I bloody love wood. Always have. From carving walking sticks with my Grandad, through climbing every tree in the vicinity of our rural childhood home, all leading to my career making outdoor and indoor furniture.
It’s not just the working with wood that I love, but the beauty of the trees it comes from.
Professionally I started working for Ed Brooks Furniture (which I still do) making outdoor furniture from windfallen English Oak and Sweet Chestnut, our aim was to follow the natural curves of the timbers by splitting and cutting the trunks and branches to make organic rustic furniture; such as gates and benches, as well as bridges and tree houses.
For many years during this process we saw other species of fallen tree such as Ash and Beech, all of which aren’t durable enough for outdoor furniture. These wonderful giants would be cut up for firewood. I felt this to be such a shame, that they were so swiftly reduced to nothing.
Having cut through the trunks and branches we experienced the inherent beauty within the tree, across the entire tree trunk.
Some of this beauty was the weakness that caused the trees to fall, such as spalting and various growth defects. However, I could see that these would be the visual strengths that captivate the potential owner of my furniture pieces. I made it my aim to achieve this.
Weaknesses (strengths) in our trees
Spalting is the change in colour of the wood and is caused by fungal growth throughout the timber (often starting in a standing tree) creating weakness over time the spalting will cause a tree to eventually fall. However, the battle lines of various fungal growths lead to distinct patches and lines, colours and texture forming beautiful patterns and detailing.
Because spalting is concentrated on the outer layers of the tree, an amount is lost when traditional cutting techniques are used. But (and here’s what led to the tree trunk slice tables!) cutting across the tree captures all this captivating detail, and so I started to design indoor pieces of furniture.
We mainly see Spalting in Beech and Ash, but it can affect most trees to a certain extent.
Another defect in the trees which can be really annoying (it’s not all sunshine and roses) is metalwork! As our wood often grows in hedgerow, there is often metalwork in the trees. Old metal is hard and ruins blades/chains in less than a second. However, it also leads to interesting and enhancing features in furniture. Our Prime tables were all affected by a nail from 100 years ago or so, which held the outer layers of the tree as it grew, forming tight growth rings, deforming the shape. It also caused a blue staining to the wood.
I have heard of whole lawnmowers being encased in trees, so it is always exciting/scary cutting into them.
I won’t go into detail about stones or rot, but these can truly bugger up a project!
Below I mention a few more strengths/weaknesses of specific trees that we celebrate in our furniture:
The Beech trees we have are mainly hedgerow trees which have grown from a number of smaller trunks which fuse together over time to create trees with wonderful shapes. You can see these in my spalted Beech trunk slice tables. The multiple stems also affect the grain directions and create crevices and bark inclusions. We have amazing slices of Beech in many wild shapes with grain swirls, of spalting, alongside wonderful knot and holes.
Our Ash trees have visually stronger, more uniform growth rings due to how the single stem trees have grown. The current Ash trees have a variation of mellow browns and cream colours, with rays crossing the rings. Utterly beautiful.
Oak and Sweet Chestnut are rarely affected by spalting due to the tanins which give both timbers their durability for outdoor use. Their beauty is in the grain, and growth features such as burr/pippy features, rays and brown colouration.
The sweet chestnut trees in my parents’ woodland have a curious growth pattern, where they zig zag and twist as they grow, this compresses the growth rings and creates a wonderful depth to the grain features.
I am always searching for wonderfully interesting fallen trees of any species, not the traditional straight long trunks timber yards looked for, but trees with alternative unique character and interesting growth features. I am looking for Sycamore, Walnut, and Eucalyptus amongst others and of course any Beech, Ash or Oak.
At the moment we are working with a giant Cedar of Lebanon tree which fell in a storm in the grounds of the village manor house. It is 1.4metres in diameter and has spalting, bark inclusions and various features I can’t wait to reveal during sanding and finishing.
We also have an amazing English Oak with intricate cat paw burrs.
I am able to make a limited number of tables from each tree, and I aim on finishing the first of these very soon.