I make a variety of articles including
- Bowls (traditional and contemporary)
- Candlesticks and candle holders
- Door stoppers
- Light pulls
- Bottle stoppers
- Baby rattles (to order, only)
- Bud vases
- Bottle coasters
- Ornamental mushrooms
- Plaques and trophies (to order, only)
Almost exclusively, the items I make are sealed with a finishing oil. This not only provides a good general purpose protective surface against general wear and tear, it enhances the appearance of the article.
Wood is a natural material and finishes should not be regarded as permanent, they will require a little tender loving care from time to time. Don’t leave wood in direct sunlight because the colour will fade. If your article begins to show signs of dulling due to drying out, the finish can be refreshed by wiping on a little sunflower oil with a soft cloth. Leave it for an hour or so and wipe again with a dry cloth to remove any excess. And best of all, indulge yourself and handle, fondle, or just run your fingers over it every day. You will find that therapeutic and the bowl will gain a patina that is unachievable by the application of any finishing product!
If looked after in this way, most wooden products will last at least a lifetime!
In the main, most of the wood that I used is sourced here in Scotland. This can be from wood donated to me directly by people who, like me, are keen to see that native woods are respected and cherished, or by purchasing from one or two local suppliers who understand my needs. Sadly, that rules out many saw mills as they are often too commercially focused to appreciate the needs of small users.
If you have a tree that has come down recently or needs to be felled, feel free to contact me if you think it may be of interest. If I can’t use it myself, I may be able to find someone in your area who can.
I am often asked what my favourite wood is, and that’s difficult to answer because different species have different characteristics. For really fine grain. colour, and variety of figure I think first of Yew, which I use mostly for bowls, mushrooms, bottle stoppers and bud vases. People never tire of caressing pieces made from Yew, they really are incredibly silky, smooth and warm to the touch as well as to the eye. Also fine grained, often well figured and colourful are native Cherry (often known colloquially as Gean), Rowan and Laburnum.
For larger works I particularly like Elm, which I am fortunate enough still to be able to obtain here in North East Scotland. For pieces that can tolerate a coarser grain there are Oak and Ash. A fine grained but plain wood is Holly, which I like to keep in reserve for baby rattles. I am very lucky at the moment to have some spalted Holly which came from the Glamis estate where Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother spent her early years. I often wonder if she knew of the tree or perhaps even played under it as a child.
A special mention for Hawthorn, which is another native timber but rarely available to buy. Because of its small size, it has never been commercially developed which is a real pity because it’s a very hard wood and in mature trees has a vivid contrast between the white sapwood and the incredibly red heartwood.
Just occasionally, I use imported or “exotic” timbers. This is generally because the timbers concerned have special attributes that cannot be satisfied by home grown hardwoods. When I have to do this I take great care to purchase only from reputable suppliers with sound environmental policies and preferably FSC certified.
The terms hard or soft when applied to wood are often misunderstood. They do not reflect the density, workability or character of the wood but relate more to the biological differentiation of the two main taxonomic classes of plants.
As simply as I can explain it, softwoods are woods obtained from coniferous trees (Gymnosperms) and hardwoods are produced by broadleaved trees (Angiosperms). This leads to some startling contrasts because Balsa, for example, is a hardwood but it is incredibly light and can easily be marked by your fingernails or even bruised by finger pressure. To handle and work it is softer than most, if not all, of the softwoods.
Softwoods are woods like pine, fir and spruce which are very widely grown for commercial joinery and are typically referred to as whitewood or redwood. But once again, Yew and Larch (which unusually is a deciduous conifer) are softwoods that are harder and denser than many hardwoods, and this is especially so of Yew.
I am often asked how wood should be treated and stored when trees have to be taken down. My recommendations are usually as follows:
- Fell and keep the wood in as long lengths as you can handle so that more of the wood will be usable once it dries than would be the case with shorter lengths. This is because much more water escapes from the cut ends of a trunk or branch than through the bark or outer surfaces, and this almost immediately leads to shrinkage and splitting in from the ends in freshly cut timber.
- Paint or coat the cut ends to seal them immediately after cutting. You can use builder’s PVA or even old gloss paint if you have it to hand.
- If you can, and if the intended use is for boards rather than beams, have the trunk cut into boards which can then be stacked with spaces between them (stickered) in the shade with sheeting on the top of the pile to dry slowly and naturally.
- Take care with ventilation. Although you want the wood to dry slowly and naturally to avoid splitting, it still needs a circulation of air to prevent fungal decay setting in. Sometimes this can be attractive if it leads to the patterning known as “spalting”, but it does mean that the density of the wood is being reduced and in some species decay can proceed very rapidly and the wood can become useless even for firewood.
- Have patience. The rule of thumb is that boards need one year per inch (25mm) of thickness to air dry in good conditions. So a 50mm board would be relatively stable after two years of drying in the air, but even then the moisture content would still be at something like 15% to 18% (probably 18% to 20% in Scotland) and it would still be unsuitable for use within a house until dried down further in more controlled conditions.
- If you don’t have time or space to dry it yourself, don’t delay! Contact someone who can. It doesn’t take long for freshly cut timber to spoil.