By Jan TenBruggencate

JT Column woodwork April

Visiting North Carolina wood turner and sculptor Mark Gardner handles the chainsaw while the cult of xylem watch and listen.

I was drawn back into woodworking on a recent weekend.

The smell of fresh-cut camphor, the hard smoothness of lemongum eucalyptus wood, the familiarity of monkeypod — the slab table maker’s favorite.

And the noise: the sound of chisels and gouges tapped into wood with rubber mallets, and the machine noise: chainsaws, planers and all the other arcane tools of the woodman’s trade. Well, and a few hammers and crowbars, too.

Mark Gardner, a respected wood turner and sculptor, visited from his home outside Asheville, North Carolina, where he is a worker in “green” wood. That means wood fresh from the tree, still wet, shrinking, twisting, and nothing at all like the kiln-dried stuff you find at the hardware store.

He gave a series of talks, and led workshops across the state. After hearing his talk one evening, I signed up for his Kaua`i workshop, a program of Hawai‘i Craftsmen’s ‘Aha Hana Lima 2014 and the Kaua‘i Woodturners Guild.

A handful of us met at a wood studio high up Lawa‘i Valley, adherents to the cult of xylem, the Greek word for wood.

For the most part, woodworkers do not cut down anything to provide material for their craft. Instead, they haunt roadsides and landfills, and pounce on people pruning or removing old trees, offering to haul the logs away for free. Some wood freaks make deals with landscaping and tree trimming firms for access to the treasured stuff.

At our meeting, a load of fresh-cut monkeypod from a pruning project graced the driveway, along with a range of other timber of random ages.

We were as wide a range of island woodworkers as you were likely to find. There was a maker of fine furniture, a bowl turner, a couple of serious multi-disciplinary artists, a canoe builder, a chain-saw carver, a craftsman of Polynesian cultural items. And, of course, the lines blur. Several folks fit into multiple categories.

Furniture makers like their timber dry, and unlikely to change form over time. Bowl turners will rough shape a chunk of uncured wood, since it will dry quicker if it is thinner.

None of that in this venue. We were cutting into wood so fresh that the sap clogged the equipment. Soapy bubbles rose out of parts of the wood. The sawdust didn’t hang in the air. It dropped to the ground or clung to the tee-shirt.

We worked in the morning sun, and as the temperature rose, we moved into the shade of the nearby palms.

As you might expect from so diverse a group, only a couple followed the recommendations of expert carver Gardner. Most made what they wanted, using tips he provided, and ultimately, virtually every portable tool available was brought to bear.

And inevitably, each woodworker stopped at the other woodworkers’ projects, to ask a question, to learn a little, and occasionally to offer a tip or two.

Camaraderie, and the chance to reconnect with the xylem, was why we were there.

  • Jan TenBruggencate is a Kaua‘i based writer and communications consultant.