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Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Lovely Figure

For me one of the most appealing things about working with wood is that you can never be quite certain about what you will see when you cut into a piece of it. I freely admit to staring at trees and trying to envisage what the grain would look like if it were sliced in a particular way. You can have a rough idea from the species and and obvious factors like a bend in the bole will cause cathederal grain. If there is a branch sticking out you will get endgrain in the face with a knot at the centre gradually shrinking back in a cone shape to the pith that runs down the centre of the tree. When you get further into it though there are more subtle differences that can be predicted by looking at the tree in the ground.

Trees that grow out of a hillside tend to have a curve at the bottom of the bole, this produces compression timber which is valued by boatbuilders and Japanese temple builders for it's unusually high strength, it is also less stable than straight grained timber and more prone to variation caused by the elements. A heavy snowfall or high winds increase the strain on the bend, all of which causes localised variation in the width of growth rings and the resulting figure can be quite stunning. Trees that grow very close to water are prone to mineral deposits in their timber which causes flecking in the surface of the board and various fungal and viral infections can produce ripples, quilting or fiddleback grain variations.

A particular interest of mine is burrs (burls in 'murca), the cause of these is not well documented so I have been experimenting with a couple of holly trees. I pollarded them about 18 months ago which has delivered the expected vigorous regrowth. As well as shooting from the top where the branches are they have produced shoots all over the previously smooth trunks. In a couple of places I'm just letting the shoots go, but on the rest of the trees I'm removing them as they appear, replicating the activity of animals grazing on them or brushing up against them in the wild. Nipping the shoots of as soon as they appear doesn't stop them coming, a couple of months later they are back and seem to be all the more vigorous for it. I'll persevere and see which method produces the best burrs, if only to convince myself that burr formation can be managed to maximise the value of timber.

1 comment:

  1. Love the idea of 'farming' burrs. I hope it's a success Matthew!