One of the best bits of the process of making our bowls is the ‘wood hunting’. One of our favourite woods – Muwawa (Khaya nyassica – red mahogany) grows along the tributaries of the Luangwa River in particularly beautiful and remote areas. The rivers are very dynamic and each year many trees are uprooted and washed into river beds where they lay for many years. By the time we find and retrieve them they are well seasoned and weathered. The deep, rich, red colour and grain of muwawa is extremely pleasing.
Muwawa 27cm shallow ‘cherry’ bowl
Mukwa Wild Edge Chunky Bowl (492) 27cm
Muwawa Wild Edge 27cm Bowl
Mukwa Small Flame Bowl (470) 17cm
Muwawa 25cm Dinky Cherry Bowl
Mukwa ‘out-sloped’ edge shallow bowl (468) 25cm
Muwawa 29cm Bowl
Mukwa turned in edge Bowl (490) 22.5cm
Muwawa 30cm Big, Deep Bowl
Mukwa Man Bowl (491) 23.5cm
Most of the Mukwa (Pterocarpus angolensis ) we have in our wood store now is from the old saw pits in the Katemo area of forest a few miles from our workshop. For decades sawyers have been using these beautiful hardwood trees to make planks – something that is (thankfully) not happening so much now that people have realised the dangers of deforestation. We found old tree stumps at the pits that the sawyers rejected as being too short for making planks but are perfect for bowlmaking. The mukwa is a rich brown and turns to a silken smooth finish. Some of the grains are reminiscent of burr walnut.
At the nearby lodge – Kapani – which used to be owned by the Carr family – a huge Knobthorn – (combretum nigrescens) was blown down in an early rainy season storm. We were allowed to retrieve the tree and huge pieces of it have been seasoning at Kakoma workshop. To our delight, the wood turns to a buttery, greenish finish and we’ve made some lovely platters with it.
We’re also lucky enough to be able to pick up leadwood and mopane from the bush – the majority of which have been pushed over by elephants.
Once back at Kakoma the logs are added to our store. We look at each piece for a while and decide the best way to make the most of the piece. The team then begin to make blanks using chain saw and adse. The blanks are piled in a corner ready for the turners.
The woods we use are very hard so the turning process is tough on our tools. We use Crown turning tools which are made with hardened steel in Sheffield – they are well priced, tough and hard-wearing. We do have to sharpen often and we get through a lot of bowl gouges.
Once turned to a silken smooth finish, I take the bowls and platters home to engrave our logo on the base, number, seal and polish them and write their individual certificates. Esnart then makes the calico gift bag – the finished product.
It is hard to say exactly how long each bowl takes to make but including the wood hunting process, making the blank, turning and finishing – each takes a few days.
Wild Edge bowls.
Sometimes we‘re lucky and find fallen hardwood trees in the bush already partially carved and shaped by nature. Instead of cutting out those natural faults, we spend time with the piece of tree working out how to incorporate the ‘gifts’ in to the piece. We call these ‘wild edge’ bowls. They take much longer to make and are difficult to turn on the lathe, but we think the extra effort is worth it.