March 1, 2015

Fresh Logs and Aged Logs

My last post was about the delivery of wonderful new logs. After I wrote that, I thought it might be worth explaining more about how and why I keep so many logs on hand.

When I first started making my lampshades almost 25 years ago, I always worked with freshly cut logs. That is what was available – in fact the first shades were from a tree right behind my garage. When I got wood from someone else, usually I would go cut down a single tree, cut that in to 20-24" sections, roll those out of the woods and on to my flatbed trailer. It was a huge physical effort, and I would work very hard to use all the sections of the tree pretty quickly. If I waited too long, there might be cracks that would form on the ends, making them unusable. The shades I made this way were essentially yellow in color, with beautiful annual ring patterns.

"Clear-look" Mini-Pendant
That method worked when I was 40 years old, and making 20-40 shades per year. And it worked because I was only making small-to-medium sized shades. But even then, I gradually started to notice that if I left a section of log in a moist and shady place for a month or two, some hints of dark streaks would show in the wood. That looked so cool, and I also noticed that my clients like it more.  I started to buy whole logs from loggers and foresters. They would usually be delivered to me on a "cherry picker," which is the logging trucks you see with the big articulating grappling arm on the top. This is much easier on my physically, and it allowed me to obtain some beautiful logs, including some really big ones. I quickly discovered that I could keep and "age" these logs for any months, sometimes even over a year. And the results were spectacular:
Moderately streaked shade, perhaps aged 5 months

This shade was aged over a year, and has insect tunnels caused by little ants
Here is the difference in what the logs look like. The first image is a freshly cut log, the second one is a log that is aged for about a year. 
A freshly cut log
Log that was aged for about 12 months
You might think that the aging of the logs would make them dry out, but actually it is only the few inches on the ends of the logs that get dry, the rest of the log is still soaking wet after many months. And that wetness of the wood attracts fungi, which is what creates the streaked patterns in the wood. After I make the lampshade, the wood dries out completely, and the fungi dies away, only the beauty of the random "artwork" of these microscopic organism remains. Of course if I wait too long, the aging process will become destructive of the wood. The fungus will eventually start to rot the wood. 

It is an amazing process. I have very little control over what the streaking will look like. I only know that it will happen if I am patient and attentive. As is so evident in our world, nature is remarkable!

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