When an artist decides to create a new piece, one of the first decisions they make is which material will they use? We see intricate designs and patterns intertwined and chipped in wood and stone. Bali, being the main source of wood carving, produces a lot of chipping. They tirelessly break a block of wood to create the beautiful creations we have today. One of the first items they need to get are materials. Most of the time, they use low-cost materials. Usually, trees are abundant on the island. What trees are they reaching? What trees are they using to create their art? Let’s take a brief look at the 4 main trees that are frequently used in Balinese wood carvings and see some of their unique properties and advantages of carving with these different types of trees.
The first tree has the most commonly used wood for carving in Bali. It is known by the locals as “Albesia” or “Belalu”. (Albizia Falcata) It is a white and soft wood. There are numerous reasons why it is used so frequently. It is originally from Indonesia. As such, it grows considerably well to reach a staggering 130 feet tall. Nothing too special. Some 380 foot tall sequoias have been found, but when you consider how fast Albesia grows, it becomes quite evident why it is the preferred species on plantations in Indonesia. It can grow up to 30 feet in just 2 years. This is astronomical! It holds the official title of “the fastest growing tree in the world”. Because he is such a fast grower, Indonesian farmers have been able to make a living from this tree on their own, planting them wherever possible. Central wood is used to make furniture, doors and plywood. It is also resistant to termites. At the Golden Sun, we took a test with one of our pieces and left it next to a termite bed for a week, and surprisingly it wasn’t damaged by termites. For these reasons, most of our sculptures are made in the almighty wood of Albesia.
The next tree is known as “Crocodile” or Satin Wood. (Zanthoxylum Rhetsa) You can understand why it is called crocodile wood. Some villagers were first frightened by the crocodile wood floating downstream, as it looks like the back of a crocodile. A little fun! =) It is a white, relatively hard wood. Carving with this wood gives a very smooth finish. So smooth it looks like ivory.
Moving on, we have the “Suar” or Rain Tree. (Albizia Saman) This tree has hard, brown wood. It is a broad canopy tree with a large symmetrical spread. It is known as the rain tree because its leaves bend in the rain and when the sun sets. It reaches a height of 82 feet and nearly 120 feet in diameter. Wood is quite heavy, making it an ideal choice for home supports. Bali wood carvings using this wood are dark in color and have a considerable weight. It is a favorite wood of importers outside of the tropics because its interlocking cross grain prevents the wood from cracking when placed in drier climates. If you live in the desert or Texas, you should choose this wood.
Finally, we have the “Waru” or gray hibiscus. (Hibiscus Tiliaceus) The wood is white tinged with light gray. This thick wood makes distinctive two-tone carvings. As it ages the gray turns green giving it an earthy look. These trees are very short and reach a height of 32 feet. The outer bark of this tree has hard fibers used to make the rope. It has the unique property of being stronger when wet. This is why it is commonly used to seal ships. It is the wood for high quality furniture. If you want to have your piece out, I recommend that you take the “waru” wood. This way you don’t have to worry about humidity in the air.