Friday, March 06, 2009

Ancient Kauri

This article is Part 1 of a joint publication with Pencil Talk.

Tane, son of Sky Father and Earth Mother, god of the forests, and the birds and insects within them, was one of the supreme gods of the Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand. In some legends he was also the creator of mankind.

Standing 40 to 50 metres (130-165 ft) tall with trunk diameters over 5 metres (16 ft), the kauri tree is one of the mightiest trees within Tane’s domain. In the forests of New Zealand, no individual tree is greater than Tane Mahuta, “Lord of the Forest” the largest kauri known to stand today. He stands 51 metres (169 ft) tall, has a trunk circumference of 13.8 metres (45 ft), is estimated to be between 1250 and 2500 years old, and is one of the largest living organisms on the planet. Tane Mahuta – photo courtesy of S & L McCormick. (Or rather a photo of the Yakis kauri - see comments)

Kauri is thus one of New Zealand’s most prestigious trees and is a preferred wood for high quality wooden furniture, and ornamental and heirloom items, such as jewellery boxes, clock cases, etc.

Millenia ago, in the north of New Zealand, by some unexplained act of nature, kauri trees started falling over and being submerged in peat swamps. Being buried in the peat swamps preserved the trees. Nowadays they are being dug out from the swamps, and this ancient kauri is remarkably well preserved, still workable and usable for many purposes. When I say ancient kauri, I mean ancient. Extensive radiocarbon dating shows that these trees grew 30 to 50 thousand years ago. I’ll repeat that, this wood is up to 50,000 years old. That’s way before the last “Ice Age”. If you believe in evolution, then it’s the same sort of time as modern humans were spreading out from Africa to colonise the rest of the world.

I have previously posted an article on a ballpoint pen turned by my uncle from ancient matai wood that was similarly preserved in a swamp. Stephen from Pencil Talk recently contacted me about a pen he saw for sale on the net. It was made from ancient kauri which he wasn’t sure about and wondered if it was some sort of scam. That got me thinking – why not contact a local pen turner and commission some pencils in ancient kauri? A pencil made from wood that was fifty thousand years old - surely any pencil person would find that an interesting item?

I recently purchased an acrylic pencil made by a local pen turner, so I contacted him to see if he would accept a commission to make some pencils in ancient kauri, and he happily agreed. He was familiar with ancient kauri and used good words like “unique” and “special” in relation to the finished items, but also used words like “difficult” and “horrible” in relation to the actual machining of the wood. Apparently it is very different to normal kauri – quite ‘feathery’, and knots, sap inclusions, etc lead to many imperfections and in some cases chipping or breakage. Some pen bodies have to be thrown away because part way through a major flaw is uncovered. In his own words, “The ancient kauri I used for the pencils was kauri from near the roots. It has more character than some other parts of the tree which has straight grain. They use this area on purpose for pen blanks. The wood from these lower areas of the tree has interesting twisting grain which looks better, but it is much harder to turn. Swamp kauri is by far the most difficult and frustrating timber to turn. Rather than being tough and solid, as one would imagine, it is almost crumbly. All the pencils were given a good soaking of super glue to stabilise the wood during turning, and give it a durable finish.”

After a month or two, the commission was completed, and thus we present the PSI 2mm Power Pencil in Ancient Kauri with 24K Gold Trims.

Please navigate back here afterwards, but right now, for Part 2 of this article, please now click through to Pencil Talk.

All photos below are clickable for high res viewing.
The PSI 2mm Power Pencil in Ancient Kauri with 24K Gold Trims.

Power Pencil and the PSI 0.7mm Slimline Pro in Ancient Kauri with 24K Gold and Black Trims.

Just in case you are interested, some song and dance by Tane’s people.


Germ said...

i want that big ass tree, right in my back yard. wouldn't mind some of that wood. it's amazing. Nice pencils, too.

Anonymous said...

Dave, you are a great ambassador both for New Zealand and for pencil collecting. Kauri wood puts me in mind of the briar used in pipe-making with its attractive whorls and close dense grain, and one can well imagine the intractable working characteristics of this substance. The ancient and "new" kauri styluses are absolute treasures, congratulations on this inspired project of yours. Great show!

Barrel Of A Pencil

Anonymous said...

I don't believe in evolution. I also think the earth is flat and the sun and the stars revolve around it.

I believe the universe was created 214 years ago Thursday by Koschei with the large Brass Balls. All hail the god Koschei.

The rest of you are not the Chosen Ones, so you must all bow down in obeisance to me. Send cash and chocolate also.

In fact, I do not believe you are here at all. You are just figments of my imagination. I come up with the most amusing things.

So, Figment Dave, is your local pen turner willing to make more of these? I might be interested in one.

Kiwi-d said...

I can always ask him. Contact me direct at the email address up in the blog header.

Anonymous said...

thanks for this great post!

Kiwi-d said...

Thanks dekson. I must admit that I thought this posting would generate more comment here and/or at Pencil Talk than it has, so your comment is extra welcome.

Stephen said...

A small postscript to this story - this past weekend, I saw the Kauri pen that I wrote to Dave about some months ago. From Online of Germany, it was well into the luxury price range.

Though the metal appointments were nice, it had none of the resins or knots of the pencils seen here - and perhaps less character.

I nonetheless really enjoyed seeing and holding it, and was able to tell the store clerk, "It's beautiful, but I already have an Ancient Kauri pencil." How many people can say that?

Anonymous said...

The photo above isn't of Tane Mahuta, it is in fact the Yakas Kauri (a 20 minute walk away). It is smaller than Tane Mahuta. Just to let you know :P