The Laburnum Oyster Box: A story spanning Ten Years
The laburnum oyster jewellery box has been an adventure in making. The journey began over 10 years ago when I was offered some laburnum logs. This is a small tree growing in the UK, which yields small sections of beautiful dark wood. The pieces I got were really just small branches, but I knew they had huge potential. This dark rich wood has been used for hundreds of years to make some incredible furniture. Over the years I have seen many beautiful antique Queen Ann tall boys and chest of drawers, decorated with Laburnum oysters, which inspired me to make modern pieces with it today.
Oysters, traditionally from Laburnum, Walnut, Yew or Olive provide a unique way of working with wood. Most wood is cut along its length to produce interesting and figured planks with straight grain; Oysters are cut across the woods length producing pieces of timber which show off the circular form of the annual growth rings. These may be cut at 90O or 45O producing stunning patterns.
However, like so much when working with wood, especially beautifully figured wood, cutting across the grain comes with a whole new set of problems. When you cut a piece of wood across the grain the wood tends to split, and if cut into thin slices it will split, warp, twist and bend, and this is completely useless for working with. The aim is to cut many thin oysters from a branch, dry and flatten them, without any splitting or warping, and then work with them in the same way as a veneer.
There is very little documented about how to cut, dry and work with oyster veneers. When talking to colleagues there seemed to be much uncertainty about this allusive technique, with many makers having snippets of information which I put together for this challenging piece
I cut the oysters from the laburnum logs, then dried them very slowly and carefully over a number of years, to prevent them cracking, and to keep them nice and flat.
Each oyster needed to be relatively thin to work with, and also much smoother and flatter than when they were first cut. However as each oyster was flattened and thinned they became more vulnerable to splitting and cracking. Eventually each oyster was flattened and thinned from 2-3 mm to 0.8 mm, which enabled me to work with them and create the Laburnum Oyster Jewellery Box
Each oyster was cut over a decade ago and then carefully dried, before I could even start to think about using it. The oysters were cut from the branch, then clamped back together for at least 2-3 years to ensure a very slow drying process. Some cracked and were lost, but most dried very slowly and very flat. I checked them a couple of times each year, and even had some clamped like this for over 6 years until fully dried. At this stage I did not know if I would be able to successfully work with them, but hoped I could.
Over 350 separate oysters were used to create this single box, a huge number would be needed for a much larger piece. Once dried, each oyster had to be individually selected for its size, shape, figure and pattern, and then flattened on both sides and thinned to approximately 0.8mm. They were then slowly and intricately cut, shaped and fitted to their neighbor, sometimes each oyster had to be fitted to multiple other oysters, a slow and intricate job. This painstaking work to prepare and lay up the oysters took many weeks, but worked, and opened up the process for working on some much larger pieces.
It is always an exciting to work on a new, one off, individual piece. When I started out working with oysters I did not know if it would work Now as I move forward I will use this technique for a much larger piece, and of course I am now always on the lookout for more laburnum to make oysters with.
To find out further information about this box, please contact Edward