Gaze Burvill have 24 years experience in designing and making oak outdoor seating, with craftsman-made seats gracing the finest private and public gardens in the land, including, they are very proud to say, The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. Oak may be the craftsman’s favourite wood, and a good choice for an outdoor seat, being naturally impermeable and durable, but the tree, especially one damaged by a storm, must be treated with special care.
Assessing the tree and understanding the best way to cut a trunk into boards in order to get the most stable, warp-resistant, strong wood is specialised work, so in April 2015, we took the Verdun Oak to Helmdon Sawmill, placing it in the hands of Geoff Tyler of Tyler Hardwoods and sawmiller Steve and his experienced team.
Watching a tree trunk going through the sawmill is one of several knuckle-biting stages in the transformation of trunk to usable wood board. It is all the more exciting when the oak is to be quarter sawn – a highly skilled cutting technique which, as well as revealing unique and beautiful medullar rays in the wood grain, also produces the strongest and most stable cut from the oak – the fillet steak of the tree, so to speak.
Trees do hold secrets, however, and there were eight potentially lethal ones hiding in our Verdun tree trunk – eight nails, probably used decades ago to pin a poster to the trunk, and over time, enveloped into the growing tree, eventually becoming completely hidden from sight.
Secrets will out, as we all know, and this one came out with a very big bang indeed, which called a sudden halt to the sawing process, in the very last cutting section.
18 strong, clean boards were successfully produced from the trunk, but were left with a broken sawblade and the last ‘V’ shaped portion in a state too dangerous to saw into.
This orphan piece, a sculptural ‘V’ shape, possibly for ‘Verdun’, had its own beauty about it – with dark streaking marks from the iron nails reacting with the oak clearly visible, like a dark wound, and rather haunting.
It felt right to celebrate the ‘injured’ board just as much as those who survived their sawmill ordeal intact – returning heroes all. And so, the Verdun Bench was born – a raw, evocative seat, which shows its scars proudly.