Experiments at home

Well, the summer holidays are in full swing and I’m ‘on holiday’ at my parents house. In between working, swearing and feeling faint from exhaustion and sunstroke, I have begun to experiment with a simple, but potentially very versatile technique.

‘Timber-Mache’

The idea came to me a few weeks ago during my time spent working with Sebastian Cox. He takes long wafer-thin shavings of hazel cut with a hand plane and then coats them in a heavily watered-down PVA glue mixture. These are then wrapped around a framework. The process is similar to that of papier-mâché and he uses it to make his pendant lights.

For those who don’t know, papier-mâché is essentially the technique of laying down successive pieces of paper soaked in glue around a mould or former. When the glue sets, the former is removed and you are left with the hardened object. It can be used to make all kinds of things and can create some surprising strong objects. It has been used in furniture making for centuries believe it or not, and just goes to show the versatility of this material.

Essentially, what I wanted to do was to use the hazel shavings in the same way as paper is used in papier-mâché. These shavings are so thin that they are very much like paper, but still retain the inherent strength of the timber along their length.

I decided to substitute the usual PVA for a natural protein glue which I hoped would provide all the bonding power with none of the chemical additives so that when you’ve finished with the product, you can throw it onto the ground to rot without any guilt.

The method

The first thing I did was to plane up some hazel of about 30mm in section that had been cut and left out to dry for a good few months beforehand. I was aiming for shavings that would have the same degree of flexibility and porousness as paper, but still retain their strength as timber.

Planing the hazel

Planing the hazel

I was satisfied with the shavings I was getting and soon had enough to begin gluing.

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I was able to get quite a few good shavings

Next I made my glue. I wanted to use protein glue seeing as how I’d already done some experiments with it in the past and I was keen to continue along these lines.

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Why does it always go lumpy!? Grrrrr!

My glue made, I covered everything in cling film and got to work.

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When in doubt – wrap it in cling film.

I coated the hazel strips in glue and then used a bowl as a mould to lay them over. It was a bit of a messy process… but (wait for it!) mess-essity is the mother of invention! #awesomejoke

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Reminds me of bacon for some reason…

I built up four layers before I ran out of shavings and then left it to dry over night.

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The result

In the morning the glue had only partially set, so I removed it from the former and brought it inside to speed up the drying process. It was enough for me to see that it had worked fairly well, and it was clear that there was strength in the outside edges that had set.

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Came off ok

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Looks like a hat

After a good few hour in the warmth, I decided it was set enough and got trimming.

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Trimming

I trimmed off all the excess to leave me with my nice new ‘timber-mache’ bowl!

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Mmm, stones

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So there we are…

I do genuinely believe that there is much more potential in this process than what I have done here. In the future, I want to see if I can build more substantial pieces from it, perhaps even furniture! And the best part of it is that it is a 100% biodegradable product – it came from the woods and it can return to the woods, and I think that’s great!

Until next time, goodbye!

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