I love working with wood, and to reveal the grain and its natural form and character to those who use the spoons, kitchen utensils, Kuksa and other pieces I make allows me to share in this. For this reason I do not buy exotic hardwoods, endangered or otherwise, I just use locally sourced hardwoods which are in plentiful supply, grow back quickly or where the removal of which encourages healthier growth of the tree or bush. The sourcing of dead wood is gentle on the forest and at the most only deprives the forest floor of a small amount of food which might otherwise be burnt as fuel.
All the wood is personally selected, I want to know where it has been growing and how; all the environmental conditions will influence the outcome of the piece, and this is reflected both in the wood and the influence they have on my thoughts when I am carving.
Read on to find out about the various woods I carve with.
Apple, Plum, Cherry, Pear, Walnut, Chestnut, Hazel and others are found in abundance here and produce beautiful
Soft fruit species:
and sturdy results, especially relevant to the kitchen.
Apple is the nicest to carve and has a somewhat rubbery feel which makes it great for serving spoons and other implements where good tactility is required. One of the highlights of Apple wood is a frequently present flowing contrast between the darker heartwood and pale sapwood.
Plum wood is tough to carve, and tough to source, but reveals a rich and streaky grain, with wonderful lateral speckles. Wild plum wood is a relative of blackthorn and as such is thorny, sometimes prohibitively so, which means that to gather it you need patience and perseverance, but it pays off. Hewing its dry wood to shape demands razor sharp tools or chipping will occur frequently, the same for the green wood or splitting will harangue your work.
Cherry is often more streaky than Plum wood, with dark pronounced grain of winter growth in the sapwood. Like most fruit woods though it becomes darker with maturity as the heartwood becomes dominant. For carving it is very similar to the other fruit woods: tough and unforgiving. Cherry wood splits well and is especially prone to splitting whilst drying, so it’s wise to cover the ends of the piece of wood you’ve found with something waterproof.
Pear wood is very similar to Apple in texture and feel, but has a more pronounced contrast between the darker heartwood and sapwood. Pear trees look very distinctive, with chequered bark and fountain-like branches, giving a feeling of vigour which is enhanced when they bear fruit in Autumn.
Chestnut is renowned for its anti-bacterial qualities, which have the high tannin content in the wood to thank.
Hazel is one of the softest fruit woods, it is also one of the most used and useful trees in the temperate climate. Its shoots make arrow making easy, being already straight enough to throw and then easily straightened to perfection whilst drying after bark removal. The thicker 2 or 3 year old vertical branches have long been used for weaving hurdles, and the small bushy tree also has a long and special history in Britain for its heavy coppicing, the management of forest for firewood. For carving it is nothing but a joy, not only does it have a straight grain with few tough knots, but also in spite of this it is delicately patterned and toned. The youngest wood is very pale and the older wood doesn’t get very much darker, but slowly it does get deeper looking.
I divide the following hardwood species into ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ according to how I find them for carving and durability. This division is unrelated to the wider difference between Hardwoods and Softwoods, and I tend not to carve many Softwood species unless I use them for bushcraft.Hard species:
Ash, like Apple has a lovely rubbery texture and its resilience has earned the respect of many a tool user as it often finds itself used for tool handles. This has to do with its tough suppleness. I personally have a great love of its robust looking grain, which indeed is often the telltale sign of the wood where the prominent winter growth is always at contrast with the pale faster growth wood. A fine carving wood and in plentiful supply, Ash is a good friend to have around. As for the tree, it has appears to dance and weave constantly, looking both strong and flexible with bulging muscles. This makes the grain beneath produce shimmering oyster shell effects in the twists and bends when carved smooth, which I try to incorporate into my designs.
Beech is very easy to recognise, both the wood and the tree. Throughout the spring and summer it has vast plate-like canopies of leaves, which turn a deep bronze red in late autumn before forming a crunchy waterproof carpet on the forest floor. Similarly to young Ash, the boughs and branches appear as muscular formations, but both the young and old bark of Beech is a smooth and pale grey-green to the light grey of mature gnarled Ash bark. The wood is pale brown and without too much difference between heart- and sapwood (again as with Ash), but the unique characteristic is defined by the regular ~1-5mm speckles that occur systematically in a very straight grain. For carving it is a tough, dry and tight-grained wood that may cause problems and should be carved green for efficiency and tool edge preservation.
All written material: Copyright Ian Tompsett 2010-2011