When an artist decides to create a new piece, one of the first decisions he makes is what material he will use? We see intricate designs and patterns weaved and chipped into wood and stone. Bali, being the main source for wood carvings, does a lot of chipping. They chip away at a wood block tirelessly to create the beautiful creations we have today. One of the first items they have to get is the materials. More often than not, they use materials that are cheap in cost. Usually, trees as they are abundant on the Island. Which trees are they reaching for? Which trees are they using to create their art? Let’s take a brief look at 4 major trees that are frequently used in Balinese wood carvings an, see some of their unique properties, and the benefits of carving with these different types of trees.
The first tree has the most commonly used wood for carvings in Bali. It is known by the locals as the ‘Albesia’ or ‘Belalu.’ (Albizia Falcata) It is a white, soft wood. There are numerous reasons why it is used so frequently. It is native to Indonesia. As such, it grows considerably well to a staggering 130 feet tall. Now that isn’t anything too special. Some redwoods have been found that are 380 feet tall, but when you consider how fast the Albesia grows, it becomes quite evident why it is the favored species in plantations in Indonesia. It can grow 30 feet high in just 2 years. That is astronomical! It holds the official title as “the fastest growing tree in the world.” Because it is such a fast grower, Indonesian farmers have been able to make a living off of this tree alone, planting them anywhere they can. The core wood is used to make furniture, doors, and plywood. It is also termite- resistant. At Golden Sun, we did a test with one of our pieces and left it near a termite bed for a week, and surprisingly it was not damaged by the termites. For these reasons, majority of our carvings are made of the almighty Albesia wood.
The next tree is known as the “Crocodile” or Satin Wood. (Zanthoxylum Rhetsa) You can see why it is called crocodile wood. Some villagers have been spooked before by crocodile wood floating downstream, as it looks like the back of a crocodile. Kind of funny! =) It is a white, relatively hard wood. Carving with this wood gives a very smooth finish. So smooth that it looks like ivory.
Moving right along, we have the “Suar” or Rain Tree. (Albizia Saman) This tree has a brown, hard wood. It a wide- canopied tree with a large symmetrical spread. It is known as the rain tree because its leaves fold in the rain and when the sun sets. It reaches a height of 82 feet and nearly 120 feet in diameter. The wood is quite heavy, making it an ideal choice for house supports. Bali wood carvings that use this wood are dark in color and have substantial weight to them. It is a favored wood of importers outside the tropics because its crisscrossed interlocking grain prevents the wood from cracking when put in drier climates. If you live in the desert or Texas, you should choose this wood.
Lastly, we have the “Waru” or Grey Hibiscus. (Hibiscus Tiliaceus) The wood is white blended with light grey. This wood often makes distinctive two- tone carvings. As it ages the grey turns green giving it an earthy look. These trees are very short, getting to a paltry 32 feet in height. The outside bark of this tree has tough fibers used to make rope. It has the unique property of being stronger when wet. That is why it is commonly used to caulk ships. It is the go-to high quality furniture wood. If you want have your piece outside, I’d recommend getting “waru” wood. That way you don’t have to worry about moisture in the air.