I like wood! Not partial to any one particular species really. I enjoy the way you can manipulate it to do different things. You can form it into a spoon or a box. The wood really doesn’t care. It has no feelings, no soul and yet at times I swear I hear it talking to me:)

Especially when you’re bending it. We do a lot of curves. We’re really into curves, in a good sort of way, a pleasing to the eye sort of way. It’s easy to draw a pleasant curve on a piece of paper. You can get a line of graphite to make a graceful curve by merely a slight movement of your fingers and you have that pleasing curve that gets your heart racing. You get excited and think that’s it!

Just the shape I wanted…and you get to the shop you cut out a form, pick out just the right specimen of wood and when you bend it to that perfectly shaped form it doesn’t wanna go there? Trees like to grow straight towards the sun and here we are trying to get it to bend downward toward the earth.

Sometimes, it goes if it’s gradual enough but often it rejects that idea. You need to coax it a bit. Take what it will give you… a little at a time, clamp it there and let it get used to the idea. Then a little more slowly as the fibers stretch on one side and compress on the other. This technique has its moments, often on a small change and only in the direction it wants to go, more often though it goes back to what it knows. Wood just doesn’t like change! Oh, don’t get me wrong, wood changes from season to season but it does it on it’s own terms and not anymore than it wants to change according to what it is used to doing!

Often, as the creator of a piece you need to manipulate the wood or its environment a bit more. You can turn up the heat which in turn will get those cells bouncing around allowing those fibers that make up the wood to stretch a little more, you can add some moisture that makes it a little more pliable, you can do both at the same time and the fibers give in to a degree and you can almost change something that took years to grow into the shape it has become to bend and change and form it into something you want it to be… but even then you have to clamp it, hold it fast and let the heat and the moisture evaporate only to see if it will hold true to the shape you designed for it.  

This method works and often works well but has a tendency to be slow and tedious. You need a heat source, a vessel big enough to contain the heat, the moisture and the piece you’re trying to bend. It’s also common to get burned by the wood as you try and change it into the shape you want as the fibers need to be uncomfortably hot to take the shape you want it to be.

Then there is the resting period where it is held into place against its will letting everything cool down and relax. Only then will you know if you have been successful in changing its shape.

The last method to form a piece of wood into a pleasing shape that you desire, that is what we are talking about now isn’t it? Is to take baby steps. Can you imagine taking a mature tree by its top and bending it down to the ground? Kinda doubtful isn’t it?

But, if you were to take that tree and cut it into boards then take those boards and cut those boards  into smaller strips you can eventually get them down to a size where they will bend almost any shape you want them to become. If you are very careful as you make the strips smaller, keep them next to each other as they come off the board and put them back next to each other as you glue them together in your perfectly shaped form you created the curve will look like one board that just happened to grow that way.

And that is how you get a 60 year old fir tree that grew chasing the sun to change into almost any shape you want it to be!

wedding 011-Jeff Whitmore