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Photo FeatureCulture

From wood to wedge.

As a method that requires no heavy machinery, low impact forestry relies on a keen eye to identify the best tree, then harvesting the selected timber right at the site.

Nov 23, 2019

Words: John Calabro
Images: Peter Plozz

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Originally hailing from Lorne, Wilbur Butler arrived here recently to set up his furniture workshop, Wood and Wedge, in Traralgon South. His tables and chairs provide a satisfying blend of contemporary Danish curves and a sturdy hint of brutalism, all rounded out by a ‘form follows function’ nod to the best of true modernism. Wil makes beautiful pieces, but it’s the unique method through which he sources his wood that makes this story particularly special.

In 2016, under the tutelage of the old bushman and family friend, Murray Kidman, Wil began hand-harvesting wood from deep in the Great Otway National Park. With nearly fifty years experience, Murray was the first woodsman in Victoria to earn his low impact forestry licence. According to Wilbur, “they created the entire licence category just for him”.

As a method that requires no heavy machinery, low impact forestry relies on a keen eye to identify the best tree, then harvesting the selected timber right at the site.

“We literally walk in with a chainsaw and walk out with timbers”, explains Wil. The only catch is that the finest pieces are often deep in the bush, “We walk for kilometres, and we’ll do it up to forty times in a day”. Wil got his own harvesting licence in 2017, which resulted in an opportunity to work for iconic Australian guitar manufacturer Maton as a timber machinist. “A piece of wood will go through fifteen machines before it ends up in the luthier’s hands. I’ve learnt a whole lot about crafting wood, from shaping and drying, to grading.”

Backed by an illustrious Industrial Design Honours Degree from RMIT, Wil is no head-to-Bunnings-on-the-weekend-backyard-furniture-making hobbyist. To take on the trilogy of roles ‘harvester, designer and maker’ in furniture design is rare.

Wil’s sensitivity to quality design is evident through his products. Beautiful side and coffee tables that would look at home in the finest design magazines. Handcrafted stools, sturdy and confident under seat. He cites Charles and Ray Eames, the Danish furniture movement and conceptual giants, like Buckminster Fuller, as his influences.

Having been offered a chance to exhibit at the prestigious Milan Furniture Fair, Wil has rightly focussed his attention away from guitars and is hoping to build his furniture business here in Gippsland. “When I began visiting the Latrobe Valley I could see, unlike in Lorne, that many people here are in business; they work hard for their money and they’re more willing to spend it on themselves by investing in quality products.”

Wil is now in the process of acquiring permissions to harvest Gippsland timber. We hotly await his first locally grown, harvested, designed and handmade piece of crafted furniture. Until then, we’ll happily sit tight — if we could just borrow one of those sweet handmade stools…

To learn more, please search @woodandwedge on Instagram and Facebook.

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