The heft and feel of a well-worn handle,
The sight of shavings that curl from a blade;
The logs in the wood pile, the sentiment of huge beams in an old-fashioned house;
The smell of fresh cut timber and the pungent fragrance of burning leaves;
The crackle of kindling and the hiss of burning logs.
Abundant to all the needs of man, how poor the world would be
Without wood.

Everard Hinrichs, quoted by Eric Sloane in A Reverence for Wood


Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Bungendore Wood Works Gallery

Since I had a day free before the IFQRG meeting began, I drove over to Bungendore, a small town on the Kings Highway of New South Wales near Canberra. It was there, at the Bungendore Wood Works Gallery, that my introduction to Australian woods began.

And what a beginning it was. The first piece that meets your eyes in the gallery is this dining table and chair set, made from blackwood. From the gallery's website:


Acacia melanoxylon
Blackwood is distributed naturally from north-east Queensland to Tasmania but is most common in Victoria and Tasmania. The strong dark wood is well figured and has an exceptional lustre. It varies in colour from golden honey to a rich chocolate brown, with white sapwood. It is used for furniture making, decorative wood work, turning and as panelling. Valued as a shade and ornamental tree it is also known as Black Wattle, Hickory and Sally Wattle.

A wonderful young lady named Tess showed me around the gallery, and in the following video she explains that the gallery has held several national prize-winning pieces of furniture-art including the table. A bonus of the video here is that as I scan the table top, you get a sense of how deep and rich the blackwood figuring and color really is. Tess speaks softly and the audio could be better, but it will give you a sense of being in Australia. Tess even points out a chair covered in kangaroo fur that was inspired by the "Ned Kelly helmet"; at the time, I had no idea of what she was referring to, but as I mentioned in the last post, Ned and the other bush rangers were a frequent topic of conversation in the parts of New South Wales I visited.

Another piece in blackwood in the gallery was a wonderful display case. To give you an idea of the rarity of blackwood, you can purchase it for $15 - $20 per board foot in standard pack...and these artists obviously had their pick in selecting their pieces. Both the dining set and the cabinet are priced above $50,000.

Now you might be wondering what kind of magnificent tree must produce this great wood. Well, surprise...blackwood is a member of the acacia family, and is commonly called back wattle by the country folk, and it is quite unassuming. By chance, one of my later stops had a blackwood tree out front, and I snapped these pictures...

Another species that really caught my attention was Jarrah. Again from the gallery's website:


eucalyptus marginata
A magnificent tall tree that can reach heights up to 30-40m, Jarrah only grows in the south-west corner of Western Australia. It is one of the world’s best hardwoods. The timber is straight grained and dark red to reddish brown in colour and is popular in furniture making. The forests are being threatened by bauxite mining and water borne fungal disease that attacks the roots.
This tallboy cabinet was made from jarrah...

... as was a stunning stairway in the gallery, shown in the following video. Tess tells us a little about the stairway, makes fun of my Texylvanian pronunciation of jarrah, and then points out the beautiful floor in the gallery, made of Tasmanian oak...which is not really oak at all, but another species of eucalyptus. I discovered later in my visits to the sawmills that there are over 700 species of eucalyptus in Australia.

Well, this post has gone quite long, and I've only covered two of the 50 or so wood species I photographed, so I'll quit here and try to get all the "best of the rest" in the next post.


PennwoodI3 said...

Fantasic pictures of this fine wood. I have worked Black Wattle that was given to me by one of my vendors and it a very nice species to process.

We currently use Australian Cypress in our products as well.

Phil said...

Thanks Chuck for your great post. Everyone here at the Bungendore Wood Works Gallery works hard to represent the best of Australian timber and wood craft. So it feels great when people, like you, just "get it". Hope you can make it back soon.

David C Clark said...

Bungendore Wood Gallery (the best in Australia) is an eye opener for those who are not familiar with the beauty of so many Australian woods.Unhappily, Australia has never done enough to bring our woods to the attention of the world. Far too many vendors of wood for craftsmen have limited their interest in Australian species to a small handful.Australia also has a crop of brilliant woodworkers in both design and execution as you would have seen during your visit.