The mystery of the curls, ripples and swirls of figured wood live large in the woodworking world. For most types of figure, the reason is unknown. Two trees of the same species next to each other, having experienced the same environmental factors, can produce very different interiors. One might be absolutely straight-grained while the other produces a figure filled with chatoyant ripples. The exception is spalting and burling which happens when the wood has been infected by bacteria, producing a multicolored and swirling grain. The drying process arrests the progression of this disease but retains the stunning design.
What is Figured Wood?
Figure in wood means the appearance of the wood, but is not generally used to indicate the straightness of the grain. When a woodworker talks about the figure of the wood, they mean the interesting bits – the part of the grain which swirls and changes direction, the way light bounces off the grain, how ribbons of color slide through the piece.
Using Figured Wood in Furniture
Here at Brian Boggs Chairmakers, we encourage our craftsmen to express their artistry. They spend time with each piece of wood used to create your furniture. They make decisions about where the wood lies, which side faces you, how to coordinate the look of the grain in arms, legs, seats, backs and tabletops. These decisions turn each of our pieces into works of art.
Figured wood inspires our craftsmen. When confronted with one of these unusual pieces of wood, they consider how to configure this piece with artistry. Their decisions to carve the arm in this particular place, to slip-match instead of book-match the grain, or to leave that touch of sapwood on the edge honors the tree in its transformation to its second life as a functional artwork.
Most often this art happens with deliberation and purpose: a client requests a piece using one of our deep selection of figured woods, perhaps curly or ambrosia maple, curly cherry, curly mahogany. They want to see the reflective ripples flying through the piece. Most often, these are set off by straight-grained walnut or even ebonized wood, edging and framing the lighter wood, allowing nature’s radiance to shine forward.
Here you can see curly maple shimmering across the back of a large dining hutch. The craftsman hid luxurious touches of this curly maple in the sides and fronts of drawers hidden behind the walnut doors. Our client specifically requested the curly maple to add texture and interest to her dining room. Eventually, a coordinated dining table and chairs will complete the set.
The most popular Sonus chair combination is ambrosia maple with walnut legs. Walnut legs provide a frame to highlight the multicolored ribbons of the ambrosia maple. This chair has become a treasured addition to many music studios.
Occasionally, hidden figure springs up and surprises us. When this happens, woodworkers make the most of the opportunity, knowing this bit of artistry can never be repeated.
Peggy Johnson brought wood from her childhood home to create this table. While we supplemented the flowing river with our own curly maple, the crotches, swirls and knots from her Michigan walnut and maple added beauty to the banks and bridge.
Artistry in Wood
The perfection of this art depends on the integration of the mystery of wood figure and the artistry of the craftsmen involved. Experienced woodworkers with artistic eyes discover these quirks of figure and use them to turn a simple chair or table into a masterpiece.