Understanding Wood, Reassemble the Log

Chances are you’ve read comments by famous (and not-so-famous) woodworkers regarding their relationship to the materials with which they work. George Nakashima described the “soul” of the tree and noted his responsibility to give the tree a second life through the furniture he fashioned from it. James Krenov inspired many woodworkers with writings on using the wood’s grain to complement the special forms of his cabinets.

At our recent Woodworking in America conference, I took in a presentation by chairmaker Brian Boggs who tossed out a comment on this subject that is worth passing along. I had never really thought about wood in this way before and I think it’s worth remembering. Brian was speaking about the many varied properties of wood– the species, grain, moisture content, wood movement and how these and many other properties can vary depending on just where a particular board is cut from the log. In his work, he said, we are taking trees apart by cutting, but we must also put them back together in a way that keeps the tree’s integrity and uses its beauty to best effect.

Hmm, putting the tree back together . . . .

The comment says many things: the need to fully understand wood as a material, the custodial nature we woodworkers have with the material we use, how the success or failure of our work closely relates to the intimate knowledge and relationship we share with wood and so on.

Brain has the hard work and luxury of working with wood that he controls from choosing logs for sawing, drying and board selection based on where it came from in the log. While most of us source our lumber from a yard where its impossible to know such details, the concept of putting a tree back together in a smart and informed way can help us avoid mistakes and help our work be more structurally successful. And should you need wood for special purposes, like steam bending, Brian, through his Bogg’s Collective, provides this service.

Steve Shanesy

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