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Forestry and timber stories

A beautiful veneer

Edition 197_wukalina

Stunning architectural features and bespoke furniture are being crafted out of an innovative timber veneer, which is also helping to preserve Tasmania’s specialty woods.

Tassie Thick Veneer is a product of the future. 

Made out of huon pine, black heart sassafras, myrtle, blackwood, celery top pine and oak, it looks and feels just like solid timber, but compared to solid timber it uses only a fraction of this precious resource. 

The veneer has been used as a ‘feathered’ wall cladding in the ‘camp’ on the Wukalina Walk which has just won a major international architectural award. 

But it has also been used to make enormous pivot doors, up to three metres high and two metres wide, not to mention cupboards, vanities, chests of drawers, tables and bed-heads.

Tassie Thick Veneer creator, Craig Howard, is something of a ‘forestry renaissance man’.

Not only did he invent the concept – with the help of his son Jack – but he is also an artist in wood; one of Tasmania’s few remaining master craftsmen who hand-makes bespoke furniture out of specialty timbers.

“There is no greater joy than creating something beautiful from a piece of our unique timber; the dramatic black stripes of sassafras, or the clusters in birds eye huon pine are without compare,” Craig explains.

“However, these timbers are becoming scarcer and scarcer, and I am really concerned that some of them will have vanished within the next 100 years.

“Our veneer is all about sustainability; helping to save Tasmania’s specialty timbers for future generations.”

Timber is in Craig’s DNA.

He is a fourth generation Tasmanian timber worker, and now his 24-year-old son Jack is following in his footsteps, adding a fifth generation.

Working side-by-side with Jack, some of Craig’s hand-made pieces of fine furniture can take months to complete using traditional tools and methods, such as dove-tail joints in drawers.

And he is now incorporating his Tassie Thick Veneer into more and more of them.

“To the naked eye it is virtually impossible to tell the difference between a piece of furniture made out of a solid piece of specialty timber and our Tassie Thick Veneer,” Craig says.

It was late last year that Tassie Thick Veneer rolled into full production at Craig’s Hobart workshop with equipment funded by a $100,000 Government grant.

And, the idea behind it is deceptively simple.

Most veneers are thin and flimsy. However, as the name suggests, Craig’s veneer is much thicker – between 2.5 to 4mm thick – and attached to a special substrate which adds to that solid look and feel. 

However, most importantly, the veneer allows someone to get between six to eight times as much product from one piece of wood.

“For example, one large piece of timber board would be enough to make one solid wood table top, or alternatively seven of the same table-tops using Tassie Thick Veneer” Craig explains.

Craig and Jack have recently completed a commission in Malaysia.

They installed cupboards, vanities and internal doors made out of myrtle veneer in a house owned by ex-pat Tasmanians. There was also an enormous pivot front door – three metres high and two meters wide – made possible only because of the lightness of the veneer.

“The owners wanted something really unique and we were able to create that with our veneer, especially that huge front door which leaves people astounded” Craig says.

Then there is the Wukalina Walk

This is the new four-day aboriginal owned and guided walk in Tasmania’s north-east – based around Mount William (wukalina) and the Bay of Fires (larapuna) – that is garnering wide-spread acclaim.

Part of the accommodation is in a camp modelled on a traditional krakani lumi (resting place) which recently beat 400 contenders to win ‘Best of the Best’ at an international architecture award in Singapore – the INDE. Awards.

Tassie Thick Veneer, made out of blackwood, has been used as wall cladding on the dome-shaped timber sleeping pods.

“We wanted the pods to replicate the original camps of the palawa people, and these had wall linings which were made out of long lengths of bark,” Mat Hinds, from Taylor and Hinds Architects explained.

“In the end we used strips of blackwood veneer, which we were able to layer and bend to replicate the traditional bark lining.

“It gave us a wonderful feathering effect on the walls.”

But Mat Hinds also believes the versatility of Tassie Thick Veneer gives it other design applications: “From an architectural point of view it allows you to create some really interesting spatial solutions,” he says.

“It is a really robust product but is also incredibly light and that gives you enormous versatility.

“I have seen some of Craig’s veneer doors and they are impressive.

“They are beautifully finished and look so solid and so heavy. But when you go to pick them up you can lift them with just one arm because they are so light, and this allows you to build enormous doors that are almost like walls.”

Image Courtesy of Adam Gibson Photographer

13 August 2018, Edition 197

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