Natural edges and Spalted Wood

I’ve said before that my furniture is about the wood. Many of my pieces have “imperfections,” such as knots, that would not be acceptable in mass produced furniture that seeks uniformity, not to mention special figure, burl and sapwood. These properties make the piece speak of its natural origins. But natural or “live” edges and spalted wood move the piece even further in this direction.

Both spalting and live edges are striking visually, as in this wall cabinet. You don’t really need to go beyond that to justify its use. However, both characteristics are very symbolic in my mind.

Spalting is caused by fungus. Fungus is an extremely important part of the ecology of a forest, being essential not only for recycling biomass but in promoting growth as well. If you look at this detail of the natural edge of the cabinet, you’ll see tracks made by beetles hosted by the living tree. So, natural edges and spalting are features that speak not only of the tree itself as a living creature, but they reference the whole community of organisms in which the tree functioned.

In this way we see that wood is more than a building material that has no meaning until we shape something with it, and it is more than just a beautiful natural product. Wood, and these natural features of wood, are in fact symbolic of life and community and of our dependence on the natural world.

Mixing the refined craftsmanship of the cabinetmaker and joiner with natural edges and spalting presents a contrast that just can’t be ignored.  The one is a very utilitarian and anthropocentric view, the other a poetic and scientific view. That is how it has always been. We humans have a long history of association with trees, much of it a utilitarian history. But there is also a long poetic and symbolic history. However, today many of the world’s forests and the communities they support are threatened. Including these natural features into our furniture can help remind us of the origins of the material and of their importance to a healthy world.  


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Previously published:

Fine furniture, Camano Island, marquetry