November 18, 2011
Wood is curious. Like sun-dried tomatoes, if you didn’t know anything of its earlier existence you wouldn’t have a clue where it came from. Attentive folks looking at a burl may picture a knotty growth on the side of an oak tree, but you have to go a long way to look at a planed 2 by 8 and imagine a living Douglas Fir towering toward the sky. Lacking the knowledge wood was once living and thriving in a rich communal landscape; a person could never work with wood and be any good at it. If a craftsperson—from homes to furniture—does not experience life given when running their hand over a piece of wood they will never become a master crafter. Paying attention to the life of wood allows the beginner, apprentice, or master woodworker to revel in the remarkable and celebrate the peculiar rather than experience twisted grain and hidden knots as problem to be dealt with.
Good woodworking means opting for the local faded-sign-out-front diner on a road trip rather than I know what I’m getting because it is always the same McDonalds or Burger King. But opting for the lunch counter over the slick clown isn’t an easy thing for anyone these days. As we began working with youth on their first experience of creating art through woodburning it has been hard to get beyond the I want it now and I want it easy expectations (Honestly though, the same was true during the days of mask making and gourding). The phrase patience is a virtue doesn’t quite have the impact it once did for youth sanding a block of wood—five minutes of hand sanding is an eternity! However, for some, not all, as they finish sanding their wood block they begin to appreciate the wood for the hiccups, coughs, scrapped knees it endure when alive. More so, as they begin to burn their design into the wood, and frustration builds up because the grain in the wood doesn’t allow for a line or a shading as they imagined, they learn their particular block of wood is unique. And sometimes, just sometimes, they find they have a relationship with a piece of wood—that once was living—isn’t that curious.
© David B. Bell 2011