Special Species Timber Angst

Craft War Weekend Australian

The Weekend Australian Magazine insert of Oct 10-11 2015 had an article that people drew my attention to.  It was headed CRAFT WAR  A new battle looms in Tasmania’s forests – this time over special timbers for furniture and boats.

My response is that the issues can be largely resolved by design.

A furniture example comes from Witt Design’s usage of special species timbers.  With rare exceptions, we have not used them as solid timber but restricted ourselves to veneer.  The process of making veneer has a little going a very long way and, besides, the wastage is radically less than with sawn timber.  That means designing furniture to suit veneer not solid.  Peter Costello, an awarded Tasmanian furniture designer is a master at this.  He started using plywood, with selected veneers added, when many people thought that the concept of exposed plywood edges was crass.  How times have changed.  His pieces like Reef Chairs, Reef Coffee Tables and Locus Chairs exemplify how small amounts of veneer can create stunning results.  http://wittdesign.com.au/product/reef-coffee-table/

At Witt Design, we have restricted ourselves to the more common species and deleted Celery Top Pine from our range.  We can select blonde Eucalypt (Ash) and still have a very light colour to contrast with bright or strong upholstery colours.

A boat example revolves around technology moving on.  It makes sense to maintain and restore old wooden boats with the timbers that are so well suited to the task – Huon Pine, Celery Top Pine and King Billy Pine.  However, unless a boat is destined for a museum, it does not seem to make much sense to rely on the durability qualities of these pines to survive in water, when we have good techniques for keeping water away from wood so that is does not rot in the first place, even at a slow rate.

I admire the skills and the beautiful work of the people who craft magnificent boats like solid planked timber dinghies with steamed ribs and lots of copper nails and roves.  They are beautiful when they are new but a maintenance nightmare when they are old.  The reason that so many are let go is that the maintenance becomes too demanding or too costly.

We can use materials and contemporary design to keep the water out of the wood and make wooden boats easily maintainable.  In that process, they can be lighter and stronger too.  For example, the hull of a plywood clinker planked Derwent Raider (4.5m long recreational rowing boat), plus its self-draining cockpit, weights just 44kg.  And the cockpit is strong enough for a person to walk, slip and slide around in while sailing.  There are no exposed ribs or frames to get in the way and, before sailing fittings are added, the boat has no metal fastenings at all. http://www.rowandsail.com.au/boats/derwent-raider/

As a testament to its strength, one Derwent Raider was run down by an aluminium workboat doing 29knots (54kph).  The stainless steel forestay was shredded, the bow taken down under the water, the two sheer planks chopped and the foredeck mangled.  But the damage was restricted to the two planks and the foredeck.  Despite its light weight, that result was an amazing testament to the strength that can be achieved in well-designed light-weight structures.