When an artist decides to create a new piece, one of the first decisions he makes is what material will he use? We see intricate designs and patterns woven and chipped into wood and stone. Bali, being the main source of wood carvings, splinters a lot. They tirelessly remove a block of wood to create the beautiful creations we have today. One of the first items you have to get is the materials. Most of the time, they use inexpensive materials. Usually trees as they 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 4 main trees that are frequently used in Balinese wood carvings and see some of their unique properties and the benefits of carving with these different types of trees.
The first tree has the most used wood for carving in Bali. It is known to locals as ‘Albesia’ or ‘Belalu’. (Albizia Falcata) It is a white and soft wood. There are numerous reasons why it is used so often. It is native to Indonesia. As such, it grows remarkably well to a staggering 130 feet. Now that is nothing too special. Some redwoods have been found to be 380 feet tall, but when you consider how fast Albesia grows, it becomes quite apparent why it is the preferred species in plantations in Indonesia. It can grow 30 feet tall in just 2 years. That’s astronomical! It bears the official title of “the fastest growing tree in the world”. Because it grows so fast, Indonesian farmers have been able to make a living from this tree alone, planting it anywhere they can. The core wood is used to make furniture, doors, and plywood. It is also resistant to termites. At Golden Sun, we did a test run with one of our pieces and left it near a termite mound for a week and surprisingly, the termites did not harm it. For these reasons, most of our carvings are made from the almighty Albesia wood.
The next tree is known as “Alligator” or Satin Wood. (Zanthoxylum Rhetsa) You can see why it is called crocodile wood. Some villagers have been scared before by crocodile wood floating down the river, as it looks like a crocodile’s back. Something funny! =) It is a white wood, relatively hard. Carving with this wood gives a very smooth finish. So soft that it looks like ivory.
Moving on, we have the “Suar” or Rain Tree. (Albizia Saman) This tree has a brown and hard wood. It is a broad-crowned tree with a large symmetrical spread. It is known as the rain tree because its leaves fold when it rains and when the sun goes down. It reaches a height of 82 feet and almost 120 feet in diameter. The wood is quite heavy, which makes it an ideal choice for house supports. Balinese woodcarvings using this wood are dark in color and have considerable weight. It is a favorite wood of importers outside the tropics because its interlocking criss-cross grain prevents the wood from cracking when placed in drier climates. If you live in the desert or in Texas, you must choose this wood.
Finally, we have the “Waru” or Gray Hibiscus. (Hibiscus Tiliaceus) The wood is white mixed with light gray. This wood often makes distinctive two-tone carvings. As it ages, the gray turns green giving it an earthy appearance. These trees are very short, reaching a measly 32 feet tall. The outer bark of this tree has tough fibers that are used to make rope. It has the unique property of being stronger when wet. This is why it is commonly used to caulk boats. It is the wood for high quality furniture. If you want to have your piece outside, I recommend getting “waru” wood. That way you don’t have to worry about moisture in the air.