Coming across quality, locally sourced timber is no walk in the park. Often the trees are harvested and sawn without knowledge of how to get the best out of the log, and they are often improperly dried which results in cracking. Also, supply in suitable sizing and quantities is a constant challenge.
After a significant hunt, and a few miss-fires along the way, I’ve managed to get hold of two excellent furniture making timbers. They are in reliable supply and grown right here in New Zealand.
I still enjoy working with other varieties of wood, but these two are fast becoming my greatest hits.
Blackwood – Acacia melanoxylon
This is grown at my friend, Brian Simms’ farm in Kaitaia. Brian has won environmental awards for his farm, prunes his trees regularly to keep their growth true and personally delivers his timber to me. It is excellent Blackwood with a strong connection to the Northland region. The colour varies from a light straw, all the way through to a dark coffee tone. Native to Australia, it is an excellent furniture making timber.
Here is Brian with a stack of timber waiting to head into his custom built, solar kiln.
I enjoy Blackwood for its vibrant and varying tone. Often there are little “holographic” areas of grain that come alive when the oil is applied.
Black Walnut – Juglans Nigra
Unlike the wildly varying colour tones inherent in Blackwood, Walnut offers a more austere and homogenous look. I have always loved working with American Walnut but the fact that it came from so far away bugged me a little. Although sustainably sourced, the sheer distance travelled was a bit of a concern to me.
To my luck, I have recently located a miller in the Waikato that has access to locally grown Black Walnut. This tree is native to USA and uncommon to come across in New Zealand.
These trees were grown in the Waikato as part of a trial run by the Forest Research Institute (FRI), now called SCION. They are sourced from “Alan’s” farm. FRI told Alan he was chosen because he was young and likely see the trees through to milling. Alan is now an old man and is probably milling these trees to help with his retirement.
Alan grew and protected these trees, scaled them to prune branches and fell out twice, once into a drain which broke his fall. There is another story where the ladder slipped off the trunk and he was marooned 6 metres up. After a couple of hours of thought and contemplation, he decided to cut a branch, so it fell but didn’t detach. He then clambered down the branch to the safety of the ground.
After decades of growth, Alan milled these trees and left them to air dry in his farm shed. Mike Esson, a forestry expert and owner of Rarefind Timbers (also a friend of Alan’s), then collected the milled planks, graded them and finished them down to 12% moisture content at his timber kiln.
I love Walnut for its rich and distinguished tone. Also, a wonderfully stable timber to work with.