This is a topic that I have made reference to on previous project posts. It was my LJ cyber friends Mads in Denmark, Div in South Africa, and others whose posts over the past months have moved me to try writing a little more about this. So what is heritage wood? For the purposes of this post, we’ll loosely define it as a piece or pieces of wood that have been saved for some lengthy period of time. Perhaps received as a gift; inherited; collected; or salvaged. Perhaps it belonged to a deceased woodworker. It could be a section of the crosscut of a log saved by a woodturner who never got around to working with it or a piece of a river recovered log. It could be the recycling of a particularly interesting piece of wood or furniture that is damaged in a way that it needs to be reworked or rebuilt. It might even be some boards or wood that were up in the barn or grainary at your immigrant ancestors farm. It might be boards from a black walnut tree that was planted by your great-great-grandfather in the 1880’s and later harvested by your father who made furniture from it. The remaining boards divided between his 3 woodworker sons. These are all true for me and more.
It was my German, farm raised, depression era parents who instilled the idea of fixing things rather than just throwing it away. Appreciating the little things and things well made that actually were useful as well as beautiful. They both understood a lot more about recycling, repurposing, and making do with what you have than most people today. The crazier the world gets the more I am glad to have lived with those sorts of values and ethics.
I begin with a board given to me recently by a friend named interestingly enough, Forrest. It’s a very clear 1” x 18” x 84” piece of Philippine Mahogany that he knew came here in 1944.
I now have the challenge of coming up with what to do with this 66 year old board and of course much older wood, from a tree I can only wonder how old. You’ll notice lots of boards in the background that are awaiting similar decisions. I first thought about this responsibility after I read a book by George Nakashima back in the early 1980’s called The Soul of a Tree. I gave my copy to a brother many years ago, so I haven’t read it in a long time. I was inspired then by both his work and philosophy regarding trees and wood and nature. Very spiritual, very Japanese, and a wonderful book, and the idea has stuck with me since.
I have the luxury of doing my woodworking for entirely personal reasons and do not make my living from it. For me this is a blessing because I do not have deadlines or cost considerations to make. I am in it for the love of working with wood and making things from it. At the same time, I take from my upbringing the idea that it honors God to be able to make things from his creation and I honor him by being a good steward of the material and what I do with it. To the best of your ability the ancestors would say, God expects nothing less. I’ve lived by that credo in my professsional life as well as my woodworking life and it has served me well. For me working with this heritage material means that you accept the responsibility of making good use of it and making something that the former owner would be delighted with. It honors the creator, the tree it came from and shows respect for the woodworker who might have owned it before. I like to think that they look down from heaven and smile.
-- Dr. Ken, Florida - Durch harte arbeit werden Träume wahr.