Gems by Stefan During


Stefan During sent me photo’s of a recent design: Gems

With following note:

The tapering plank.

Nearly as long as people have felled trees for use, they have cut them lengthwise as the parallel slices we call planks or, if thicker than some 3 cm, slabs.

This is entirely logical when it comes to stickering them for drying, and for the planking of floors, roofs and boats.

As trees tend to be thinner up than they are down, this means cutting through the grain somewhat, but not so much that it matters. If we followed the grain exactly we would end up with tapering planks.

The main problem with our age old habit ofcreating  one-thickness planks is the fact that this is how we have gotten to think of wood when using it for our practical purposes. The plank, not the tree as the material we use.

Sometimes it is nice if one can discard this standard way of conceiving wood; there are some places in the designing of wooden furniture where a tapering member is both elegant and practical and waste saving..

For many years I have been using tapering planks for some of my armrests for instance, where up front I want a good thickness for receiving the two sturdy vertical tenons of the front leg. While at the rear the armrest has a horizontal tenon that requires little thickness.
Sometimes the armrest is straight, sometimes bent, according to the design of the particular chair.

This tapering came to mind lately when I was making some new objects from a nice, slow grown Lawson Cypres (grown in Holland). Fine, bittersweet smelling wood not unlike good spruce, but a bit firmer, and easier on the knife.

I wanted to make a rather traditional stool of this wood, but avoid the clumsy look of a three plank construction. The solution I hit upon was having good thickness, some 30 mm at the joints, and have the sides that support the seat taper downwards to some 8 mm.
This 8 mm looks very thin, but for carrying the weight of a person it is plenty; wood is extremely strong in longitudinal compression.

The seat I made in the same spirit, thick in the middle here, and tapering to all sides
I am rather pleased with this simple stool that I called Gems. Why Gems? It reminds me of the Alps somehow, and the graceful legs of that animal.

After the stool I played around with the same idea, to make a dining chair, it is also called Gems.
Here the chair seat is a broad plank tapering to its front edge; the joints take a lot of concentration on account of the slight angles involved.

The main problem is cutting a piece of some 40 cm broad plank into two tapering halves. It takes a very sharp bandsaw and a block of wood that holds, clamped to it, the plank so it stands on edge, exactly vertical. The cut I make following a line pencilled on the side of the plank.

Considering all the work involved it is clear that this kind of thing is not common in our no-nonsense age.
But it is good to remind oneself now and then that wood is not just planks, and we are free to use it otherwise, respecting the properties of this beautiful material that is under our hands..
And, a thing of beauty is a joy for ever. (ever?..)

Thank you Stefan.

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