Kauri Gifts

Bowl making

A quick look at the process of turning a piece of ancient swamp kauri into a handcrafted bowl or platter

1. Kauri trees that grew thousands of years ago in New Zealand’s northern swampland, often grew in low-lying and waterlogged ground. The largest of these  trees today are found in the Waipoua forest, north of Dargaville, where the largest existing individual (greatest wood volume) is Tane Mahuta, measuring 4.4 metres in diameter and 51 metres in height, and estimated to be between 1,250 and 2,500 years old.

2. In time, many kauri trees fell, with a significant number in low-lying forests being knocked down by Tsunamis, storms and other natural phenomenon.This kauri (now referred to as swamp kauri or ancient kauri) lay buried in the swamp for thousands of years, preserved by peat and other oxygen-poor ground. During  New Zealand’s early European pioneering years from the 1800’s to early 1900’s, the bush (along with vast numbers of living kauri trees) was cleared to make way for farmland, in which many partially submerged ancient swamp kauri trees were discovered. Often as one layer of ancient kauri is excavated, other older swamp kauri are exposed in progressively deeper layers.

3. Large slabs and blocks suitable for woodturning are cut from the kauri stumps and logs, using a chainsaw and chainsaw mill, then transported back to the workshop and bandsawn into round blanks ready for turning. Often the swamp kauri is full of resin and bark pockets which hold debris - so chainsaw chains and saw blades quickly become clogged and blunt!

4. This is the first step on the lathe - to roughly (not too roughly) form the bowls, taking out the centre part to hasten the drying process. Bowls are left to dry for at least six months, to allow the excess moisture to evaporate slowly and evenly. Sometimes a coating of thin wax is used to slow the process or the bowls are placed in large paper bags and frequently monitored.

5. A dry roughed out bowl is taken, re-turned, refining the shape with finishing cuts and then sanded using different grades of sandpaper. A natural high speed burnishing oil is applied, finishing off with a finishing coat of wax.