Being guided by your material

Most Furniture will start as a concept, an idea of form that will need material found to make it.  With production furniture this will be the cost efficient and convenient option governed by supply and ease of construction.  Some craftsmen will care little and use what happens to be at hand and some will take care to select the best materials he can find within reasonable effort.  When working on spec however there is another very rewarding way to work.  That is to collect special timber over time and allow the material itself to suggest what it may become.  Now I can sense some that may read this finding that statement mildly irritating, a little pretentious perhaps.  I would like to say that there is a bit more logic to it than it may first appear.  Timber has many properties, colours, textures, figuring and even smells.  It will present you with possibilities of form that will make best use of these properties it’s simply a matter of listening and understanding.

These board were found standing up in the back of a dark timber shed amongst other random offcuts and miscellany, they had silvered with age (planed off in this photo).  I was able to recognise them as brown oak and I could see the medullary rays of the quarter cut.  I scoop up any brown oak whenever I can so these board went onto the van with the rest of my catch for the day.  The boards eventually went into the kiln and came out ready to be made into something.  I pained over what to do with these boards for quite a while, they had some strong medullary figuring, they were nicely matched and for the most part very brown blending into a tiger strip at one end.  The boards were around 14′ long and had to be cut to fit in my kiln, I decided on cutting at 7′ which are the lengths shown above.  It was clear that they could potentially make a nice table top, the problem I had was the curve in the lengths of the boards.  If I were to straighten in the usual fashion and joint them I would be cutting away much of the unusually beautiful medullary figuring and I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  There was an answer nudging my shoulder which I tried to brush away, it would be too difficult……

……..Ok, ok I’ve got no choice, well, no other choice I would be happy with.

Jointing edges is second nature to any woodworker of experience, you work with the liner and the square and all is straight forward.  To get all I wanted out of these boards however they demanded of me that I cut the joint as an S shape.  This solved a few problems.  Firstly I could keep all the lovely figuring that follows the sap line.  Secondly If I kept some of the sap line too it would act as an acceptable visual divide between the outer brown boards and the inner tiger stripe boards, the tiger boards could be jointed with a straight joint on the centerline as the immediate bookmatching will be a pleasing visual join and a centerline could be nothing but straight for balance.  I have found with rock climbing that all apprehension vanishes as I start the act of actually climbing, the same is true with a daunting job like this.  As soon as I relaxed into chopping cutting and planing I was in my familiar and confident place; at my tools.  The S shape joints were no trouble in the end, and as tight as they could be.

An ellipse was the only option for this top, I have an attraction for ellipses and believe most people find the form attractive.  There is more of a story to this table but that will be part of a different tale, this one is about finding two old ropy boards, listening to what they held within them, what they allowed me to make of them and what they demanded of me.


Categories: Furniture

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