After my 26-year romance with wood, realization has finally knocked on my wooden intellect that there is more to be learned in my chosen field of art. Through experience, I’ve learned that design and shop work are futile without knowledge of materials.
Prior to my discovery of the value of reclaimed wood, I used to deal with carabao loggers in the hills of Quezon. These were mostly farming families earning a measly living on loggings. It was a one-tree, one-job affair until greedy investors came in. Like a spark setting off an inferno, the increase in demand for wood led to a quick increase in logging activity. As forests started to resemble my bald head, guilt consequently set in, leading me t a new resource: recycled wood from old houses, buildings, and bridges.
My first affair with reclaimed wood was an old narra and molave post (which cost me two bottles of bilog gin on the barter market.) As I manipulated my design with hand tools onto the antiquated posts, I realized that uts density, qauality, and finish were superior to new wood, but when working with reclaimed wood, nails and bolts had to be extracted. Carbide tipped blades had to be employed in milling through its dense structure. In the course of these early stages of my learning and decision to utilize reclaimed wood, I often cursed myself for my principles of conservation.
As the demand for work eventually grew, so did the need for materials. This also led to the education of the mangigiba (demolition teams) on the classification of wood and prices, which was part of the whole process to standardize the growing industry. I studied how craftsmen used to build our old wooden houses: I found that they’d integrated different species of wood into the whole stucture, as varying species have unique qualities and properties. It’s worthy to note that the basic skills of selecting the type of wood for each component for structural matters rest in the hands of the architects and engineers. But most importantly, selection on quality of timber is relied upon the sawyer.
Here are a few things I learned about certain types of wood:
Yakal: Is light yellow and turns light brown with age, and has a sour smell when milled. It is heavy and hard to work with. Used for posts, beams, joists, and other installations requiring durability and strength. It is usually used for houses built in the regions of Quezon, Camarines, Agusan, Davao, and Zamboanga.
Molave: is also called “Philippine teak”. It is rich yellow-brown in color and finishes well, and is a very functionally diverse wood once used for railroad ties and shipbuilding. It works well for exposed surfaces such as window frames, sills, and exterior panels. it is also used for posts and beams and does well for cabinetry and superior joinery. Though very durable, it does not fare well when set directly on lime.
Saplungan: Is also known as “yakalsaplungan”, but us harder, denser and heavier than yakal. it is yellow with brown streaks, and is thus also called “tiger molave”. It was also once used for railroad ties and shipbuilding, and its attributes are akin to molave, though it is more complicated to handle for carving and sculpting projects. This wood was once abundant in the forested regions of Luzon.
Ipil: is yellow when “green” (newly felled) and turns dark brown when seasoned. It is a durable – and very stable – wood used for fine cabinetry, flooring, and interior panels. Also used for posts and beams in regions where yakal and molave are difficult to come by.
Dungon: is dark – chocolate brown in color when seasoned. it is also called “iron wood” and is probably on of the top 10 hardest woods in the world. Also once used for shipbuilding, it was sought after for crafting keels, ribs, and shaft mountings. Works well for high traffic floorboards, fascia boards, trellises, and outdoor decking.
The Philippines is one of the most biologically diverse nations in the world and was once host to over 3000 species of tree (the species mentioned above are just a small fraction of the types of trees I’ve worked with. Many more old woods, present in old structures, are yet to be discovered). We must realize the beauty and value of recycled wood. Our land, though one of the most biologically diverse, is also one of the most endangered. Let us save what is left of our forest for future generations to appreciate.
PUBLISHED ARTICLE: HOMESTYLE MAGAZINE (SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2009 ISSUE)