QUALITY. I always struggled with the commissioning process. When it gets to that point where you hand the work over I never knew if the client really liked it. I think that is a self doubt many craftspeople feel. Several years ago I met a blacksmith who told me he never felt that doubt. In fact he knew what was best for the client better than they did and he made what was right for them, even if they didn’t know it. I felt it was a rather arrogant attitude at the time but I am coming to understand it more.

The truth is I know so much more about wood, wooden bowls and how they age and work in a home than any of my customers will ever know. Even the most discerning client will not know what a bowl will look like and how two bowls will age differently in 10 years time.img_3360-1

So this week I have cut up the last of my 162 year old beech tree. I bought this tree about a year ago and I have made many bowls and plates from it. It has been one of the nicest trees I have ever worked and made some of the nicest plates and bowls. The last couple of rings I cut though have become much more spalted than I like. Spalting is like the blue lines in a blue cheese. You get some great colours in the wood caused by fungi. The first of these fungi to invade the wood feed on the liquid and sugary contents of the cells. Later fungi move in capable of breaking down cellulose and lignin. At this point the structural strength of the wood declines. The wood looks gorgeous and in my early years I did use wood in this state and customers absolutely adore it. Spalted bowls definitely sell faster and for more money than plainer coloured bowls. The problem is, having used them in my own home for  many years, I know that the plainer bowls will be the nicer ones in 10 years time. Those bright colours fade and the spalted ones are always the first ones to crack or break. If you leave the plates sitting in a damp environment the spalted ones will be much quicker to develop mildew.

So I stopped using heavily spalted wood. From the rings of beech I just cut up 80% went to the firewood pile and 20% made it into the bowl blank pile. Can you guess looking at the picture above whether these are the keepers or the burners? I can see at a glance these days how far gone the wood is. Binning off wood that would easily make beautiful bowls that would sell well is all about my commitment to quality. I now know what is best for my customers and I won’t let them have anything less even if they want it.

PS if you are not sure I’ll post the answer here in a couple of days, you can find out if those were firewood or destined to be bowls.

and the answer was…..

Those bits were all the rejects destined for firewood. I have learned over the years that it always pays to be very choosy about the raw material. I always have a surplus of good raw material or at least I can always source more easily and it is simply not worth while making bowls that are only 90% as good as they could be. People love them and buy them but I know that a higher proportion of those spalted bowls split, may be 6 months, may be 6 years but solid wood is better.

Author Robin Wood

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