from the heart of the Rimu, to the heart of You

From snowshoes and baskets for the First Nations People of North America, boat builders in Scandinavia and furniture makers in Europe, the art and skill of bending wood to create beautiful and functional form has been around for a very long time.

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Bentwood, or steam bending is a very old, traditional woodworking method that uses the process of wetting wood – by soaking in boiling water or steaming –  to then forming the wood and allowing it to harden into curved shapes. It is time consuming, skill based and very precise work, but extremely rewarding and offers a very environmentally friendly alternative to many other woodworking processes.  Bentwood allows the use of small scrap wood that would otherwise be thrown out or burned…and not needing to mill perfectly good timber to begin with!

For me working with Bentwood means creating strength by working WITH the essence of a piece of wood.  I can take a very thin, flimsy piece of the heart of a tree and, by allowing it to be shaped in harmony with it’s inherent grain, it becomes an incredibly strong, durable and beautiful piece of jewellery.  To my mind this is much like people – when we are able to work and operate according to our true essence, our purpose and our passion (our “grain”) we become attuned to the abundance, the beauty and the grace of our world.  I look at each and every Bentwood piece in this light – so it truly is “from the heart of the Rimu to the heart of You”.

I began making bentwood products about a year ago after becoming fascinated with the bentwood process in boat building.  The only wood I had available to me at the time was a bunch of native New Zealand Rimu (or Red Pine) that I had managed to recover from a home being demolished following the Christchurch Earthquakes.  I wanted to see if I could make a “simple” bentwood ring for myself.  In a process of trial and error (LOTS of error) I discovered a few tricks and tips to make the whole thing a bit easier!

THE BASICS OF BENTWOOD – and of humanity!

  • Not all wood will bend – certainly not into the tight circles that I need for making for the rings.  I got lucky working with Rimu at the outset because it bends beautifully. (just like people, we will bend into tight circles for the right reasons – when that reason is aligned with our true purpose)
  • Even wood that does bend readily must be cut just right in relation to the wood grain.  If not, as soon as you attempt to bend the wood…SNAP!  And you have to start again. (when you find the intersection of your purpose and your work in the world, bending to that place is easy – it goes with the grain!  You will know intrinsically when this is not true – hence the saying “it goes against the grain”)Bentwood snapped rings
  • The thinner the wood, the smaller the circle that you can bend it into.  It is basic physics really and all to do with the wood mass.  So it goes without saying, to make my rings, I need very thin wood – at the moment I am working with wood that is just 0.6mm thick.  (sometimes, in order to bend to our true purpose we need to peel back the layers that prevent us from doing so – we need to be vulnerable and from this place comes both strength AND flexibility)
  • An even thickness is crucial.  I learnt this the hard way because I began by trying to create my own “veneer” by cutting and sanding.  I still do this on occasion, but preparation is the key to success – getting the wood a uniform thickness means that there won’t be any bobbles or wobbles and it will both bend and laminate perfectly. (we all experience bobbles and wobbles in life as we carve out our pathway.  Sometimes we need to ask for help to smooth things out so we can move ahead with confidence).
  • Bentwood raw 1Glue – I use an adhesive called Loctite 401 for all my bentwood products.  It is quick drying (work fast – no, faster!) and super strong.  I also use it to coat the outside of the rings as a final finish, and it is essential to the process of inlaying pounamu/greenstone into the rings too. (the glue in our lives is our tribe/family/whanau – finding the right glue that will allow us to work in alignment with our purpose – our grain – is essential).
  • Sanding – ah, sanding.  Did you know I developed tennis elbow because of all the sanding that I do?  True story!!  But sanding is critical to the finished product – I usually begin with a dremmel tool to cut down the wood, then progress through 240 – 1200 grit wet/dry sandpaper.  It takes time – but all good things take time.  It is somewhat of a meditation for me once I get to the sanding process.  (the road to perfection is a slow and methodical one, and in-fact, is impossible.  But the process by which we sand away the edges, fine-tune ourselves and our world, is worth the patience and the investment).

The wood that I am currently working with comes from a supplier of building timber here in Canterbury.  I use some of their scrap materials for making my bentwood products.  The scrap veneer would normally be disposed of as it is not suitable for the building industry and this is what I really love about bentwood – if you use your imagination, you can use wood sources that other people don’t even see as valuable.

Now I work with specially manufactured titanium and stainless steel cores for my bentwood rings – and have very recently been working with making my own recycled sterling silver ring cores too.  Bangles and bracelets are also a bit of a passion – I wear 3 thin bangles every day to remind myself just how lucky we are that this planet provides for us, and how we need to focus on looking after her every day!

So if you are in the market for sensational hand-made bentwood rings, made with recycled native New Zealand timber right here in gorgeous Christchurch, get in touch.  Rings can be crafted to include pounamu/greenstone chips as well – just to add something extra special.  Don’t forget, wood is the material for the 5th wedding anniversary too.

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Bentwood Ring Recycled Rimu with Titanium Core