Using fire to good effect

Matt Hanley from Leominster in Herefordshire is a craftsman whose skills are much influenced by his background as an arboriculturist and his interest in Far Eastern design.

He has recently made an eclectic array of wooden bowls made from off-cuts of lime, sycamore, and olive ash – all subtly different in shape and dimension, and reflecting Matt’s interest in the contours of Japanese pottery.  He’s also made a sculptured table in olive ash and sycamore.

His latest project is a pair of Windsor-inspired cherry and chestnut garden room chairs that at first glance look entirely British.

But the beautiful one- and two-seat pair of chairs also incorporate the Japanese art of shou sugi ban, a process of burning the wood as a way of preserving it and, strangely, making it fire resistant.

The process became popular in Japan in the 18th century, although it was around for much longer, and has recently grown in popularity in the West.

The reason for its popularity is evident from the finished result (called yakisugi): a blackening of the wood that reveals its distinct lines, contours and inherent textural beauty.

The spindles and legs of Matt’s chairs have all been treated to shou sugi ban, the result being pieces of furniture that offer sculptural contrast and a dramatic effect.

Matt previously worked in large public gardens such as the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley and the Royal Botanical Garden Edinburgh and, before coming to the Chippendale school, was an instructor at an agricultural college in Hampshire.

Matt is seen here (right) making some final finishes to his single seat chair, and we’ll bring you a picture of the finished pieces next week.

His understanding of the raw materials of his new trade, coupled with very real design and making talent, will be put to good use as he sets up Matthew Hanley Woodworker back in his native Herefordshire.

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