|Project by hingeman||posted 10-12-2011 01:48 AM||3425 views||26 times favorited||32 comments|
This box was specially commissioned for an exhibition in US, ‘Boxes and their Makers’ – mirroring ‘Celebrating Boxes’ that I set up with another UK box maker and old friend, Peter Lloyd, back in 2001.
Because of the extraordinary veneer that is its main feature this is a unique and never to be repeated box.
Amboyna is one of the very few veneers still available un-trimmed, that is, with none of its natural, wany edges removed. This is because it’s so expensive and typically available only in relatively small sizes. This allows the purchaser to make maximum use of it – and also makes it ideal for this sort of project.
So, it was this I had in mind when I visited my favourite veneer supplier here in UK, Capital Crispin in East London. I quickly found a bundle of 2mm saw cut amboyna, the leaves at one end of which were very wild. Sawn veneers tend to appear somewhat blurred as a result of the rough surface left by the sawing process, but even in this state I could see that this bundle hinted at some very unusual colours. Amboyna is normally made up of rich dark red/purple heartwood and pale honey-coloured sap. But in addition to the usual vibrant red and honey colours this showed a lot of grey, stone-type colours [perhaps caused by mineral staining] and a strong suggestion of flow in the figure. This, combined with the wonderful shapes [holes, even] and movement in the untrimmed edges, could only mean one thing – lava!
I’ve been buying veneer for 25 years and I’ve not seen anything approaching the colour, figure and ‘flow’ in this veneer before or since. Hence the choice to use it for this exhibition piece, and to name it ‘LAVA’.
Apart from the fact that it was perfect for what I had in mind – there was a further advantage: the leaves I wanted [I bought the end six] were deemed too small and uneven in shape to be of any use for standard cabinetwork. So I got them cheap – and Amboyna, particularly if it’s sawn cut, is extremely expensive. Actually these leaves are almost all sap with only an occasional very small area of the deep red heartwood.
The initial construction was simply done and the domed-top carcass veneered all over with a claret coloured dyed sycamore veneer before any of the amboyna was applied.
Then followed the time-consuming task of applying around 50 separate pieces of veneer to create the dramatic effect you see on the finished box. It’s a lengthy process, selecting and positioning the veneer so that the joins between the individual pieces occur exactly where the ebony ‘straps’ will be. Occasionally the quest for a dramatic outline took precedence over continuity of colour or figure … but wherever possible all these elements were considered.
Fixing them in place is an awkward task because you can’t apply glue to the ground [the already once-veneered box] – it has to be applied to the amboyna. And because it so happened that the natural curve of the veneer was curling up and away from the ground, when glue was applied the curve was increased due to the swelling effect of the water in the glue. You have to keep the edges almost dry so as not to allow glue to squeeze out from under them when they are laid down, spoiling the effect. With all the veneer applied, the box without the straps appears as a discontinuous patchwork of mis-matched veneer scraps. But if all goes well, with the straps fitted the brain is fooled into assuming a continuity.
There was a plus and a minus to the fact that the veneer was 2mm thick – the extra thickness gives an extra depth to the contours, certainly with light from above the front of the box looks far more dramatic than if it had been the more usual 0.5 or 0.6 mm thickness. On the downside, it meant that the veneer only worked one way up – all the edges needed to slope down into the background veneer – the other way up all the edges were effectively undercut, so would not have been so visually effective.
The hinges, ‘straps’ and ‘nail heads’ are all made from ebony. I made the stop hinges from the same ebony the exact width of the straps so that they could be part of the continuity – I deliberately didn’t fit any sort of catch as I wanted to keep the lines and shapes of the exterior as clean and uninterrupted as possible. There is a unity achieved as a result of the close similarity between the colour of the background veneer, the few small areas of amboyna heartwood and the leather.
Sorry – a bit of a long description! I hope the technical details are of interest.
• Box dimensions: [LxDxH] – 400×320 x 235 mm [approx 16” x 12” x 9”]
• Materials used: birch plywood, oak, dyed veneer, amboyna veneer, ebony
• Finish is a thin shellac-based sealer [actually a thinned transparent french polish] cut back and waxed
• Lined throughout with claret leather
• The interior contains a simple tray in oak.
Note: Following a serious falling out with the organisers I withdrew this box from the show last year so you will not see it featured in any of the online or printed literature, but some of you may have seen it in the book that accompanies the show, ‘Boxes and their Makers’.
-- Andrew Crawford, Shropshire, UK http://www.box-making.com