Waney edges, knots and the sheer natural beauty of wood

When making a piece of furniture, like most cabinet makers, I try to find some way of making a piece striking, different and eye catching.
Some do it to stand out, as if to catch everyone’s attention by dying your hair green before a formal dinner party. Others do it to meet client’s specifications or needs.

I do it because it feels right.

When I first started out at David Savage’s workshop in Devon I would always try to make pieces that would look weightless and beautiful. It seemed that there would always have to be a flowing shape, a fine detail or some sort of feature to mimic the natural beauty of the wood.
I would enjoy playing with the eye. Using the strong, straight grain of zebrano for curved cabinet sides or perhaps getting such a high sheen on ebony that it almost looks like an exotic type of stone.

The majority of fellow students would shy away from big nasty knots or waney edged wood. So did I at first, but eventually I became drawn to it.

Why not use the natural beauty of the wood as well as elegant curves to emphasize it?

I remember the first piece I did this to. I purposefully left a nice looking knot bang in the middle of a table top.
This quickly became a habit and rapidly escalated.

I was soon hunting high and low at timber yards for heavily pipped English oak and burred waney edged bits of elm. I would sit them down in the back of the workshop where they would wait until I would suddenly be inspired by a piece which I would promptly dig out and turn into a sculptural piece of furniture.

My conclusion out of my experience is that the most beautiful pieces of wood are often discarded as firewood.
There is no limit, no matter how small the offcut, if it has character it can look good in a different context.

A piece of furniture that is truly made from a piece of wood is like no other.

Fabian Maddison
February 2012

Interesting stuff Fabian.

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I remember being in China a long time ago, looking for Jade souvenirs with a local guy from a factory, and he was telling me that he thought Chinese prefer the stone carvings with veins of different colored material, rather than perfectly uniform rock (which I was looking for at the time.)

Anyway, in hindsight, the veins are nice in a western sense - it makes the carvings more interesting - but I think they saw it as a more natural aesthetic (maybe Confusionistic too?). It reminds me of what you’re trying to do in your furniture and being able to show the beauty in what some people would call defects