The New Wood Culture: Part One- Wood is Not Steel

It's time to explore a few ideas that have been stirring in my mind for quite awhile. The next few posts will be on or related to, at least in my mind, what I'm calling The New Wood Culture.  My friend and fellow spoon carver Barn Carder a.k.a. 'Barn the Spoon' calls it The Wood Culture Renaissance. If you don't know who he is you should. He runs London's only green wood spoon shop. Pretty fucking cool.

So what is The Wood Culture Renaissance?

Good question. I'm not solidly sure. But I do know that folks within the green wood spoon carving world are traveling the world either physically or through the ethers (internet) exploring, learning, talking and amassing a small but solid group dedicated to working green wood. Ready to promote the idea that wood is something that makes sense. I'll touch on that through out this series.  

It's hard to ignore that something isn't brewing when English spoon carver EJ Osborne was on Tedx awhile back, talking about spoon carving. Check her talk out here it's pretty good.

Or that I'll be at Woodworking in America this year doing demos on spoon carving and shrink boxes, both are green wood crafts. I'm not the first green woodworker to attend, in the past both Drew Langsner and Peter Follansbee have attended. If you don't know who those two are you better use that powerful tool in front of your face and get searching. The fact that green wood workers have been invited reflects the growing interest in green woodworking. Check out Woodworking in America here

What is green woodworking? I can't go there on this post as it's a pretty ambiguous term. I'll assume you have an idea of what it is.

This renaissance includes much more than the wooden objects that are still common place, such as furniture, cabinetry, and various architectural additions. It includes green wood stick chairs, spoon carving and other household treen... but with a certain ethos. This is the heart of The New Wood Culture or Renaissance. I will explore this ethos later in the series. 

Since my last post I've turned a fair amount of end cups: short, tall and in-between, as well as the handled lamhogs. I think I have the basics down on the technique- with or without handles. But I stress that there is always room to improve both technique and being able to turn the shape in the minds eye. These designs are blended from the historical finds which have thick bases and very thin walls. Robin Wood talks about this in his book The Wooden Bowl. If you don't have his book, you should. There are no excuses.  Buy it from him instead of Amazon, this way he can make a little money on it. Robin also references a few other sources for info on wooden bowls and cups if you are into it, but you'll have to buy the book.

One thing I do know, is that the more you create, the more the eye and mind learns to see and recognize. There is always room to improve/evolve and learn. There are very few hard fast rules that hold true from piece to piece or species to species. It's about building experience, a knowledge base to work from.

Through the process of developing these wooden cups, which started for me early this winter, I've had to struggle with the modern concept of what wood is and isn't.  Wood moves as it dries and it moves in many different ways. In this way wood is very dynamic. In fact, different species of wood absorb moisture from the air at different rates and levels. So....the cups prove to be quite a complex thing. When drying, the base dries slower than the side. This means the side shrinks considerably before the base does. The twist is that the base of this type of cup still contains the pith, which breaks one of the few rules. After the side dries, the base dries and then it's all equal, relatively.  In use it's the opposite. The base soaks up the liquid first and swells, then the side, so.....get your head wrapped around that. Sometimes if dried too quickly the base can crack a little, but only on the outside and not very deep, and never on the inside. I've been using one of these cups for months now for both hot and cold liquids. When in use, the crack opens and then, when the cup sits empty it closes. This is the same with the tangential split and turned ale bowl that I use whether it has a crack or not. 

Wood moves. It's dynamic. In this way I view it as alive.

Did the cup or the bowl with the crack become unusable? No. They are still going strong. If we look to the old bowls we come to realize that many have cracks, but have also been repaired. Fixed by wiring, lashing, or even patched with a small bit of copper sheet and a few very small nails was very common. Why? Because you could. The objects had meaning.

Why do we hold wooden vessels to such high standards? Come on...we have all done it. "Oh, this developed a crack through use" with the thought driving our thinking that wood shouldn't crack, or it is flawed because of its' characteristics. 

In my opinion this attitude is unrealistic and unfair. Where does this bias come from? It's not logical if we compare our views of pottery.

Do folks complain that the potters have chosen to use a really brittle material for their cups and bowls when those objects end up broken on the floor? Do folks blame the potter? or the material? No. Folks go out and buy another piece of work from them. I know I have bought at least 50 hand thrown objects in my day and still go back for more. Why? Because it's really great work, I have a love for using handmade stuff and my money goes to fellow crafts folk.

Surely all of us have glued up a piece of broken pottery? Well as I have described, it was the same with wooden items of old. So why the bias? Why do we go back for more brittle pottery but tend to scoff at a slightly cracked wooden bowl?  

We have to come to terms with the illogical cultural bias against wooden objects.

Wood is not steel.....think about it.

This lovely bowl rests at The Vesterheim Museum in Decorah, IA