Koa is the most beautiful wood I have had the pleasure to work with. The color, texture and amazing three dimensional depth, put it in a class of it’s own. A variety of the Acacia tree family, unique to Hawaii. It grows to be eighty plus feet tall, from sea level to near the tops of the mountains. Unfortunately it is also rare, having been cleared for cattle and burned to process sugar in the late 1800’s. There is a movement to restore it, but that’s another story.
The wood that I use for my creations comes from “windfall” trees, downed by the forces of natural. None of the mills I work with cut live trees, so it is often difficult and expensive to come by.
This particular piece of wood is from a tree from the upper slops of East Haleakala on Maui. It had been on the ground for a while, so it had begun to decay. This process called “spalting” can add dramatic color and depth to the wood.
When I’m looking for a piece for a rocker, there are two things I look for, structural integrity and dynamic patterns in the figure and curl. I look for natural curve in the grain for the runners and solid straight grains for the support components, as well as distinctive patterns and curl for the arms, seat and headrest. This can take some time, at $45-$65 a board foot (12″x12″x1″) you don’t want to make a mistake.
After selecting the raw slabs, I lay out the design (each chair is different, as I do not use stock templates) and rough cut the various components. These pieces are stacked in my drying shed to stabilize. After two months they were ready to be shaped and sanded to a near finished point before assembly.
Each component must be hand fitted to ensure tight joints. This process takes weeks, as each section is glued and cured. Each rocker’s wood has a different weight and balance point that must be careful worked out before the final glue up. I use a marine epoxy and waterproof glue, so it needs to be right the first time. I let the glued up chair sit for a few weeks to cure and stabilize before finishing.
The next step is to sand the entire chair over and over, applying thin layers of lacquer sealer until all the grains and joints are baby bottom smooth. A final lacquer finish is sprayed and a hand rubbed wax and oil is applied.
My goal in a rocker is to create a piece of furniture that is both comfortable and aesthetically pleasing, revealing the amazing beauty of the wood.
You can ask my wife, I cannot pass up a slab of Maui’s amazing hardwoods. It started at yard sales, a piece here, a piece there, till I had to build a shed to store them. Then I found the mill, oh my, the “candy store” for someone with woodlust. I began hanging around the millyard (100s of logs and piles of slabbed wood) looking through every pile looking for just the right piece. Whether it’s Koa, Mango, Monkey pod, Norfork Pine, or Opeuma, I love um all.
I also love driftwood. Whenever we have big storms with heavy rains, you will find me searching the river-mouths for chunks of battered and beaten pieces of wood. So anyway, now my backyard is piles of wood, every nook and cranny in the shop is piled high.
Woodlust, ya I’ve got it, because wood “speaks” to me. I mean, I see a piece a wood and it says “rocker” or “fish sculpture” or “treasure box”, it lets me know what it wants to be. Every piece of wood has a story, in this section of the blog, I will share the history of the wood and the process it took to become what it “told” me to make.
Rare and endangered plants are a new subject for me. My friend Pat Bily of the The Nature Conservancy (a self proclaimed “plant geek”) has been patiently pointing out the native plants in the Waikamoi Preserve. The Lobelias are one of the food sources for the native birds of Maui . In 3 years of hiking past this paticular plant, I had not seen it bloom. So when I heard it was flowering, I had to have a look. WOW – beautiful! It was lightly raining, but I had to shoot, as a family of I’iwi were working it.