Friday, September 6, 2013

Ghost Maple

Wood has a story to tell.
I talked about ghost maple before, when I wrote generally about maple. I'm working with some ghost maple right now and one of the boards I had gave an excellent view of how the figure is created.

It is our job as craftsmen to allow it to tell its story.
In the maple post, I said that the ghost (ambrosia) figure is caused by the fungus that the ambrosia beetle brings along with it when it burrows into the wood. These pictures give you a good view of that effect. The first picture in particular shows you how the green-gray coloration travels along the grain lines around the point where the beetle hole is.

This, like spalting, is rot... in a manner of speaking. Taken to the end point, beetle holes and fungus (among other things) return fallen trees to the Earth. If you arrest the decay process, you end up with an unusual board. There are a couple different ways to react to this kind of figure: 1. Good thing, 2. Bad thing.

There are legitimate cons to this type of wood. First, the wood can be decayed to the point of uselessness. Secondly, the appearance of the figure makes the wood look less clean-white, as maple sometimes is. From a design perspective, sometimes you aren't looking for figure, you're looking for white.

In many instances, the good outweighs the bad. There was a woodworker named George Nakashima, who is wildly influential among furniture makers and designers. He developed an almost spiritual philosophy towards woodworking, which I could never do justice, but I'll try to sum it up in two sentences:

Wood has a story to tell. It is our job as craftsmen to allow it to tell its story.

A plain board of white hard maple tells its story, but its story is short. Its story is almost sterile.

A board of ghost maple tells a similar story, but it has character, beauty, a whole chapter or two after the tree fell that the plain maple does not. It's a story with flaws and errors and defects, and that, I'll argue, is where its beauty lies.

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