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Structure of wood A fence pole with the annual growth rings of the tree clearly visible. Take a tree and peel off the outer "skin" or bark and what you'll find is two kinds of wood. Closest to the edge there's a moist, light, living layer called sapwood packed with tubes called xylem that help a tree pipe water and nutrients up from its roots to its leaves; inside the sapwood there's a much darker, harder, part of the tree called the heartwood, which is dead, where the xylem tubes have blocked up with resins or gums and stopped working. Around the outer edge of the sapwood (and the trunk) is a thin active layer called the cambium where the tree is actually growing outward by a little bit each year, forming those famous annual rings that tell us how old a tree is. Slice horizontally through a tree, running the saw parallel to the ground (perpendicular to the trunk), and you'll see the annual rings (one new one added each year) making up the cross-section. Cut vertically through a tree trunk and you'll see lines inside running parallel to the trunk formed by the xylem tubes, forming the inner structure of the wood known as its grain. You'll also see occasional wonky ovals interrupting the grain called knots, which are the places where the branches grew out from the trunk of a tree. Knots can make wood look attractive, but they can also weaken its structure.
New spoons and old spoons Today I am sending off a set of cherry eating spoons. This Galician spoon has been my favourite style eating spoon since I was inspired by an old spoon in a museum in Spain 5 years ago. And these spoons I posted last week. They were made for the new Stone Henge visitor centre and based on neolithic originals. These original neolithic spoons are from Charavines in France amazing to think they were made with flint tools.
How can a maker rebel against the worst excesses of consumerism yet still make a living from making and selling stuff? This is a dilemma I struggle with. The Western world is too full of stuff, most of it produced in far off lands with working conditions and environmental practices we outlawed years ago. Most of it is designed to become obsolete or out of fashion and will head soon to landfill to encourage more buying and production. So what am I doing in a world already too full of stuff making more stuff? Am I part of the problem or part of the solution? IMG_1308 I know that many of my customers already have enough tableware in their homes but just aspire to own something more wholesome, something with meaning, a connection to the maker and the woodland perhaps. One of the things I enjoy most about my job is the regular messages from customers who have used my work for many years. Just this week Kate Malone judge of the Pottery Throw Down TV program told me how much she enjoyed using my porringer. That means a lot to me. There is a real connection when someone tells me they have eaten their breakfast from one of my bowls for 15 years and gained pleasure from it every day. USA 2015-480So I guess this is how I justify to myself making stuff. If folk turn their back on having masses of stuff destined for landfill and instead choose to save for fewer things that last and have meaning perhaps it would be a better world. Whatever, I feel deep distaste when I see folk fighting over wide screen TVs that I know cost the earth and will be in landfill in 10 years. Instead of watching any media today I spent the day in my workshop making porringers. It feels like therapy.
EBONIZING OAK I like to work with the least toxic materials I can find. And so for a while I have intrigued by the prospect of coloring wood with the well covered technique of applying a solution of steel wool (iron) dissolved in vinegar. I finally got around to trying it out a few months ago. This process has the effect of darkening, or ebonizing (making black) wood by reacting with tannin in the material. Obviously this works differently on different woods based on the tannin content. A natural choice for a high tannin wood is oak, a wood I work with a lot. For woods with less tannin, you can apply a solution of brewed black tea to the surface first (to add tannin), then the iron-vinegar solution. A quick search on the internet will yield tons of "DIY" sites talking about this process to "weather" wood to make it "rustic". Ugh. I'm just using it to make it dark. Making the iron-vinegar solution is as easy as dissolving a pad of steel wool in a container of common white vinegar. It takes about a week to fully dissolve. The proportions aren't too important. For my solution, i put one pad of 0000 steel wool into about 16 oz. of vinegar. Once the steel wool is fully dissolved, I filtered it through a paint strainer into a clean container. 16 oz of this is enough to last me a loooong time, and I think the shelf life is pretty much forever. With the solution ready, I applied it to surface prepped oak with a foam brush. At fist, it looks like water, but after about 5 minutes, the oak was a dark dark grey. With the test successful, I used the technique on a picture frame project. I applied the solution to a white oak frame, with red oak pegs. After the solution dried, I applied some blonde shellac, and a little clear paste wax buffed on & off. The dark dark grey looks black after the finish is applied. But the grain of the wood really shows through, and looks very rich. I love this process and will be using it in more projects in the future.
Super Chairs Product designer Hilla Shamia has developed a novel way to meld poured aluminum with irregularly shaped wood pieces to create sleek tables and benches. The process preserves that natural form of the tree trunk while still allowing the molten aluminum to flow into the crevices of the wood, slightly burning the area where the two materials meet. These remind me somewhat of Greg Klassen’s glass tables from last month here on Colossal. You can see more of Shamia’s work on her website.
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