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 Articles

FUNCTIONAL FURNITURE FROM

THE SEA

by Jan DeGrass

(Balanced Life, November 2003)

Will Cummer

Sunset is a good time to meet Gibsons' woodworker Will Cummer

rambling the beaches of the Sunshine Coast. Imagine a Calgary

man, from the land of prairie and mountain, moving to the Coast in

1995 to live by the ocean for the first time. In Calgary, Will was

primarily a sign maker and designer of fine wooden crafts, though

he had tried his hand at furniture construction. When he moved to

Gibsons, flat broke and seeking a new direction, he became

intrigued by what he perceived as free wood lying around on the

beach for any woodworker to use. Not only free, but it came in so

many interesting shapes, forms and textures. Something else

tugged at his artistic imagination.

"Secret things are exposed on the beach," he says. "We don't

usually see the roots of a tree. It was like seeing a tree without its

clothes on."

He started to collect the surf-polished trunks, worm-eaten branches

and root structures-all the materials that a professional log salvor

would not want--and to experiment with forming them in to

furniture.

The first item he ever made from driftwood was a pedestal table

that sold immediately to a Gibsons resident. "It was made from a

root. I've looked ever since for that shape, but haven't found it."

Beachcombing became an adventure. He found himself always

searching for that perfect piece.

"You can put in your order from the ocean, but it's not at all

concerned with a delivery schedule," he laughs. Sometimes, the

storms wash in a spectacular piece, an artwork in itself, but usually

he must trim and fashion the various woods: red and yellow cedar,

alder, fir, hemlock, even maple, the scraps of the forest industry or

trees toppled from eroding banks. He became familiar with the

various species, learning, for example, that the ocean's brine could

pickle wood to preserve it, and that a tiny sea worm, the teredo,

bores interesting tunnels in wood, and that cedar weathers to an

attractive metallic grey.

He searched for sea worn planks, branches with character--curves,

bumps, kinks--to serve as legs, arches that could form the top of a

loveseat, small trees that could be cut away in slabs to form chair

backs or arms. He built without any real knowledge of the medium

but enough woodworking skill to follow some basic rules. First, he

chipped away with hand tools; later, he found power tools helped

him along. But he prefers to take a quieter Swede saw to the beach

for hand-cutting and only take away those pieces he can carry.

As he fashioned his first driftwood loveseat and chair, and sold

them immediately, an artistic ethic emerged. "I decided right off that

I'd make something comfortable, that could be used as a seat

rather than a conversation piece."

Will sits on every bench he makes, reads a book for a while,

relaxes, shaves a bit off here and there, tries it again. "I want to

use this furniture in our everyday lives…and make it beautiful."

After years of beachcombing, he amassed a collection of twiddly,

funky bits of wood, not big enough for furniture. He decided to use

them in decorating an item of his own design, the "beach bank,"

consisting of two vertical panes of glass held by a wooden frame to

form a box suitable for holding those tiny beach treasures. They

sell well.

Although chairs and loveseats are his favourite projects, he also

makes garden gates, arbours, and trellises. Often they are

decorated with used hardware, beach rope or "log dogs," a circular

iron loop with a spike. His latest creative idea is to add hand

carving and colour.

For the past two years, Will has taught driftwood furniture

techniques during the local Fibre Arts Festival. Next February, he

will offer courses in furniture making allowing participants to

apprentice for a one-day class or experience a hands-on, two-day

demonstration class. Because students like to make their own

piece of furniture, he has plans to offer a third workshop in which

couples can come for a three-day course, build their own piece,

and take it home. He will show his work this Christmas season at

the Woods Store in Sunnycrest Mall in Gibsons. His fine wooden

crafts are also for sale at Vancouver's Granville Island Wood Co-op

store. For more on courses or outlets, call Will at 604-885-8258 or

e-mail to willofthewoods@dccnet.com.

 

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Will Cummer