tell if it will bring joy or endless agonies. THAT is the great thing about working with it. Every project you embark on involving wood is an adventure with an unguessable ending. But the one sure thing through it all, is that there is no material more beautiful and wonderful!
- Dave

Since we're musing about our attraction to wood, I thought I would join in! I find wood is one of those things where people are either indifferent to it, or it makes them swoon and drool. I am unquestionably one of the latter. I feel happier in a room trimmed with natural wood, or at least with hardwood floors. I remember having this feeling ever since I was a small child, especially while watching my father or grandfather working with wood.
The way carving reveals unique and unpredictable features of any piece of wood is certainly part of the appeal. But, there's something even more innate than that. Wood has an inviting quality to it that makes you want to touch it, stare at it, study the colors and shapes within it... color, texture, grain - it can be mesmerizing. It also has both a softness and a hardness to it - it can be cut into very intricate shapes - sometimes even bent - yet it still retains a strength and functional quality.
When I carve wood, I love the feel of the blade cutting through it, watching how the wood fibers reshape themselves to make a new surface, and I suppose I feel grateful to have been the one to discover what's beneath the surface with each cut. I like how some woods are flat and opaque, while others have a translucent quality, or sometimes they are a little of both. Regardless of any translucent qualities, many times it is just the colors within each piece of wood that make it look warm or glowing.
Looking at this lovely piece of birch, I look forward to learning its close-up properties, but can already see lots of those lovely, warm colors. It seems to have lots of interesting grain features, including a little bit of spalting. It will be an adventure to learn how it carves, and once we finish the carving and any sanding, it will be yet another adventure to see how the grain and colors come out even more when the oil finish is applied. That is always one of my favorite parts of the process. Dave will have the first bit of the adventure with this piece, but I look forward to my turn in this process! Meanwhile, I will drool along with the rest of you as we see the first steps unfold through Dave's camera!
- Laura

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