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


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Great Designs in Wood (20) - The UK Wood Awards

"The Wood Awards is the UK’s premier architecture and furniture competition celebrating excellence in design in the world’s most sustainable material. Now in its ninth year, the Wood Awards is the most respected award for building and design in wood."

Far Moor Bridge, North Yorkshire, UK. Built of Scottish larch. Photo by Peter  Lambert.

The 2011 winning entries were impressive, I thought, by their simplicity, use of engineered wood products and local species, and the general sense of "normalcy" that is not usually associated with great designs in wood. In other words, wood designs tend to stick out precisely because they are wood. In this year's competition, though, I thought the powerful and important message conveyed is that wood designs don't have to be overwhelming to demonstrate wood's unique ability to convey natural, organic beauty with utilitarian function.

This site at has some nice photos of the winning entries, along with judges' comments of each. Interesting perspectives that are, I think, helpful to architects considering using wood in their creations.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Great Designs in Wood (19) - Classic Woodies

Go Wooder Jeff Wartluft, who also happens to be a classic car buff, sent these great photos of classic "woodie" automobiles along. Since the beginning of the year is also a great time to look back in order to think forward, they are a timely topic of interest.

This 1948 Chevy convertible is a classy-looking thing, isn't it? Usually we think of a woodie being a boxy wagon, but this one proves that you could go wood and be cool, too. I like that.

The classic woodie. A 1942 Chrysler Town and Country. The modern minivans of the same name are almost blasphemy, I say.

How about this 1948 Packard? A roadside picnic in the country takes on special meaning in one of these.

The Brits had a fondness for wood, too. This Austin A70 Countryman was the envy of every well-to-do country squire in its day.

But the American woodie station wagons of the 1940's were the zenith of the art. The Pontiac photos below display the luscious detail that steel-sided cars just can't match.

Here's a neat Chrysler wagon, with wooden surfboards to match. You couldn't get cooler than that. Where's Annette Funicello when you need her?

Think they'll ever bring back the Woodie? Maybe we should start talking about how much carbon could be sequestered if all the cars in the world were woodies...we might get somewhere with that.

Closing with a snappy video, with a tune that really sets the mood for cruising in a woodie.

If you're hungry for more, visit the nice website And here's a great blog about a fellow restoring the woodwork on a 1948 Chevy wagon.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Going Wood in 2012

Now that you've made all those New Year's resolutions about weight, money, and love that you're going to break this year, how about making one or two that you can keep? :-)

If you feel the need to slow down a little, enjoy life a little more, reconnect with traditional values, and use your hands again, why not try one of these in 2012?

  • Plant a witness tree. Back in the old days, farmers used to plant a witness tree near their farmhouse, or leave a large witness tree, that would survive generations of their farmstead. We live sort of a short-term, disposable life these days, but there's no reason we have to keep throwing away our family traditions and history. Go to a local nursery and pick out one of your favorite tree species, as large a one as you can afford and transplant, and plant it at a strategic location on your property, or in a favorite public park after you've gotten permission to do so. Invite your family and friends to attend and participate in the planting, and say a few words about what you hope the tree will witness in the coming generations. It may just happen that fifty or sixty years from now, a child or grandchild of yours will visit the tree and reflect back on that moment...and a moment of your family history will be re-lived.  
  • Take up hiking. Maybe you hiked a lot as a student, but you've gotten too busy to get out in the woods much lately. Or maybe you've always wanted to take up hiking, but the woods always seemed so far away and intimidating. Well, go buy yourself a nice pair of hiking boots and head out to the nearest trail, even if its just a short one in a state or local park. It's amazing how the first fifteen minutes of a walk in the woods will lower your blood pressure and slow your world down.

  •  When was the last time you sat under a big tree and studied the sky? Or watched a stream flow over its rock bed, and noticed little pieces of vegetation swirl in its eddy? Or climbed to see what was over the next ridge? Sometimes I think that hiking is one of the last vestiges left to us of the freedom our pioneer ancestors experienced as they spread out over the country. Experience that freedom'll feel years younger.
  • Join a wood-turners club. Wood-turning is really gaining in popularity, and the American Association of Woodturners has chapters all over the country. If you know someone who is into wood-turning, ask them how they got started...once you get them talking you'll get all you need to know to get into the hobby yourself. Wood-turning is the ultimate in learning the secrets of wood, and how to turn a piece of wood you might pitch into a landfill into a stunning family keepsake. You can spend as little or as much as you like on the hobby, and in the end, its all the same...your reward is the time you spend watching the wood reveal its hidden beauty to you.

  • Attend a furniture or timber framing class. If you're looking for something a little more strenuous than wood-turning, and still want to make something out of wood, you may be ready to tackle furniture design and construction, or timber framing. We're fortunate that there are still schools and clubs out there that teach the old trades, and attendance and participation in one of these would be unlike any vacation you've ever taken...and probably the one that you'll remember most. Why waste time staring at the ocean on a warm beach in a tropical location when you could be working up a sweat in a woodshop for a change of pace? Wait, let me re-phrase that...
  • Install a wood stove in your home or garage. Even if you already have a energy-efficient source of home heating, a wood stove will add something to your life. Firewood is still a bargain in most places, and if you care to cut and split your own you'll add productive outdoor exercise to your life and enjoy the stove's warmth even more. But even if you just purchase the firewood and have it delivered and stacked for you, there is still the enjoyment one feels when selecting the next piece of wood for the fire, and building that perfect blaze. It's hard to put a value on what a fire in one's home adds to a cold, winter night, or a holiday party.
  • Purchase a custom-built wooden rocker. About thirty years ago La-Z-Boy convinced us all that rocking ourselves in a mechanical overstuffed mattress was the way to enjoy our quiet moments. We found out that all it really offers is a great way to miss the second half of a good football game. I have a factory-built wooden rocker (OK, it has cushions) and every time I sit in it I appreciate the feel of its wooden armrests, but I feel the need to experience real craftsmanship. The maple rocker I saw in Australia has me convinced that there is a custom rocker out there with my personal buttocks dimensions, and I'm going to find it!
  • Start playing hickory golf. You golfers out there may be looking for a way to re-ignite the love for the game you once had, but have lost in this day of graphite and titanium. The Hickory Golf Association may hold the answer. Started by a group of antique golf club collectors, these golfing purists are returning to the days of golfing with hickory- and ash-shafted clubs, with persimmon heads on the drivers. They admit it's a lot harder, but also that it improves their game with the modern clubs. And as part of their return to the wooden clubs, paying attention to the condition of the clubs brings them a great sense of the value of maintaining the wood for its best performance. I bet a lot of them never go back to the steel and composites once they get hooked on wood.

Well, those are a few ideas I'm thinking about for 2012. I encourage you to get out, slow down, and Go Wood!