Crafting furniture through careful cultivation
My wife just completed building an eight-foot table for our porch. After watching the sawing, drilling, sanding and staining, my first grader suggested that “next time” she try getting a really big log, and just carving a table out of one piece of wood. The conversation then drifted into hypotheticals about the size of the tree you’d need for a table this size, but the basic notion that furniture doesn’t have to be assembled isn’t actually far fetched. Some items can be carved, and others can just be grown and harvested.
If you look for “single log” furniture, it will often refer to pieces that have been sourced from a single tree, often with some traditional assembly involved. The advantage of this concept is that careful planning can help reduce the amount of wood wasted if nearly every piece goes back into the furniture in question. If you’re willing to deal with more waste, you can skip all the screws and nails by carving a whole log, most often with a chainsaw.
A seat from a sapling
For minimal material waste, both from wood or fasteners, you should probably just grow your furniture. People have been guiding and shaping trees and vines for ages, which can produce results comparable to an all natural 3D printer. To achieve more complex shapes than a round stump, branches of willow, oak or ash trees can be grafted together, forming a natural weld, so to speak. With planning and patience, this can allow for a variety of forms, even incorporating some elegant decoration beyond the object’s structure. More complex items need more time to grow, but an elaborate chair can be harvested after 11 years, with only some pruning and finishing to be complete.
For the most part, this kind of “manufacturing” is too slow and labor intensive for mass production. A firm called Full Grown Ltd. is trying to prove that growing complete furniture is viable though, especially in light of the energy savings involved. They estimate that growing a chair at once may offer as much as 75 percent energy savings over traditional harvesting, planing, preparation, etc. (although shipping a full chair is trickier than something that can be stacked and shipped flat.) Full Grown Ltd. is looking to make the process as streamlined as possible though, with a willow chair requiring as little as four years to grow. Other products include spiraling lampshades as well as tables, although achieving a single smooth surface is obviously a challenge.
No need to harvest
If a grown chair still seems too invasive, tree shaping can make you a seat that doesn’t need to be cut down. Similar to grown furniture, guides and grafting can achieve complex forms in tree trunks, to the point of becoming living sculptures. The one catch is that your living tree-chair is probably even harder to relocate that the hulking log my first grader proposed we carve on our porch.
Source: The Furniture Farmer by Andrew Amelinckx, Modern Farmer