Wood, Huh, Yeah. What is it Good For…
Absolutely Everything! We love wood, its why we live surrounded by it and why we choose to work with it (Rob’s even got undies made from it!). But what wood is good for what and, more specifically, what wood is good for sculpture? (Beech is good for the pants, in case you wondered)
Wood can be split into two broad categories: Hard wood and Soft wood.
Hard woods include Oak, Sweet Chestnut, Ash, Sycamore etc. Mainly broadleaf deciduous species.
Soft woods include Scots Pine, Sequoia, Larch, Lleylandii etc. Mainly coniferous species.
With a name including the word “hard” you’d be forgiven for thinking that Hard Woods would be super tough and long lasting. They’d make the other woods quake in their boots, oozing their toxic durability. In some respect they are tougher but for longevity they pail in comparison to most soft woods, with a few exceptions.
Those are Oak and Robinia (which incidentally knocks Oak into a short lived cocked hat for durability).
Sweet Chestnut and Walnut are also classed as durable but not more so than a whole plethora of Soft Woods.
Here at Neith we only ever carve wood classed as durable and mainly that wood will be Sequoia, Cedar, Larch, Leylandii, Douglas fir or Lawsons Cypress. Actually that’s a lie! If we’re carving a stump in someones garden then we can’t choose the species but if its a non durable one then we’ll always be honest about how long the finished piece will last and how to increase its lifespan.
Sometimes we’ll carve Oak but its so hard on our tools and bodies that we have to be pushed into it, with a big stick made of money! We steer clear of Sweet Chestnut as its quite splitty and Walnut is difficult, and expensive, to get hold of in large diameters.
The question on all your lips is “Don’t Rob’s underpants chafe?” The answer is no. The second question is probably “How long will my sculpture last?”. Its difficult to answer. Boffins, who love wood (or as Rob thinks of them, dreamboats!) have found that a 50mm square piece of Leyland Cypress, in contact with the ground, will rot after 14.9 years (hard and heavy Beech, 4.3!). Our sculptures are massively bigger than 2 inch (resisting the urge to fully decimalise 50 year on!) but that doesn’t mean they’ll last massively longer than 14.9 years.
A lot of things come into play. How you look after the sculpture, the weather, siting of the piece, local bacteria and fungal conditions etc. We carve green wood (its impossible to get seasoned large diameter timber, too much moisture in too much wood) so there’s inherent moisture in every piece and that too can accelerate deterioration.
Those Boffins have given us a rough idea of what to expect though, although there’s no guarantees. You could assume that a big sculpture, sited in the right place, in a non too wet climate, with a treatment plan, sculpted from Leyland Cypress would last in excess of 20 years, maybe a while lot more.
And so, dear reader, it’s up to you to assign value to our work based on this. Its always confusing, slightly humorous, that people will spend hundreds (if not thousands) on an ephemeral experience such as a fine dining meal. A thing that is gone within 16 hours, waved away down a chute to go choke a turtle in the sea, yet baulk at the price of something that will last a decade or more with a tag of £3000.