all about wood

Care for a tree carving sculpture. Photo shows a close up of a yew dragon mouth sculpture treated with decking oil

How Do I Care For A Tree Carving Sculpture?

How Do I Care For A Tree Carving Sculpture? 600 600 Simon O'Rourke

I’m often asked is how to care for a sculpture after it’s installed. It’s a really good question! I’m also often asked how to treat the wood to help preserve its life. If you want to retain the colour on a sculpture then there are several things you can do to help. And so, today’s blog explores care for a tree carving sculpture…

 

Hiker in oak by SImon O'Rourke

Preservation of a commissioned sculpture is a natural concern

 

Care for a Tree Carving Sculpture: Choosing an Oil

I’ve always said decking oil is the best thing for sculptures outdoors due to its containing fungicide and UV protection. This is your best option if you want to treat the wood in any way.
There are several different levels of decking oil to choose from, so it can seem a bit overwhelming.
The brands I’ve used in the past are Rustins, Cuprinol, Ronseal, and Osmo. I’ve also tried own brands from B&Q and Wickes.
Quite often, the cheaper the oil, the less viscous it is. This has advantages such as being easier to spray on, but it isn’t often as hardy against the weather.
A lot of oils today are water-based emulsions. This makes them safer for the environment, which is great. However, I’m less sold on how well they do over time, and the finish can be a little gloopy.

 

Care for a tree carving sculpture. Photo shows a close up of a yew dragon mouth sculpture treated with decking oil

Decking oil can help protect sculptures.

 

Care for a Tree Carving Sculpture: Application

One of the most difficult things about oils is the application. My sculptures tend to have lots of rough surfaces which means it’s not always easy to cover with a brush. It can be even more difficult to get an even coat across the sculpture. It’s worth taking the time to do this though.
It’s possible to thin down most oils with good quality thinners or white spirit and use them in a sprayer. However, bear in mind you will need more coats and therefore more time. The sprayers can be very difficult to clean too.

 

care for a tree carving sculpture: many of simon's sculptures are rough and textured and this makes it difficult to apply even coats of oil. photo shows an example of the texture of a lion's face.

It can be difficult to achieve an even finish when oiling heavily textured sculptures like this lion.

 

Care for a Tree Carving Sculpture: Pre-Treatment

It can be a good idea to treat a sculpture with a clear wood preserver prior to oiling, as this helps prevent things from growing on the surface.
I’ve also been told that raw linseed oil can be good to treat exterior green oak. I’ve had no personal experience using it yet though, so I can’t really comment. But I will be trying it on a scrap piece to see what happens! Watch this space to see if it works!
picture shows a dragon carved in oak by simon o'rourke

Hemlock endures a lot while hired out for events, so oil is essential for protecting the sculpture.

Care for a Tree Carving Sculpture: Retouching

The next question is then how often it’s necessary to repeat this process. As with many questions about the lifespan of a wood sculpture, there are no definite answers. The frequency of oiling will vary based on the environment, and it’s important to note that as soon as the oil wears off the surface then the sun will bleach the wood very quickly. You can’t get the natural colour back again at this stage, unless the wood is sanded or cut back.

 

care for a tree carving sculpture: a man is sanding a piece of wood.

People photo created by freepik – www.freepik.com

Care for a Tree Carving Sculpture: Choosing the Right Timber

I’ve shared before that not every timber is suitable for a tree carving sculpture. All wood has different longevity. So I try to make sure that the sculptures I make are created from long lasting timber like oak, cedar, sweet chestnut, certain cypress varieties or redwood. However, I will occasionally carve a tree stump on a property that is from timber with less lastability, like beech or willow. I will always make sure the client understands that the sculpture won’t be as enduring. I also always recommend a good coat of clear wood preserver prior to oiling for these timbers to give them the best start.

 

Simon O'rourke using a chainsaw to cut into wood

Choosing durable wood is a key part of creating a long-lasting sculpture.

Caring for a Tree Carving Sculpture: Installation

The other thing to note is with free-standing sculptures, it’s wise to place them on a surface with good drainage, or have some airflow underneath them. The Queen of the South Soccer Players are a great example of this. They have been elevated so no water will collect. They are also on a wooden plinth which is where moisture will begin to gather first and travel upwards, preserving the players for longer.

sporting sculptures made by simon o'rourke. Photo shows sculpture of three soccer players standing back to back with onlookers admiring the piece

Caring for a Tree Carving Sculpture: Going Natural

The reality is, no wood sculpture will last forever. Really, the only way to ensure the longest life possible would be to keep it indoors! As I have shared before in this blog about wood versus bronze sculptures, I like the ageing process though. I think it adds character and beauty, and is more in keeping with using a material that once had a life of its own. It’s important to know what sort of finish you’re aiming for when you commission a sculpture. Discussing the finish and creating something you will love is all part of the process when you commission a sculpture.

Side by side photo of a woman's face carved in redwood by simon o'rourke to show the aging process of wood. The left is far more yellow and warm. The right has deeper shadows and cracks and grey hues.

Cracks and changing colour give a chainsaw carved sculpture more character

Get in Touch!

If you would like to commission a sculpture, you can contact me at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ And whatever finish you choose for your own piece, I will be able to help with recommendations and tips for upkeep!

photo of a tree carving sculpture in progress. the sculpture is a wwi soldier in oak. there is a field and scaffolding behind him. the base of the sculpture shows the shape of the original tree trunk. the sculpture in in the front two thirds, and serves as an example of how to best position a sculpture within a log to avoid cracks that appear as it dries

How to Best Position a Sculpture Within a Log

How to Best Position a Sculpture Within a Log 450 600 Simon O'Rourke

People often ask how to prevent cracking in the wood used for sculptures. The simple answer is you can’t! However, Simon has learned a lot over the years about working with and around the natural behaviours of wood. There are ways to minimise the impact of cracking on your sculpture to ensure it lasts as long as possible. The biggest of those is positioning, and so in this blog, we share how to best position a sculpture within a log.

How best to position a sculpture within a log: ensure cracking enhances the sculpture. This photo shows a close up of an oak face sculpture. It has vertical cracks along the cheek.

Cracks are an unavoidable part of wood sculptures

 

Understand We Can’t Eliminate Cracks

Simon’s first tip as to how to best position a sculpture within a log is actually nothing to do with positioning or carving! The first tip is to understand that it’s impossible to eliminate cracking when working with wood. Cracks and changes in the colour are all part of the ageing and drying process, as Simon shares in this blog about how long a sculpture will last. It’s a natural material and therefore can be unpredictable. Understanding that and being OK with ‘imperfections’ are important as it means that rather than worrying about cracking, you can focus your energy on the best ways of working with it.

 

Side by side photo of a woman's face carved in redwood by simon o'rourke to show the aging process of wood. The left is far more yellow and warm. The right has deeper shadows and cracks and grey hues.

Cracks and changing colour give a chainsaw carved sculpture more character

 

Find the Centre of the Timber

Once we understand we can’t control cracking, we can focus on working with and around it. The first step towards that is finding the centre of the timber. This is important because it impacts the direction and amount of cracking, Wood shrinks faster circumferentially than radially. This means cracks start at the centre and move out, so the further from the centre, the more stable the wood. You will sometimes see cracks coming from the centre like wheel spokes. Usually, the centre is the middle of the log, but not always, so spend some time looking at the log and pay attention to where the cracks begin. This is your centre.

 

Photo shows a tractor with a fork lift attachment carrying a large tree trunk. Finding the centre of the trunk is essential in learning how to best position a sculpture within a log.

Finding the centre of a log like this means you can make the most of the solidity and stability of the timber.

 

Identify the Most Important Features of Your Design.

The next key in how to best position a sculpture within the log is to identify the most important features of your design. These are the parts that you most want to preserve. When sculpting human form, Simon finds it is most often the face. An example of this is the fairy sculpture below. Although there is a lot to see, the face is the part Simon wants people drawn to, so he will position the sculpture so her face is the least impacted by the cracks already appearing.
However, if your sculpture is more abstract, this may not be the case.
Where do you want the focus to be?
What details do you want to preserve?
Once you know this, you can work out the positioning.

 

Photo shows a chainsaw carving workshop with a sculpture in progress in the middle. The shape of a female sitting on a swing is blocked out in a large piece of oak, but no features are visible

The face of this fairy sculpture is the part Simon most wants to preserve from cracking

 

chainsaw carving sculpture of a 5' elf sitting on a swing

Simon carved this so the cracks are part of the shoulder. In this way the details of the face will be preserved.

Tactically Position the Sculpture

Now you know which parts are most important, you can work out whereabouts you position the sculpture in the log. If the face or front is most important, start carving so the centre of the log is at the back of the sculpture. That way as the sculpture ages and dries, the cracks will start at the back.

For this WWI soldier, Simon was able to cut the log and create the sculpture using the front part. If he had carved it in the centre of the timber (which is often instinctual), the cracks would be in the middle of the soldier, and potentially split him in half!!!
By moving the sculpture to the front half, it means the centre of the log becomes the soldier’s back. In this way, the cracks will appear in his back. This will not only preserve the facial details but also means the sculpture is much more stable.

 

photo of a tree carving sculpture in progress. the sculpture is a wwi soldier in oak. there is a field and scaffolding behind him. the base of the sculpture shows the shape of the original tree trunk. the sculpture in in the front two thirds, and serves as an example of how to best position a sculpture within a log to avoid cracks that appear as it dries

The base of the sculpture shows hows Simon positioned the sculpture in front of the centre of the log.

 

Have a Positioning Plan B!

Obviously positioning cracks so they are hidden at the back isn’t always going to be possible. Sometimes we just don’t have a log big enough. If that happens, use plan b in how to best position a log within a sculpture… Position it so there are lots of small cracks across a feature.

It’s better to have lots of small cracks that one big central crack. This way as they swell and shrink with the different weather changes, the impact on the sculpture is less.

An example of this from Simon’s work is his recent horse bench. He positioned the sculpture so the centre was to the far side of the horse. The cracks are all across the mane. In this way, they become part of the texture and there’s no risk of the mane looking like it’s been divided in half! More importantly, it also means the sculpture is the most stable and solid that it can be.

 

Tree carving workshop with a sculpture in progress. The sculpture is a bench, and one end is a horse with flame like mane

Simon used one half of the log for the horse head, and position it so the centre is on the far side of the horse.

 

Horse bench by chainsaw carving artist simon o'rourke

The centre of the log is now this side of the horse to ensure minimal cracking and most stability.

 

Know When to Say No!

Simon’s last tip as to how to best position a sculpture within a log is to recognise when a piece of timber simply isn’t suitable. Sometimes there is just too much rot. We actually have a blog about types of rot to help you with that. Sometimes when you cut into the log you find a crack that is already large and would impact the design. If this is the case, there is often little you can do. At this point, you need to either accept that this sculpture will have a short life, or start again.

This happened with the lion Simon made before Christmas. You’ll be able to see in the photo how the crack is already moving up into the lion’s body. In addition, the rot meant the wood was too soft to carve and would have begun rotting away much quicker. As this was for a commission, Simon wasn’t prepared to compromise on quality, and had to start over on a fresh log. This timber can still be used, but for a much smaller sculpture that wouldn’t incorporate the wood or crack.

At the end of the day, wood is a natural material and is unpredictable. It’s part of its beauty, and working with that and allowing it to enhance the sculpture is part of the challenge Simon enjoys. If you are choosing wood sculpture over something like bronze or marble, hopefully it’s something you like too! But occasionally it really does mean starting over!

 

How best to position a sculpture within a log... photo shows the start of a tree carving sculpture. The shape is blocked out but there is a large crack and split at the centre making it an usuitable log for sculpture.

Sometimes you just have to abandon a piece of timber!

 

Over to You!

Learning to work with cracking is something that will come with experience. If you are very concerned about a crack, it is possible to fill them, and Simon will do this very occasionally. However, he does recommend the tips he has shared here.

To the other chainsaw artists out there, what are some of your tips and tricks for working with cracks?

If you enjoyed this article, there is a  10 minute video below where Simon expands on these points. Please excuse the wind in one of the sections – the Welsh weather doesn’t always co-operate with plans for outdoor filming!

And, as always, if you are interested in commissioning a tree carving sculpture from Simon, contact us via the form on www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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!