Woodworking is one of humankind’s oldest skills. It is even older than originally speculated. In 2001, Spanish archeologists, digging in the desert sands of Tanzania, recovered flint tools worn to an extent that could only result from heavy-duty activity, namely: woodcarving.
Wooden clubs, utensils, spears and digging sticks, carved from Acacia wood, have been found that date back to 3000 BC.
In fact, the most common wood furniture-making techniques and tools used today date from that period, including carving, the dowel, mortise and tenon joints; the adze, chisel, saw, awl, and bow drill. Other techniques, such as the dovetail joint, halving joints and shoulder miters, were introduced 1000 years later, circa 2000 BC.
The most ancient woodworkers and furniture craftsmen were the Egyptians and the Chinese. Remarkable pieces of woodcraft, many preserved throughout the millennia in ancient burial tombs, have been unearthed elaborate chairs, tables, chests, beds. Natural timber is incredibly strong in relation to its weight, making it a superior material for building structures. An architect configures space, a carpenter crafts it; without carpentry the art and trade of cutting, working and joining timber buildings would not be “finished.” While many architects have tried their hand at furniture making Le Corbusier, Alvar Aalto and Frank Gehry among them furniture makers are architects in their own right. Making a piece of furniture is not unlike building a bridge: connections hold posts apart with spans to support a deck.
For the woodworking craftsman, creative improvisation and innovation combine with a trained eye and skilled hands to work and shape a living material, wood, into an enduring and frequently functional form. The artisan’s tools include electric and manual saws and drills, a variety of razor sharp hand tools, as well as the elements: Heat and water are used to bend wood into an articulated form. Seasoned wood never completely stabilizes but continues to shrink and swell with seasonal variations in temperature and humidity. The skilled artisan anticipates such variations and justly accounts for them in order to maximize the strength and utility of the finished product.
Wood is a highly versatile material, lending itself to all kinds of treatments. It can be stained, painted, gilded and glued. Thanks to its high strength and relatively low weight, its workability and aesthetic appeal, wood is used to produce upwards of 10,000 products. But it is the craftsman that brings the best out of a piece of timber. Every type of wood possesses its own peculiar sensory characteristics qualities that make the wood unique and special: Colour, lustre, taste. texture, grain, figure, weight and hardness. All of these characteristics interact with the shape of a craftsman’s piece, resulting in a range of mesmerizing visual and tactile effects.
Learning to work with and around wood fiber and grain the direction of each cut feels and works differently the trained artisan appears to trump nature by skilfully and carefully releasing the mystery contained in the tissue of a common tree. Acacia is a light hardwood favoured by woodworkers and furniture craftsmen for its fine grain and natural flame like design, or surface pattern. Because it takes a high polish it is often used for ornamental purposes. The Acacia, also known as a thorn tree or wattle, is a fast growing tree that flourishes even in poor soil. The largest Acacia plantations are maintained in Indonesia and Malaysia, two countries known for their exceptional woodcraft. It is an intensely fragrant timber, possessing sweet, heady, almond like notes. For centuries, Acacia seeds and flowers have been used to scent perfume and flavour foods and its bark, root and resin have been used to produce incense. Acacia incense was once thought to ward off ghosts and demons and to put the gods in a good mood. There are those who even today believe the proverbial “burning bush” Moses is to have encountered in the desert was an Acacia, and the Ark he crafted from Acacia timber.