July 28, 2008

Camphor Burl Lamp Bases!

I am again recognizing how infrequently I post here, my apologies. But I do have something "hot" to talk about, a material for making lamp bases that is simply amazing. Camphor is a species of wood that grows in the entire Pacific Basin. I see specific references to Borneo and Taiwan, but apparently it is more widespread. It has become an invasive species along river banks in Northeast Australia, and major efforts are going on there to eradicate or control its spread. As I understand it, is is basically a weed tree, but it does have one commercial product that is extracted from the wood: Camphor Oil. Here are a couple of interesting tidbits that I picked up from Googling:
"Steaming the tree’s bark or wood creates a white, crystalline, and odorous substance, a substance that was once believed to hold magical properties, but now has scientifically proven medicinal qualities."
"The therapeutic properties of camphor oil are analgesic, antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, cardiac, carminative, diuretic, febrifuge, hypertensive, insecticide, laxative, rubefacient, stimulant, sudorific, vermifuge and vulnerary. Camphor oil can be used in the treatment of nervous depression, acne, inflammation, arthritis, muscular aches and pains, sprains, rheumatism, bronchitis, coughs, colds, fever, flu and infectious diseases."

Most of the Camphor oil produced now is synthetic, not from Camphor trees.

Anyway, there is a company in Oregon that imports blocks of burlwood from Camphor trees, and they are gorgeous. Early last fall I bought one and made a lamp base, and it sold instantly at the first show where I exhibited the piece. The same thing happened with the next two Camphor Burl pieces I worked with. So now I am convinced that it not only me that sees Camphor Burl as being an excellent material for making lamp bases. The combination of this wood with my shades is really stunning. The warm light of the translucent wood lends a dramatic extra oomph to the amazing colors and swirling patterns in the burlwood.

The wood is amazing to work with, it is heavy but very workable, cutting smoothly. It is mostly very solid and stable, not honeycombed with cracks or bark inclusions. Each piece is quite unique, some swirl patterns are tight and small, others are large and evenly spread over the entire piece. But from a wood turners point of view, perhaps the most remarkable thing about working with Camphor is the smell of the wood. As soon as I make the first cut, my shop is full of the most amazing odor, it would remind you a bit of Vic's VapoRub, but much much more pleasant. For so many years, I have had an annual winter cold, but not this year. Does that have to do with my breathing in the medicinal qualities of the Camphor? Who knows.... but I like the smell. When clients buy a lamp made of Camphor, I am providing them with a baggy of the shavings, a small memento of the process of crafting that base.

I have gone a bit crazy for Camphor Wood. In addition to the three I have already sold, I have now completed 8 more Camphor Burl lamp bases for the upcoming League of NH Craftsmen craft fair at Sunapee next week. And I just ordered 4 more chunks of the wood. The raw material is quite expensive, so of course there is a premium to be paid for these bases, but they are so remarkable. I feel sure I am on the right track, and that my commitment to this new direction will be something that you will all enjoy.