All About Wood

A series of blogs that cover some of the things people often ask about wood, the medium used by Chainsaw artist Simon O’Rourke

The Oak Maiden by Simon O'Rourke. Oak is the best wood for a sculpture according to chainsaw carver simon o'rourke

FAQs: What is the Best Wood for a Sculpture?

FAQs: What is the Best Wood for a Sculpture? 720 960 Simon O'Rourke

Welcome back to our ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ series! This week we answer one of Simon’s most commonly asked questions. That is, ‘What is the best wood for a sculpture?’.

Simon O'Rourke uses a chainsaw to carve a lifesize portrait of Ken Dodd

What is the Best Wood for a Sculpture: Sustainability

So, the first thing we want to mention is something more personal and subjective. That is the sustainability and sourcing of the wood. Trees are an important part of our ecosystem, and although Simon loves wood as a material, he doesn’t believe in cutting down a healthy tree to source timber. All his sculptures are made from trees that were no longer viable for different reasons. Our team knows those reasons as ‘The Four D’s”: dead, dying, diseased or dangerous. So basically, the best wood for a sculpture always some from a tree that fits one of those D’s.

What is the best wood for a sculpture? Redwood ranks at No 3. Photo shows an example of a redwood sculpture, the european wolf at Fforest Fawr

The redwood used for the Sculpture Trail in Fforest Fawr was from a tree that had to be cut down as it had become a danger to the public.

What is the Best Wood for a Sculpture: Durability

One of the key factors in what makes the best wood for a sculpture is durability. Especially for sculptures that will be outdoors in the wind and rain! But, as we said in the blog ‘Is my Tree Suitable for a Tree Carving Sculpture’, wood is not an exact science. This means although the woods we mention here are generally the longest-lasting, we can’t really give an exact life span! It also means that the list that we give is very much Simon’s opinion based on experience and his own research. There may be others who disagree or recommend other woods – and that’s OK!
So, without further ado, here are the top five (in Simon’s opinion!) woods for an outdoor sculpture*

What is the best wood for a sculpture? Photo shows a sculpture of an angel in oak standing next to a small pond. The oak is aging and turning a deeper shade of grey, but has no signs of decay.

The Angel at the Pool of Bethesda made in oak is not only durable but as she ages fits in beautifully with the historic property

Best Wood for a Sculpture #1: Oak

Oak is Simon’s number one recommendation for an outside sculpture. It is extremely durable, and in abundance in the UK! In fact, it’s the second most common tree in the country (Birch being most common). It has the bonus of having very defined grain too. This means as it ages, the markings stand out more, making it more striking and emphasising features like the eyes, drapery, or textures like scales. For more of Simon’s thoughts on that aging process, you can read our blog How Long Will My Wood Sculpture Last?
The oak maiden below is one of the many, many examples of Simon’s oak sculptures.

The Oak Maiden by Simon O'Rourke. Oak is the best wood for a sculpture according to chainsaw carver simon o'rourke

This aptly named ‘Oak Maiden‘ shows an example of freshly carved oak.

Best Wood for a Sculpture #2: Cedar

Coming in as Simon’s number two best wood for a sculpture is cedar.
Cedar wood is extremely durable and holds up well to outdoor weather conditions. Because of this, it’s often used for fencing. It smells great, ages to a beautiful silver-grey, and looks amazing freshly-carved, as this Radagast sculpture shows.

Cedar is the second best wood for sculpture according to simon o'rourke. Pictrure shows an example of a cedar carving : A wizard holding a staff

Simon made Radagast The Brown from diseased cedar.

Best Wood for a Sculpture #3: Redwood

Redwood ranks at number three of Simon’s preferred timber in terms of durability. They can grow to 300ft, making them one of the tallest trees in the world. Girth is an important factor in suitability of a piece of wood for carving. This is definitely not an issue with redwood! It’s not unheard of for them to breathe fire too like this redwood dragon created for The Dragon Tower.

george clark stands in front of a small stone building. The building has a redwood dragon mounted above the door. The dragon is breathing fire. Created by Simon O'rourke from redwood, his number three recommended best wood for a sculpture.

Maggon the Fire Breathing Dragon featured on George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces earlier this year.

Best Wood for a Sculpture #4: Yew

Yew trees rank at number four in Simon’s recommended wood for an outdoor sculpture. Yew trees don’t always get the best press. Not only are they toxic, but they are also said to be a symbol of death and doom. BUT! They  DO make great sculptures! They are durable, and the wood has lovely purple or deep brown undertones, as you can see in this fairytale dragon scene Simon created…

photo shows a garden. One the right is a dragon carved from yew. On the left two fairytale towers also carved from yew. Shown as an example of the fourth best wood for sculpture that will be outdoors.

Simon created this scene from yew trees that had to be cut back.

Best Wood for a Sculpture #5: Sweet Chestnut

Our final wood to be featured today is sweet chestnut. It’s extremely important to note ‘sweet chestnut‘ NOT horse chestnut! Sweet chestnut is the tree that produces the nuts we eat at Christmas (speaking of which, have you indulged yet?!). It stands up well against wind and rain, and has a girth of around 2m. This means it’s great for an outside sculpture. Horse chestnut however rots extremely quickly and is one of the worst woods for an outdoor sculpture!
Sweet chestnut was the choice of both the wood and frame in this memorial for a local school teacher.

chair with a daffodil carved into the back. to the left is a framed mosaic. it is made of sweet chestnut, the fifth best wood for a sculpture according to simon o'rourke

What About Other Trees?

Of course, these top five are not the only woods for a sculpture. If you follow Simon on social media, you will have seen examples of his work in elm, walnut, and monkey puzzle from the last year alone. In some cases these trees would otherwise have been cut down, and this is a way of extending their life in a new way. This walnut fairy is just one example.

fairy carved into a standing tree stump around 2m tall

This fairy was carved into a standing walnut stump

If you have a tree that fits one of those Four D’s (dead, dying, diseased or dangerous) and you would like a wood sculpture by Simon, it’s definitely worth contacting him to chat. He will be able to determine if the timber will work or not.
Contact him on www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ to start the conversation.
We look forward to hearing from you!

*We have talked about most durable wood as much of Simon’s work is for commissions that will remain outside. If you are interested in a sculpture for indoors, there are many more options available to you. Contact Simon using the link above to find out more.

How long will my wood sculpture last? Picture shows side by side photos of a stylised woman's face sculpture to show the aging process. Photo one is warm, with lots of yellow and orange tones. The second has much more depth and is more grey in tone.

FAQs: How Long Will My Wood Sculpture Last?

FAQs: How Long Will My Wood Sculpture Last? 2560 2560 Simon O'Rourke

Diary of a chainsaw carver – The ticking clock…

No this isn’t about actual clocks, although Simon did create a working longcase clock once!! This is actually about a question Simon is often asked: How will my wood sculpture age?
And it’s a very valid question. They say time waits for no man, and it certainly doesn’t hang around when it comes to how long wood lasts outdoors! When Simon is asked how long a sculpture will last, he usually has a two word answer: “it depends!”

How long will my wood sculpture last? Photo shows a wooden sculpture of a grandfather clock, turning an ashy grey colour. There are no signs of splits or cracks.

The grandfather clock made by Simon, now turning an ashy grey colour

How Long Will My Wood Sculpture Last: Structure of the Sculpture

One factor which determines how long your wood sculpture will last is the wood. Basically, different wood lasts for different lengths of time. And this differs again depending on the environment it’s in! Honestly, there are really no definite answers! With any of the factors creating numerous fluctuations in longevity, it’s not an exact science. This means although Simon may have an idea, there are no definite answers.

So which timber should you choose? Understanding that this much uncertainty means Simon only has personal experience and information from others to draw on, his conclusion is that Oak, Cedar, Redwood, Cypress, and Sweet Chestnut are among the longest lasting available timbers in this country. So he usually uses those for sculptures, although they are not the only possibilities.

You can expect an untreated sculpture made from any of these timbers to look weathered within a year to two years, and will still keep its shape and structure for a good 20 years or so. Given the fact that we still see solid Oak beams on the exterior of Tudor houses, I think it would last for over 100 years, and still have its shape, although the weather would have worn down the detail on the exterior!

How long will my wood sculpture last? Photo shows a comparison of a redwood sculpture two years on. The sculpture is the brown otter in Fforest Fawr. In the first the wood is a warm, vivid red colour. After two years it is fully in tact, but the shadows appear deeper and it is turning a deep brown with cold tones.

This side by side shows a redwood sculpture in Fforest Fawr after about two years of being exposed to the elements.

How Long Will my Wood Sculpture Last: Colour

When Simon creates sculptures, he doesn’t usually add colour. This is because it will wear away eventually and detail that was painted on would be lost. Rather, he loves to over-exaggerate depth and form in his work to create contrast using shadow. This will stand the test of time and still work as a sculpture in decades to come. In fact, often as the wood changes colour, the shadows appear to deepen, and the sculpture is more striking.

All this said, creating something that lasts forever isn’t his goal. He loves the look of weathered wood and feels that the aging process is part of the creativity and part of the art. Environmental artists like   Andy Goldsworthy share this sentiment. Although it has to be said that Simon’s sculptures last MUCH longer – some Goldsworthy pieces change the instant the wind or tide changes!

This example shows how this Redwood face sculpture has taken on a different feel having been bleached by the sun and worn by the wind! Although always impressive, the sculpture is now striking. Just look at that pupil!

How long will my wood sculpture last? Picture shows side by side photos of a stylised woman's face sculpture to show the aging process. Photo one is warm, with lots of yellow and orange tones. The second has much more depth and is more grey in tone.

This photo of one of Simon’s face sculptures shows some of the colour changes that take place over time.

How Long Will My Wood Sculpture Last: Telling A Story

Wood is always evolving, whether in life or death. The growth rings in wood tell their own history. As time passes, each growth ring becomes more prominent, as the faster-grown spring wood wears away quicker than the slower grown summer wood.

We often do so much to preserve art and keep it behind glass for future generations, but isn’t a reflection of a natural material. Life is fragile and temporary, and aging is a natural and beautiful process which we need to embrace, not fight.

Wood sculptures, like ourselves, will weather and deteriorate over time, but every split, knot, and wrinkle tells a story!

How long will my wood sculpture last? Photo shows Simon's European Lynx in fforest fawr. At two years old, it is now a deep reddish-brown.

The European Lynx in Fforest Fawr.

Your Own Sculpture.

If you would like to commission a sculpture, contact Simon via www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/
He would love to hear from you!

Thank you to My Tongwynlais for the updated photos of the sculpture trail.

What to do with a diseased tree? SImon O'Rourke created this sculpture of a dragon emerging from a tree trunk out of an ash killed by ash dieback

What To Do With A Diseased Tree

What To Do With A Diseased Tree 1368 1824 Simon O'Rourke

Trees contribute massively to a landscape’s value, so it’s important to take care of them. In fact, if you have a tree you suspect may be diseased and need some help, you can read this blog about how to deal with the most common tree diseases. However, sometimes there is nothing that can be done to treat a tree. At this point, lots of people wonder what they should do with a diseased tree. Cutting back or removing the tree are the most obvious options. You could also consider giving life back to the tree though, and turn it into a beautiful piece of art!

Wooden sculpture of radagast the brown from The Hobbit. Created by Simon O'Rourke from a diseased tree

Radagast was created to give life back to a diseased tree

Simon loves to transform trees that are dead or diseased into wonderful sculptures. In fact, his most recent creation (an emerging dragon) was one such project. He created the dragon from a standing tree trunk of a tree that had died from ash dieback.

What to do with a diseased tree? SImon O'Rourke created this sculpture of a dragon emerging from a tree trunk out of an ash killed by ash dieback

This diseased tree was transformed into this beautiful dragon

About Ash Dieback

Ash dieback is sadly extremely common and will kill around 80% of ash trees across the UK. It can affect trees of any age, and unlike some diseases, they can fight back and recover. However, repeated infection over years will eventually kill the tree. Research is being done, and it is thought that in the next fifty or so years, trees in the UK may have developed a tolerance so ash dieback won’t be the same threat to the environment.
Thankfully there are a few steps we can take to reduce its spread until then.
The Woodland Trust recommends these simple measures to help reduce the spread

  • Clean your shoes before and after visiting a wood.
  • Avoid taking cuttings or plant material from the countryside.
  • Wash your car or bike wheels to remove mud or plant matter.
    what to do with a diseased tree? Simon O'roruke created a stunning dragon nech and head emerging from a standing tree trunk of an ash killed by ash dieback

What To Do With a Diseased Tree: Reporting

If we notice signs of a diseased tree, we should also make a report to the Tree Alert service. The service has been established to gather information about the health of the nation’s trees, woodlands and forests. Reporting is fairly straightforward, and you can find out more at https://www.forestresearch.gov.uk/tools-and-resources/tree-alert/what-do-you-need-make-your-report/.

view looking down on a sculpture of a dragon emerging from a tree trunk. Sculpture is by artist simon o'rourke and transformed a tree killed by ash dieback into a piece of art

What To Do With A Diseased Tree: New Life

Obviously, there are times when treatment measures are not enough, and a tree will succumb to disease.

At that point the most common option is removal. For that, we recommend talking to a good arborist, such as Treetech. However, as this emerging dragon shows, there is another option for a diseased tree. Depending on the spread of disease and the size of the tree, Simon may be able to give it new life and turn it into a sculpture that reflects your hobbies, passions, or location. One example of this is the Radagast the Brown sculpture which was created from a blue atlas cedar infected with sirococcus.

life sized sculpture of radagast the brown, a wizard from Lord of the Rings. He is in a garden and surrounded by greenery. He is carved into the trunk of a tree killed by sirococcus.

Is My Tree Suitable For a Sculpture?

Although we would love for every tree to be able to be given new life, not every tree is going to be suitable for a chainsaw carving sculpture. The biggest factors are the spread of the disease, and the size of the tree. If you are wondering if a sculpture from your diseased tree may be possible, a good place to start is this blog we wrote about the suitability of your tree. If it meets the criteria for size, the next step would be to contact Simon via www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/.

Although Simon is always happy to make suggestions for a subject based on the shapes he sees, it’s a good idea if you have some ideas in mind too. You can see the range of his work in his Facebook Photos or his website portfolio for some inspiration.

More Sculptures From Diseased Trees

We thought that a blog about what to do with a diseased tree wouldn’t be complete though without visiting some of Simon’s other sculptures that came about this way…

what to do with a diseased tree? photo shows an elm trunk transformed into a sculpture of a ghostly lady, standing in the grounds of marbury park

What To Do With a Diseased Tree: The Marbury Lady

The Marbury Lady in Cheshire was commissioned as a result of a diseased tree. Sadly, saline poisoning damaged or killed many trees in Marbury Park. For this sculpture, Simon researched the story of the Marbury Lady and transformed the dead tree into a stunning sculpture that reflects local folklore. Now the tree is not only a beautiful piece of art, but it also adds to the life of the park as people visit to see it, and it tells some of the story of the location. What a great turnaround!

Close up of a sculpture of a female face, covered by strips of veil. Sculpture is the Marvury lady by simon o'roruke

The ‘ghost’ side of The Marbury Lady

What To Do With a Diseased Tree: The Poulton Hall Ent

Our next transformed diseased tree is a Monkey Puzzle in the grounds of Poulton Hall, Bebington. Earlier this year Simon turned the tree into an Ent from Lord of the Rings, and it has definitely been popular with his social media followers.
Aracurius the Ent (as he is known!) is one of many sculptures on the estate that are based on fantasy literature. This theme came about through the link with The Inklings, and reflects a passion of one of the previous residents.

So, if you are wondering what to do with a diseased tree, thinking about a subject that ties in with a theme already in your home or garden is a great start. Perhaps it’s wildlife. Maybe you live in a coastal town, so something nautical would be more fitting. Maybe you already have garden ornaments you could tie it in with. Whatever you choose, turning your diseased tree into a sculpture in keeping with that theme can only add to your home.

3m tall monkey puzzle tree trunk transformed into a sculpture on an ent from lord of the rings by simon o'rourke

The ent is a fabulous addition to the fantasy sculptures at Poulton Hall

What To Do With a Diseased Tree: Fforest Fawr Trail

In 2018 Simon created a sculpture trail for Fforest Fawr in South Wales. Regular readers of our blog or followers on social media will know some of the sculptures well. The trail is based on local wildlife (present and extinct) and includes a wolf, lynx, deer, and even a beetle among others. What many people don’t know though, is that the timber came from a diseased tree!

The tree was originally a redwood in Oswestry town centre. It was diseased and dying, and became a danger to the public. The only option at that point was removal. Far from being a loss though, that tree went on to be part of a wonderful trail in beautiful woodland.

Now, many people get to enjoy the sculptures as works of art. The trail is also educational though and teaches how we can better protect our environment. Viewers are challenged and taught to be better stewards of the land. So hopefully out of the death of that redwood tree, many others will live!

So perhaps you don’t want a sculpture on your own property. It may be possible though for your diseased tree to be removed, and used elsewhere.

Either way, it’s great to see something that was dead or damaged transformed into something beautiful.

what to do with a diseased tree? this sculpture of a red deer was made from a dead redwood

A diseased redwood tree was the source of timber fo the red deer in Fforest Fawr

What To Do With a Diseased Tree: Final Thoughts

We hope you see that there are endless possibilities for a tree that is diseased to have new life. If you have such a tree, Simon would love to hear from you via www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/.
He’d love to be part of transforming its story.

However, just like sickness in humans, there is a lot we can do to help protect our environment from disease. If you would like to know more about caring for trees, and preventing disease, we recommend visiting https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/plant-trees/advice/care/ for some great advice from The Woodland Trust. Between us, we can all be part of keeping our woodlands healthy!

an example of brown rot on a piece of timber as part os simon o'rourke's blog on the difference between brown rot and white rot

All About Wood: The Difference Between Brown and White Rot

All About Wood: The Difference Between Brown and White Rot 533 358 Simon O'Rourke

Welcome to our blog and vlog series ‘All About Wood’.
In this series Simon will be answering some of the questions we receive about timber. Essentially, he’ll talk about how wood behaves. That is, how it reacts to different environments, the longevity, how it cracks etc. He is often asked about these things, and rightly so! As well as being fascinating, they all impact the life of a sculpture, so it’s good to research before commissioning.
In this first part of this educational series, Simon shares more about rot, specifically the difference between brown and white rot.

Aging, not Rotting:

Simon is often asked how long a sculpture will last. And the honest answer is, that nobody knows! There is no exact science, although this blog we found gives some idea about wood durability.

A sculpture will begin to age quite early on, especially if exposed to all weather conditions. However this is very different from rotting. Aging adds different tones and highlights, increases the depth of the shadows, and overall, enhances the sculpture. If you are interested, you can read more in our blog about choosing a bronze of wooden sculpture.

Wood or Bronze Sculpture: A side-by-side photo shows the same wooden sculpture of a stylised woman's face years apart. Photo one is warm and smooth. Photo two has taken on rich, grey hues, and the weatherted wood now has the character of a real face

Side by side photos like this show that the aging process enhances the depth and beauty of a sculpture

Heartwood and Sapwood

Rot is something very different, and something Simon needs to be very aware of.

In the video above though, Simon begins with some simple tree anatomy. He first explains the difference between heart wood and sap wood:

Sapwood is the tree’s pipeline for water moving up to the leaves, and in very simple terms, is new wood. It is essentially the part of the tree that was growing most recently. As newer rings of sapwood are laid down, inner cells lose their vitality and turn to heartwood.

Heartwood is the central, supporting pillar of the tree. Although dead, it will not decay or lose strength while the outer layers are still intact. At this point the timber is actually hollow, needlelike cellulose fibers bound together by a chemical glue called lignin. And di you know that when cellulose and lignin combine to make timber, it can be as strong as steel?! For example,  a piece of timber 12″ long and 1″ by 2″ in cross section can support a weight of twenty tons! This is the part that Simon usually uses to create his sculptures.

cross section of a tree trunk showing the heartwood and sapwood

The Difference Between Brown and White Rot: White Rot

In the video above, Simon highlights where the outer edges of the cedar are already beginning to rot. In this specific case, the lignin (the part that brings the rigidity) is rotting away, leaving only the cellulose. This means the timber is beginning to get soft and fibrous and it now peels away easily. This kind of rot means the timber simply won’t take shape or hold its shape if it did – meaning Simon can’t carve a sculpture in wood affected by white rot. It would also degrade extremely quickly, which is one difference between brown and white rot.

The Difference Between Brown and White Rot: picture shows a piece of timber which has become fibrous, soft and stringy. It peels away easily. This is an example of white rot

The Difference Between Brown and White Rot: Brown Rot

The other major type of rot in trees (and something to look out for in selecting or working with timber) is a brown rot. In white rot, the lignin has rotted away. In the major difference between brown rot and white rot, in brown rot, it is the cellulose that has rotted away. This means the soft flexible fibres in the timber are gone, leaving something much more rigid. You’re left with a hard, sometimes sharp, biscuit-like, crumby texture. In fact, one of its other names is ‘Biscuit Rot’!
However, although it will take shape better than timber affected by white rot, it is still not suitable for sculpting.

an example of brown rot on a piece of timber as part os simon o'rourke's blog on the difference between brown rot and white rot

Any Questions?

We hope you’ve found this blog about basic tree anatomy and the difference between brown rot and white rot to be informative. Over the next few months we’ll be looking at lots of other aspects of how timber behaves in our ‘All About Wood’ series.
If you have questions you would like answering, reach us via our Facebook page or at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ and your question could feature in our series!

Wood or Bronze Sculpture: A side-by-side photo shows the same wooden sculpture of a stylised woman's face years apart. Photo one is warm and smooth. Photo two has taken on rich, grey hues, and the weatherted wood now has the character of a real face

Which is Better: Wood or Bronze Sculpture?

Which is Better: Wood or Bronze Sculpture? 1875 1875 Simon O'Rourke

Wood or bronze sculpture? Is the longer lasting sculpture a better sculpture? Which one should I choose? Simon is often asked “Why make a sculpture from something that will eventually degrade and return to nature?” In this blog we explore why Simon loves working with wood, and why it might be the choice for you…

Wood or ronze sculpture? Angel at the pool of bethesda by simon o'rourke at biddulph old hall. Photo shows the beautiful effect of an aging wood sculpture against the hostoric building and gardens.

Wood or Bronze Sculpture: Benefits of Bronze.

A bronze sculpture is first created in clay, wax, or other materials. That sculpture is used to create a mould, and finally, molten bronze is poured into that mould.

A bronze statue will last for thousands of years of course. We have seen this from ancient bronze sculptures still in existence today. For example, ‘Dancing Girl’ from Mohenjo-Daro is the oldest known bronze sculpture in the world, dating back 2500 years.

Wood on the other hand is a material that will eventually rot away and break down over the years…

Wood or Broze sculpture? Photo shows the bronze sculpture of dancing girl of mohenjo-daro

Wood or Bronze Sculpture: Why make something that will rot?

Environmental artists the world over operate at the opposite end of the scale. Artists like Andy Goldsworthy create artworks from nature that are gone in a short space of time. “It’s not about art,” he has explained. “It’s just about life and the need to understand that a lot of things in life do not last.

This momentary art is a powerful medium for drawing the attention to the natural world and its inherent beauty. Wood has also been used as a material for sculpture for thousands of years and also lasts well, depending on the species and how it is looked after. We shared more about which species are most enduring in our blog “Is my tree suitable for a tree carving sculpture“.

However, unlike bronze, it will always weather and begin to wear away over time.

Wood or Bronze sculpture? A close up of 'The Guardian' by Simon O'Rourke. It shows cracks in the nose of the oak lion, and the changing colours of oak sculpture.

Close up of The Guardian which shows the effects of aging on wood sculpture

Wood or Bronze Sculpture: The Beauty of Aging Wood

Weathering wood reveals much more of the character and growth patterns that form during the time the tree is growing. As an artist, Simon loves to see the process of weathering: that transformation of the freshly shaped timber to ancient-looking textures and cracks. He loves the revealing of the shapes of growth, and the natural progression of decay. For him, there is something warm about wood that captures a moment in history, the timeline of the tree, from seed to sculpture.

Wood or Bronze Sculpture: Picture shows large praying hands carved in oak by Simon O'Rourke. The wood has taken on grey hues due to weathering to give the hands character.

These praying hands have taken on more character and grey hues as the wood has aged and weatherted.

Wood or Bronze: Simon’s Philosophy as an Artist

Simon feels this compliments his artwork, and philospophy as an artist. He loves to capture a moment in time, a scene from a story, and leave the viewer feeling like they have momentarily been part of a bigger picture. The process of decay also captures an essence of the fragility of life.
Simon is very aware that his work isn’t permanent. This isn’t discouraging for thim though. Rather, he shares that:
Although some of my sculptures will eventually outlive me, their inevitable return to the earth to become part of the perpetual circle of life, is for me, a humbling experience“.

Wood or Bronze Sculpture: A side-by-side photo shows the same wooden sculpture of a stylised woman's face years apart. Photo one is warm and smooth. Photo two has taken on rich, grey hues, and the weatherted wood now has the character of a real face

Side by side photos like this show that the aging process enhances the depth and beauty of a sculpture

Bronze or Wood: An Evolving Piece of Art

As well as reflecting Simon’s philosophy as an artist, this aging process creates an ever-evolving piece of art. The photo above of a stylised woman’s face, shows that aging process actually enhances the beauty and intensity of a piece. In particular the pupil and iris are much more striking as the wood has darkened and taken on grey hues. The more varied hues and tones in the wood create something much more life-like and organic looking.

Close up of a face of a wooden sculpture showing the cracks created by weathering

Character created over time by aging and weathering of the wood.

Bronze or Wood Sculpture: Environmental Benefits

We have talked about the humbling aspect and cyclical journey of a sculpture returning to the earth. However, this is also an environmental consideration too. Simon sources his wood responsibly, and loves to transform storm-damaged and diseased trees into sculptures, giving life back to the timber. The wood will eventually return to the earth, and make no permanent footprint.

Angel at the Pool of Bethesda by Simon O'Rourke. View is from behind showing the Angel standing by a pool against the background of Old Biddulph Hall

This view from behind of Angel at the Pool of Bethesda at Biddulpho Old Hall shows how a wood sculpture perfectly compliments historic property and mature gardens

Wood or Bronze Sculpture: A Summary

Commissioning a piece of art is a big decision and an investment, and it needs to reflect your preferences and values as the buyer. All mediums have their beauty and benefits, so we would never claim one is definitively ‘better’ than another. However, if anything of the philosophical, environmental or aesthetic benefits of wood mentioned here resonate with you, it is likely a wooden sculpture is the best choice for you.

If you would like to commission a wooden sculpture, you can contact us using the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ .

We’d love to hear from you!

 

visual guide to determining if the measurements of your tree stump make it suitable for a tree carving sculpture

Is my Tree Suitable for a Tree Carving Sculpture?

Is my Tree Suitable for a Tree Carving Sculpture? 1440 2560 Simon O'Rourke

It’s always a joy as an artist, when somebody admires your work, and wants to commission a piece. Simon is no exception! Many of the inquiries we get relate to storm damaged trees, or trees that have been cut back for various reasons. This is great, as Simon loves to bring life and beauty back to these trees. However, not every tree is suitable for a tree carving sculpture. There are several things Simon has to take into account when somebody approaches him about creating a sculpture from an existing piece of timber on their property. This is our guide to deciding if your tree is suitable for a tree carving sculpture……

Dragon of Bethesda by simon o'rourke

Dragon of Bethesda, one of Simon’s best known sculptures from a storm-damaged tree.

Species of Tree

The first thing to consider when deciding if your tree is suitable for a tree carving sculpture, is species, or type. All timber has different durability. Although it can be treated with preservative, some woods simply won’t last. For example, a Black Locust fence post can last 25-30 years, which is very durable. In contrast, Horse Chestnut will only last 2-3 years.
If you are investing in a piece of art, you want it to last.

Suitable species for an outdoor sculpture include (but not limited to): Black Locust Oak, Walnut, Sweet Chestnut, Elm, Yew, Cedar, Sequoia.

Trees that are not suitable because of durability include: Horse Chestnut, Holly, Sycamore, Spruce, Hornbeam, Lime, Birch and Alder.

Simon O'Rourke creating the Lady of Marbury sculpture

The Marbury Lady was carved into a tree that had died due to saline toxicity.

Size of Stump

Size is hugely important in determining whether or not your stump is suitable for a tree carving sculpture. The smallest it can be is 30cm (approx 12″) diameter or 1000mm (39″) circumference. Anything smaller than this won’t be suitable for Simon to carve.

If you’re unsure about how to measure the circumference, here’s a guide:
Take a tape measure, if you don’t have a tape then a piece of string or rope will do.
Try to clear any ivy away from the tree and pass the tape around the tree.
You may need help if the tree is really big!
You can mark or hold the string or rope where it meets the other end, and then lay it out on the ground to measure it.
To be suitable, this measurement must be 1000mm / 100cm / 39″ or more.
Think about hugging your tree whilst holding string!
visual guide to determining if the measurements of your tree stump make it suitable for a tree carving sculpture

How to measure the circumference of your tree

Other Factors

There are other factors that can make timber unsuitable for carving. Let’s look at some examples.

Example One: Branch Wounds

Our first example is again, related to durability. Branch wounds like this on a tree trunk show that there is internal decay. In turn, this will mean there may be nothing to carve once Simon gets past the out layers of bark! It also means the sculpture won’t be durable. Unfortunately, if your tree stump looks like this, it will not be suitable for a tree carving sculpture.

Example of tree not suitable for a tree carving sculpture

Example Two: The Mystery Tree!

In our second example of an unsuitable tree, there is simply too much ivy to tell what is underneath it! If you have a tree like this, to know the quality and circumference of the timber, you would need to cut back all the extra foliage growing round it, and assess what is underneath.

Example two of a tree not suitable for tree carving sculpture

Example Three: All the Extras!

Our final example shows a tree that initially seems large enough to carve. However, if we look more closely, there is actually not enough wood underneath the layers of dirt and stones. Once all the ‘extras’ are cleaned/stripped away, there is not enough clean wood to be suitable for a tree carving sculpture.


Unsuitable tree for a sculpture

Examples of Timber Suitable for a Tree Carving Sculpture

We’ve looked at what makes a tree unsuitable, but let’s flip it round. What makes a good piece of timber?

We’ve already covered the type of tree and circumference. Let’s look at these examples of trees perfect for a sculpture….

Example of a tree suitable for a tree carving sculpture courtesy of simon o'rourke

This tree has a large chunk of good, solid wood. It is durable, has minimal damage, and no disease. It has the added bonus of an interesting shape too, which is a great start to creating something that looks organic as well as striking.

Example of a tree suitable for a tree carving sculpture courtesy of simon o'rourke

Our second good example also ticks lots of boxes. It’s oak (so durable), and it’s a good, solid chunk of timber of the right size. It also has plenty of SPACE around it. Chain saws are not small tools to work with! To stay safe, as well as being able to use the tools to carve to his best, Simon needs sufficient room around the tree.

As you have seen from The Spirit of Ecstasy , St George and the Dragon, and The Two Towers, the area doesn’t have to be completely clear. However, there does need to be enough room for Simon to safely use a chainsaw, to be able to step back to see his work, and to be able to hold the chainsaw at the optimal angle for carving each shape and detail.

Work in Progress: Spirit of Ecstasy by Simon O'Rourke

The work in progress on The Spirit of Ecstasy allow you to see suitable timber size and access.

What if my Stump isn’t Suitable?

Don’t be disappointed if you have gone through all this and realised your tree isn’t suitable. There may be other options! That was the case with our next example. However, it may be possible for Simon to create a sculpture in another piece of timber, and mount it onto your stump. Our final picture shows the tree stump on the left, and then the finished sculpture mounted onto it on the right. This may be something you would like to consider as an alternative.

Next Steps in Commissioning a Piece

If you know you have a suitable piece of timber, the next step is for you to get in touch. Please contact Simon on [email protected] rather than using social media. This ensures more efficient communication with us!

You should include:

Pictures of the stump from a few different angles
Measurements (circumference or diameter, height)

Some clients have a definite idea in mind. Others start by asking Simon what he can see in the natural shape. Both of these are fine. As you will have read in our blog about St George and the Dragon, deciding on a design is always a process.

St George and the Dragon tree carving sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

Having my Tree Assessed

If your questions about your tree are even a couple of steps back from this. It may be that you have a tree growing too close to your property, or you are uncertain if it can be saved. Maybe you aren’t sure about removal.
Don’t worry, we know a man who can help! In our blog about Treetech, we mentioned Shaine, our man who can! If you need an expert opinion about the best course of action for a tree on your property, we HIGHLY recommend connecting with him via https://www.facebook.com/TreetechNWLtd/

We hope this has been a helpful guide for you in deciding if your tree is suitable for a tree carving sculpture. If you have further questions, that aren’t answered here, again, do contact using the contact form here

We look forward to hearing from you!