Woodworking in the great white north.


Ok, so not strictly a woodworking post, but what the heck.  As I crawl through the masses of photos and videos from our trip this Christmas, I see the pitfalls of digital media.  How on earth will I ever get through it all and put it into a format where I’ll actually use it?  Maybe I need to create a home-movie/picture blog  just to keep track of it all.

The main point of the trip was to get some time away from it all with the family, including my parents, which was great.  We can endlessly count our blessings that trips like this are possible, we are very fortunate.  Ok, ok, ok…what would a vacation be without at least a little woodworking content?  I have become ‘one of those people’ who is preoccupied with things like furniture, picture frames, mouldings and trimwork when visiting a place where something of greater significance is meant to be the focal point.  I know you understand me, even if no else does. 

It would be unfair to talk about Hawaii and woodworking without mentioning two things:  tiki carvings and outrigger canoes.  The primary wood that comes into play here is Koa, aka Acacia Koa.  There are a number of other indigenous woods, such as Monkey Pod, as well as tropical fruitwoods like Mango, that are used for everything from tourist ‘junk’ to traditional woodcraft items.  I would dearly love to find some Koa here in Canada and try it out on the lathe as well as in accent on a project.

Who's scarier? Beats me.

While wandering through the International Marketplace in Waikiki you’ll find yourself inundated with kitsch – but a closer look at some of the tiki masks and carvings will give you insight into minimalist woodworking.  Here’s a short video (sorry about the quality) of a guy carving tikis, sitting on the ground using his feet as a clamp and making fast work of a custom carving with one chisel and a mallet.

Having built a canoe using cedar strips, I look at every wooden boat I see.  This trip was no exception.  The wood alone is something to marvel at, but the fact that these canoes are functional and built using traditional tools is quite mindboggling.  Some of these hulls are cut from a single tree, dugout style.  Others that I saw, which may have been replicas, had intricate joinery techniques that looked entirely customized for the piece.  Beyond that, the finish used on these coupled with the Koa pulled out the full figure of the wood as well as any method of popping the grain that I’ve seen. 

While visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu we were also able to view a variety of other Polynesian woodcrafts.  The woods are beautiful and the workmanship, whilst rustic is remarkably well proportioned and when you look at the curves and shapes of the bowls, there really is a great deal of accuracy.  Ever tried to carve something curved that was symmetrical…easier said than done.  Very fine work indeed.

As they say, “all work and no play makes Daddy a grumpy so and so”, and this appears to be true in Polynesia as well.  One of the exhibits we visited had a checkers-like boardgame I had not seen before.  It’s a fairly simple game in terms of its rules, but strategy is key.  The basics of the game are a 6×6 grid with alternating coloured stones, with the 4 center squares left empty.  Players take turns hopping each other’s pieces and removing them from the board until someone is unable to take a piece, thus losing.  The real challenge seems to be avoiding a stalemate.  I’m going to do another blog entry just on this game and build a board as a gift for my daughter, a game-a-holic.

We interrupt this woodworking entry for some scenic pictures of Hawaii. 

The family, overlooking Hanauma Bay – is that a Shop Monkey t-shirt?

In truth I’m allergic to fish, but with a name like Humu’humu’nuku’nuku’apua’a who can resist?

A day trip to the Big Island in search of volcanoes and lava had us enjoying a meal at Kaleo’s (no relation to Kaleo Kala, I asked) – and yes, that says Pupus (it means appetizers but is remarkably difficult to order with a straight face).

A little steam being let off at Kilauea.

At night went to where the point where the lava cut off the road around the south end of the island 28 years ago (to the day).  A short trip in a 4×4 and a short walk out across the old lava flow and we were 15′ from open cracks in the surface lava with flowing lava visible inside.  This was mindblowing.

My one camera has a night vision mode, taking in mostly IR light, in this view you can see how much brighter the lava is.

Ok, fun stuff, but back to woodworking.  Some more kitschy stuff, like scrollsawn nightlights and whale carvings.  You can find endless supplies of these types of things, whether they be practical things or objet d’art.  These are a staple of the tourist trade.

If you’re looking for it, you’ll find some nicer things such as these rocking chairs, on the balcony – err, lanai – of one of the nicer hotels.

Then, I stumbled across a store called Martin and MacArthur, a paradise of woodworking inspiration.  I don’t know how quickly their stuff sells, but the $7000 rocking chairs and similarly priced bookcases in Koa are truly beautiful and passed my workmanship inspection.  The business seems to be primarily Hawaiian owned and operated, selling locally made fine furniture.  It’s a definite eye-candy sort of place for those who appreciate wood.  This struck me as a kind of high-end version of “Crafter’s Marketplace”, which I believe died a quiet death several years ago.  As a nod to all the pros and aspiring pros out there, I’m rather curious how this would work as a woodworking business model – a cooperative sales approach to fine furniture and wooden art.  Not quite Custom Made, not quite a consignment shop.  Something to ponder.

I had almost resolved to buy one of their wooden watches – a great way to say “Hey!  I’m a woodworker, ask me about my watch.”  I like to bring back a memento from any trip that I take and this looked like it was going to be the one for this trip.  Being a discerning buyer, I carefully inspected the workmanship, finding a few small flaws in the form of tearout, but not quite enough to dissuade me.  Then, I thought about the watch mechanism and checked the warranty card. 


Say what????  I took at very least a triple-take on that one.  Yes indeed, these watches are made in Canada…I did not travel 4000 miles to get a memento that was made in Canada!  Turns out that these wooden watches are made by Tense Wooden Watches of British Columbia.  Huh?  Who knew?  I may still buy one, just because I think they look cool and will generate some conversation, but my memento from Hawaii will take the form of pictures and memories, something I am happy to say I came away with loads of.


5 responses

  1. Nice post Ian, that brings back some memories of my childhood growing up there. I spent many an hour snorkeling in Hanauma Bay. Glad you had so much fun and welcome back to the great white north eh?

    January 24, 2011 at 9:25 pm

    • Intriguing, you’re a man of many surprises. Hawaii would be an awesome place to spend time as a kid. My daughter loved it, she took to snorkeling instantly. Now, back to scraping ice off the driveway.

      January 27, 2011 at 1:23 pm

  2. TexWood

    Ok, I need to go somewhere warm too. Nice Post!!

    January 25, 2011 at 4:48 pm

  3. Ian,
    Well said on all fronts. Glad you had a nice time. I’ll have to schlepp out there myself some day.

    I must also say, I love the picture of you kissing the “fish.” I was laughing out loud.

    January 26, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    • Heck, if I can’t dazzle everyone with my woodworking prowess, I should at least try to make them laugh….hopefully not at woodworking stuff though. 🙂

      January 27, 2011 at 1:25 pm

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