Using Traditional Techniques on Reclaimed Timber

Artist in residence Harry T. Morris’ Fuzei Cabinet

In 2018-2019 I travelled to England to study furniture conservation and while there I met an amazing young furniture maker named Harry T. Morris. We immediately connected through various shared passions including the importance of making things last, making things repairable, the informed use of natural materials, and the use of craft techniques. He and I then went to study traditional Japanese carpentry in Kyoto, and afterword he agreed to come down to Sydney and spend a couple months as an Artist in Residence here taking everything that he had learned to make a singular stunning piece of furniture out of the kinds of materials we see thrown out here all the time.

For me, this was part of a goal we have had here at The Bower to showcase the beauty and capacity of these materials which are otherwise destined for landfill. For Harry, it became an incredible project of discovery, skill, and growth, as well as a culmination of his gained experience in England and Japan.

The finished cabinet is currently on show and for sale in Australia’s premier woodwork gallery Bungendore Woodworks, there was a write up about the piece in the latest issue of the Australian Wood Review, and Harry has just recently put out a series of videos taking you through the entire process of making the cabinet, as well as some of his thoughts and considerations going into it.

I highly encourage you to watch them. They are beautiful pieces in and of themselves, and his skill is something to behold. You can see the first of four videos above, and I have also posted the complete video below.

It was an honour to watch him work on this piece over the course of two months, and it is a real pleasure to be able to share that with you now. Below are Harry’s words about the cabinet and this project:

Harry T. Morris and his completed Fuzei Cabinet

The reclaimed timber Fuzei (a Japanese aesthetic concept) sideboard is a piece inspired by my recent Kōgei collection and the last few years spent studying historic craft both in the UK and in Japan. These skills where applied to see how I could design and make a piece of fine furniture using entirely donated, reclaimed materials at the Bower Reuse & Repair Center. My Kōgei collection of furniture (meaning hand crafted in Japanese) is inspired by Japanese traditional craft, discipline and philosophical concepts.

Over the past 2 years have been researching and practising the use of hand tools and traditional techniques in furniture making. To explore this further I travelled to Japan to study Japanese historic craft first hand.

 I first studied under traditional carpenters (residential) before working and living with a Japanese furniture makers as well as visiting many other craftspeople all over Japan to help me really understand the discipline and craft. My former education at West Dean college of arts and conservation in the UK showed me the importance of reparability in furniture making and how often this isn’t considered. Thus a large part of my design process is centred around construction methods that are not only strong but also long lasting and repairable.

This piece takes inspiration from the simplicity of what is considered ‘beauty’ in Japanese design and philosophy. The straight, clean lines, the simple sliding doors and the application of texture in use of fabric in the doors has stemmed from Japanese influences. The side board features half blind dovetails, mortise and tenon doors and tapered sliding dovetails – all of which have been chosen and applied to areas of the piece to allow for timber movement and provide as much strength as possible. Reversible adhesives and repairable finishes such as hide glue and shellac are used along side entirely hand cut joinery.

The carcass is comprised of reclaimed Australian eucalyptus, a kind of timber I have never encountered or worked with before. It is very dense, hard and unpredictable. On top of that, I am also challenged with considering the careful use of defects in the timber, such as the many oxidised nail holes or marks made in the wood from it’s previous life. These defects will not be entirely avoided; I believe these can be used to tell a story of the history of that piece of wood. Careful selection of timber and a respect for the characteristics of each piece of wood is important to me in any process.

In Sydney, and everywhere in the world, we see a huge amount of waste. Things that are used once or not even used at all and thrown away. The idea of using these materials that are heading to landfill in this piece of furniture is an effort to raise awareness of the concept of waste reduction and reuse. I feel as though if more people understood and appreciated the material world around them there would be less of an inclination for people to waste so much. I want people to give possessions a value other that monetary – to consider the construction and materials the make up the object.

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