Monday, January 12, 2009

Living With Wood

Wood is alive. Even when it's dead. We don't just use it in the way we use concrete or steel. We live with it. We have a relationship. How we live with wood defines to some extent what kind of people we are—our values, our styles. Wood makes certain demands on us, and we have to accommodate wood even as we shape it to our needs—or our nests.

Here we have a small roof over a house entry. Besides the use of milled lumber, a decision was made 40 or 50 years ago to use small cedar poles with the bark still attached. The decision was partly practical: Small cedars grew in abundance around this house, so the supply cost nothing. It was also an aesthetic decision: The rustic style speaks of a tradition and of a love for what's natural.

It's a compromise. Most of the structure is low-grade wood from a sawmill, painted a neutral color so it fades into the background. The rustic elements stand out, though they are of less structural importance. The workmanship is competent. The joints are tight enough, the nails are strong enough. There's nothing flamboyant or high-end or high-ego about it. No notching, no hidden fasteners—just butt joints and rusting nails. A day's work, maybe less.

To me, this is the heart of carpentry. Working to a budget—both of time and of money—working within a tradition and a style, meeting a need, doing a job, nothing fancy—but nothing ugly or shoddy, either. It's a concept the birds understand.

You don't have to build high-end furniture to take pride in your work. You can use power tools and common wood and simple joints. You do the best with what you have—in skill, in tools, in time, in money.

In the days to come, I'll be returning to this topic of living with wood.

No comments:

Post a Comment