Tag Archives: spalting


21 Mar


Timber from a beech tree infected fungus inspired my inlay of an albatross gliding over the vast southern oceans.

Many fungi cause marbling, mottling and discolouration in timber, and whilst this rot may detract from the structural value of the wood, the ‘spalting’, as the patterning is called is much sought after by wood turners and knife handle makers. This discolouration was probably produced by ‘white rot’, which is caused by a common polypore fungus called Trametes versicolor, the ‘turkey tail’ bracket fungus.

Trees, like humans, gain character (and a huge disease load) with age. Beech trees, in particular, are prone to fail suddenly – huge limbs dropping off in a storm, or entire trees keeling over – due to the insidious activity of the fungal hyphae literally eating the tree’s heart out.

Yet, in so doing, we are sometimes left with something which is ‘more’ than the unaffected original. It is as though the humble process of rotting has wrought a truly beautiful transformation.

The albatross is sometimes used metaphorically to mean a psychological burden or curse from Coleridge’s ‘Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner’. I have always thought of them as truly unburdened in their wandering, effortless and epic flights.

I doubt there are fungi in the sea (bacteria do the rotting there), here is an escape from rot.



15 Jul


I have always admired Chinese woodwork – not for it’s ornate decorations, nor for the fabulous hardwood’s from which the best cabinets are made. What I like best is the ‘pack it up and leave’ mentality that often underlies antique Chinese furniture.

If you have a chance to spend time in the Oriental galleries of the Victoria and Albert museum, take a close look at some of the ancient cupboards, chairs and tables. The removal of a couple of pegs usually allows the whole structure to fold flat and be packed away ready for transportation in the face of flood, famine, war or pestilence – they build beautiful modular furniture. Fiendishly clever joints allow the piece to retain structural integrity, whilst the timber – Zitan, Huanghuali – fabulously expensive, are so strong that legs, armatures, spindles and chair backs can be made light and airy to the eye.

This little shelving unit is also modular. It is made from spalted beech – beech that has been infected by an ascomycete fungus to leave black marbling in the grain. The shelves and brackets slot together via a T-shaped mortice joint so that the whole piece is laterally stable – it resists shearing forces.

I cut the shelves in the shape of an aeroplane wing – an elegant, semi-eliptical geometry which breaks up sharp edges in dusty room corners.

Spalted Beech 2

it is the first piece I made for my wife, Clare, so that she would have somewhere to put her ever changing collection of detective novels. Being a bit of a gypsy herself – she can take it to bits in seconds and leave for pastures new at a moment’s notice. Hopefully she will always take me with her.