Sunday, 30 March 2014

The Wooton Patent Desk

The followers of my WeirdWood ramblings may already be aware of my liking for writing bureaus and similar functional furniture and the more avid readers among you may even be aware of my particular fetish for furniture and cabinets with many little draws and secret cubby holes but when I came across this gem combining both passions I was in my element.

American Renaissance Revival, W.S. Wooton's Patent Desk, Extra Grade Model, the well carved walnut case paneled with contrasting burled walnut, and ebonized trim, gilt brass hardware, letter slot and makers plaques, and featuring a document compartment concealed as trim, birds-eye maple on the elaborately fitted interior set with 36 wood drawers, 20 storage slots, fall front writing surface with ornate iron supports opening to further fitting, circa 1874, by the Wooton Desk Manufacturing Company, Indianapolis,  74"h, 45"w, 32"d

As if the exterior of this piece was not stunning enough ...... take a look on the inside.

This sort of desk was produced by William Wooton from 1870 through 1884 ~ it was called a "secretary desk" and its function was to organize any sort of office paperwork. These desks were expensive at the time (and now!) and only the wealthy could afford such a piece of furniture. The craftsmanship and details on these pieces is just amazing.

The front of the cabinets were fitted with brass letter boxes so other office staff could post documents when the cabinet was locked.

It's interesting that these pieces of furniture were advertised as being the "King of Desks", I should image with this degree of workmanship the makers had the market to themselves.

Another of the advertising slogans used for the Wooton's Patent Desk was:  "A place for everything & everything in its place" and there are enough 'places' to choose from!

Each cabinet was fitted with the makers plaque.

A book about Wooton Desks is available from with a very 'busy' looking example on the front cover.

The example of the desk featured here was found on with a starting price of $ 15,000 dollars so I guess I will just have to carry on dreaming   :-(


Thursday, 27 March 2014

Can't See the Tree for the Wood

When British forces captured the Oosttaverne Wood from the Germans during the Battle of Messines in June 1917, they were surprised to find that one of the trees wasn’t a tree at all—it was a steel-and-iron imitation. This camouflaged “tree” had been used by the Germans as an outlook post to spy on the British lines without being detected.

The German “tree” found in Oosttaverne Wood

The British and French also used metal “trees” for observation during World War I. The Germans called the “trees” Baumbeobachter, which literally means “tree observer.” Because the enemy frontlines were watched so closely, any obvious observation methods would be easily spotted. So both sides used Baumbeobachters since they could easily blend into their surroundings.

An Australian-built Baumbeobachter

The Baumbeobachters were hollow steel tubes covered by iron “bark” textured to look like the real thing. The base of the steel tree widened and was buried in the ground to provide support.

The base to a German camouflage tree. This would have been sunk into the ground to provide support for the tree and also to allow access unseen by the enemy.

Close up of the coating on the steel ‘bark’

The observer would access the top of the observation post by climbing inside through a small opening close to the ground then ascending a narrow ladder, not much wider than a man’s boot. The rungs of the ladder were not very far apart, as the small circumference of the interior would prevent anyone from taking large steps.

The entrance to a tree, showing initials carved in its interior by an observer, January 1918.
A section of the ladder from the tree, compared to the size of a man\'s foot.

Once the observer climbed the ladder, he would sit on a small seat attached to the side of the tube. The seat was lower than the sight holes so any bullets or shrapnel that made it in through those openings wouldn’t directly hit the person inside; instead the observer used a periscope to see out.

Section of steel tube with the small and uncomfortable steel seat.

When an army decided they needed a Baumbeobachter, they would find a real tree in a location where they wanted their observation post. They’d have to choose a place along their frontline that was fairly static to put their Baumbeobachter; otherwise, if the line moved, the post would be useless. Then they’d take a picture of the real tree, and the Baumbeobachter would be made to look exactly like the existing tree. Once the army had the fake tree, they would cut down the real tree at night (sometimes under the cover of artillery fire to hide the sound), then put the Baumbeobachter exactly where the old tree was. That way, when the opposing army looked over in the morning, nothing would rouse their suspicions since everything looked exactly the same.

Putting up a camouflage tree (artwork by GC Leon Underwood, 1919)


Sunday, 23 March 2014

Spirit Nests - Jayson Fann

Have you ever wanted to experience the life of a baby bird? How about curling up in a cosy nest perched high in the air? California-based artist Jayson Fann is giving humans that chance, building gigantic nests out of locally harvested tree branches.

The Big Sur Spirit Garden, founded by Jayson Fann, is an International Arts and Cultural Centre located in the beautiful Big Sur valley between the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. 

The nests are made from tree branches that are harvested from local forests. Jayson does this with great respect and care for the trees choosing the branches and carefully cutting them so that the tree is not damaged. He uses mostly Eucalyptus wood, a non-native tree which can often be invasive and crowd out native plants The best branches he gathers from the top of the tree as they are more mature, strong, and have unique spiralling shapes sculpted by wind and time.

After sorting his cuttings by size, he then assembles them in a spiral pattern using the natural flexibility of the wood to lock together the pieces like a basket. He also uses hidden screws for extra strength. Once the nest has reached a certain size, he transports it to its final location, sometimes employing trucks and cranes for his larger pieces. Once on location, he does the final assembly, including weaving it onto a robust base.

This nest required a large quantity of wood and a lot of weaving. It's extremely strong as a result of using thicker branches. You can rent out this nest by the night at the Treebones resort in Big Sur,California.

Source: ht:bigsurspiritg

Friday, 14 March 2014

Making Wooden Kitchen Spoons and Similar Utensils

Wooden Spoons 'Hidden' in Trees

I Came across this interesting excerpt from:  Garden Farm Skills. Gene Longsdon (1985) 
A foraging skill I have yet to perfect myself but thought it was well worth sharing. If readers would like to add their own opinions  and experiences on this article, it would be much appreciated.

"There are only two little secrets to making spoons, ladles, and forks out of wood. The first is that you don’t carve the spoon from a block of wood; rather, you find a branch with a spoon in it.
Nothing mysterious about that advice. A proper spoon or ladle must have a curve in the handle to be designed for easy use — those straight-handled wooden spoons you can buy cheap are almost unusable except to stir with. You might be able to steam bend a straight piece of wood to the proper curve, but that would be hard work. What you dare not do is cut the curve into a piece of wood across the grain. Such a spoon easily breaks. Therefore, when he is cutting firewood or when he is in the woods, a spoon maker keeps a sharp eye out for branches that have a natural curve in them to make the curved handle. It becomes, in fact, great sport to find the spoons in the wood.
Then there’s the second secret. Having once found a proper branch or crotch, never carve your spoon from the very center of it. Again, that would make a very weak spoon. Instead, cut the branch in two along the centre line and carve a spoon in each half where the grain is thick enough, width-wise, to make a strong handle.
Rough out the spoon with a handsaw or, if available, a band saw or table saw. In fact, I do most of the rougher carving on the band saw, cutting away little by little, with my eye on the grain of the wood, which determines the curve of the handle, until the spoon begins to appear. I even roughly shape the bowl on the band saw.
Carve out the rest with a sharp knife and perhaps hollow out the spoon bowl with a chisel or gouge. Because I have a drill press at my disposal, I do most of the finish carving with a rasp bit, especially nice for hollowing out the bowl and rounding the bottom. I level, balance, and thin the spoon down to proper proportion, trusting my eye rather than measuring. I rasp and look, rasp and look, making sure that the drill press is so set that it cannot rasp down through the spoon bowl and out the bottom. I finish up with pocketknife and sandpaper.
Walnut is the best of the good hardwoods for carving because it carves easily despite its hardness. White oak is harder to carve but I like it — especially if it is a branch that is beginning to deteriorate just a little. Unusual markings, and often unusual colors, will show up in the finished piece. But almost any wood will do. A spoon is an easy evening’s work. The ones pictured here took only an hour each to make — once I found a proper piece of wood.


Saturday, 1 March 2014

Giuseppe Penone: The Hidden Life Within

The image below is one I have skipped past many times while surfing for 'woody wonders' but have only just got round to investigating further.

“My artwork shows, with the language of sculpture, the essence of matter and tries to reveal with the work, the hidden life within.”
–Giuseppe Penone

Giuseppe Penone (born April 3, 1947) is an Italian artist. Penone started working professionally in 1968 in the Garessio forest, near where he was born. He is the younger member of the Italian movement named "Arte Povera", Penone's work is concerned with establishing a contact between man and nature.

Guiseppe Penone carves out a young tree within an older tree to reveal its past, showing us what once grew inside so that it may now "live in the present." Inspired by the quiet slowness of growth in the natural world, the artist asks us to take a moment to stop and think about the concept of time and how there's a common vital force in all living things.

Penone has carved out the wood to reveal its past, showing the tree that grew inside so that it may “live” in the present. Rather than imposing a form, the artist — in contrast to the architect of this space — draws out an existing form.

The next image of  Guiseppe working within the space of this massive tree in my mind captures the enormity of the artists devotion to this piece.