Wood with a Story to Tell

June 3, 2013

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As an unashamed ‘Foodie’ I can often be seen in and around food and craft fairs that are becoming an extremely popular day out in this country, doubly so if the weather is kind and towards the end of May it was superb.

In past Blogs I have already told you about the growing farmer’s market in Stroud, a Gloucestershire town only a few miles away from where I live, and over the years I have introduced one or two of you to some of the food delights I have discovered along the way as I try to recreate them when I get home.

A few weeks ago I ended up in the Welsh capital Cardiff for the weekend, the occasion was the Royal Horticultural Show and attached to the main event there were two smaller side shows with much more appeal to my interests. One of course, was the food market with lots of wonderful aromas to tempt me in that general direction and more than enough free samples to encourage me to eat and then spend far more time and money than I intended.
But there again who can resist the smell of fresh homemade specialty breads, like sundried tomato and black olives and then the temptation of farm cheeses or hot smoked fish and meats to place on top. Not me that’s for damn sure !

The other side show was a craft fair, something I always have mixed emotions about because they can be an unsubtle blend of Art, Craft and Crap; and I am told I have a very expressive face when it comes to Crap!

Don’t get me wrong I am a great admirer of artistic ability and I appreciate in others skills which I personally do not have. However, having said this I also have an eye that reacts instinctively to ‘first impressions’ and a mouth that has a habit of going off half cocked in the same situation.

I apologise if glass marbles and coloured beads pressed decoratively into concrete is considered worthy of artistic merit these days but it did little to impress me… Sorry !
Oh Yes; That and I know a couple of real blacksmiths and I know what can really be done with red hot metal and skill, needless to say they were not the ones at the show, I shall say no more !

So when a friend of mine, who is well aware of my sad lack of tact in such situations, asked for my help at the craft fair I realised it was probably more out of desperation than a need of my talents. Suffice to say I was promised food, but only if I was good and behaved myself and kept my artistic opinions in check.

I think the way it was actually put was “ I know most of these people so keep your sense of humour and artistic opinions to yoursel.”

Tough ask, I can be good in small doses, but there are times I wobble and slip and, spending 8 to 10 hours on my feet on hot sunny days in a busy show ground for three days proved quite a challenge.

What is it about artists…. many of whom seem to have an over inflated opinion of their talents and skill who don’t seem to appreciate silence around their work ? They just have to ask…

Anyway I digress, as per usual, what I actually intended this Blog to be about was my friends stand, which all biased reporting aside was indeed a rose in a field of thorns, I’ll let the pictures show you I am not exaggerating, you know me I don’t gush !

To all those who are of the mistaken opinion that a chopping board is a chopping board, is a chopping board and that’s it…. here I have to admit I used to be one of you then what follows may prove to be educational as well just a nice story.

I suppose it’s a bit like taxidermy, don’t know about you but it leaves me cold, outside of the Natural History section of the museum …. just can’t see the attraction. Of course if you happened to know the beastie personally then I assume that makes it different.

Same with chopping boards, especially these ones, unique boards of distinction, boards with the provenance of knowing the very tree it came from that and the fact that it either fell down by itself our was cut down in a nice way as part of a sustainable forest management program.

The pictures on here, are brilliant but even they cannot give you the true sensation that can only be achieved by touch when you feel the smooth surface and get the smell of natural wood. The collection of boards on display covers a whole range from ‘Presentation Boards’ through ‘Classic Style Chopping Boards,’ for meats, fish, vegetables, bread and of course cheese and Specialty Boards for gifts, display or ornament are all here.

All of these boards are cut from British hardwood timbers and crafted to bring out any special or distinctive patterns found within the wood itself. Of course being natural no two boards can ever be the same, they will have subtle differences of colour and markings making every board unique.

British trees all have their individual characteristics; Sycamore is a pale wood with a lustrous sheen and a smooth feel to it, whereas Cherry has wonderful deep rich colours. Ash is tough, while British Beech has been proven to be naturally antiseptic, a great benefit in a chopping board. Of course, last but by no means least the mighty Oak which has colours, strength and qualities all of its own.

Other distinctive features occurring naturally within the wood are also sought out and captured. In the descriptions you will see reference to “Waney” Edge.” This just means that instead of being cut square the natural curve of the tree remains as part of the board, sometimes with the bark still attached adding character to the uniqueness of the board.

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The lower board on the stand is a piece of Elm showing a Waney Edge.

“Pippy” is another term that pops up from time to time, sometimes called ‘Cat’s Paw’ from the pattern of the markings that look as if a cat has walked over it. Obviously the natural grain of the wood is the feature most admired but to create something special the craftsmen lookout for tiny knots, or pips which add extra textured markings that make create wonderful individual patterns in the wood.

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This is a piece of Burr Oak showing the extreme Pippy pattern.

“Spalting,” caused by fungi which create wonderful colours and patterns in the wood adding another feature to the potential uniqueness of the finished product, spalting is highly sought after by woodworkers.

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That’s a Spalted Beech board back row second from the left.

“Marbling” Is an effect mainly seen in Sycamore trees, usually as a result of rainwater taking the tannin out of the bark of a dead standing tree and staining the tree wood underneath.

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A large piece of Marbled Sycamore.

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Another Stunning piece of Elm.

I’m sure I have grossly over used the word Unique in this piece, having exhausted all the other definitions of the word that I can find or think of but it is hard to find the words to describe something which is truly unique in so many different ways. Starting with the tree itself, the type of wood it produces, the shape of its trunk and main branches, the kind of life it has had, happy in ideal growing conditions or stressed due to too much or too little water, weather too hot or too cold. All are factors in the timber produced and the grain and features that will eventually come to the surface when the wood is used.

The way craftsmen cut and shape the boards, the patterns they find and their position within the board. Square cut or oblong, round or oval, plain or waney edged all go to make every board as individual as a finger print.

Of course if you then add in the extra bonus that it will undoubtedly become something of a family heirloom out lasting we who buy them then it is right that it should take pride of place in our home.

The new board I have now is an oval Sycamore and it replaces a board that I have had for over twenty years…. only it hasn’t been replaced, it has moved over to a gentle retirement. It has been a good and faithful servant all these years and I can’t bear to part with it or throw it out.

I watched, and listened to the comments of those who stopped or passed by the stand, I saw the admiring glances and the subtle little ways people found to touch and stroke the wood on display. Such is the appeal of all things natural, with wood coming high up on the list.

How fitting that here in the Twenty-First century with all the wonders of modern technology that surrounds us we can achieve pleasure from holding or stroking something as basic as a piece of wood. Does it trigger long forgotten memories of our ancient ancestors who on our behalf first discovered the beauty and versatility of wood ?

As a fuel, eating utensils, a means of shelter or for crossing water wood has been an ally of mankind since…. well forever I suppose.

Therefore I see it as only natural that we should still want its simple beauty in our homes today, no batteries required, ready to use whenever you need it, with a little care it will outlast us all and go to the next generation and probably the one after that.

With the built in obsolescence of the twenty-first century how many other items within our lives can make such claims ?

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2 Responses to “Wood with a Story to Tell”

  1. merlinfraser Says:

    You can see more pictures if you visit my Pinterest Boards as well as pictures of some of the stunning places we go..

  2. rbitsyr Says:

    I am in agreement regarding art fairs. Pottery and loo paper covers ad nauseam; but the food boards are stunning!


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