The soul of wood

Oct 31, 2012

The soul of wood

Nature has always provided us wood and trees for everyday convenience and survival, and we used to take full advantage of that. We would chop down trees and clear the land for agriculture, then use the trees to build shelter, to keep warm and to cook.

It was just a normal part of my life back in the day. After school I would go find some wood – usually the toppled down dried trunks or branches – to bring home as firewood for cooking.

My uncles would also use some different types of woods for planks to built furniture and houses.

For us kids, wood also became part of our play. Many sling-shots and catapults were created and used in ‘battle’, along with a tree house project in the backyard.

Those days our grandfathers’ houses were built using wood and they have lasted till now.

When brick and mortar houses became the mark of development and success, the beautiful architecture of wooden houses -which were equated with being poor- slowly faded away. Along with it went a distinctive part of our Malaysian identity.

Now, wood is hardly used for anything and has instead become like an expensive but impractical commodity.

Sustainability of wood
One philosophy we had was always to take only what we needed and no more. You could say our relationship with nature was a balanced one, with a sense of appreciation and respect for what we have been given.

Before and after: When I design a garden, wood is actually the material I work with the most because it is easy and versatile. It has become a distinct feature of our Malaysian garden concept.

That is how we were taught growing up and I hope we could teach our children the same.

When I design a garden, wood is actually the material I work with the most. It has become a distinct feature of our Malaysian garden concept. I find that wood is easy and versatile to use, with a wide variety available.

Some people may question this, but I have always used wood from a sustainable source for my furniture and garden designs.

When it comes to sustainability, we are actually very lucky.

Thanks to the British, we have a good forest management system (such as FRIM) that ensured a more abundant wood supply compared to some of our neighbouring countries, who were not so lucky.

The soul of wood
So why wood?

Coming from a living tree, wood always gives off a different feeling compared to other materials. There is a sense of ‘aliveness’, and a warm feeling that is unique.

Tropical hard wood are excellent for outdoor use as they are strong and sturdy woods.

Last time, everyone could be a carpenter. Building a house in the kampung was a ‘gotong-royong’, community effort. It was then that skills from the elders would be passed on to the younger generation. When the young generation went off to the factories and cities to work, the craft slowly became lost along with the end of wooden houses.

It is sad to see something so integral to our culture completely lose its existence. Now it is the foreigners who come and build, and due to a lack of knowledge, builders would say that wood is difficult to use and will rot away.

Cengal is often used for building boats. It is very durable and is able to withstand long-term exposure to water.

Abundance of choice
Of course, you can never compare wood with metal, cement and plastic. However, they can also never compare with the beauty of wood.

Fortunately, our tropical environment and rain forests provide us such a wide range of hardwood, we are simply spoilt for choice!

At the top is the Cengal, which is like the Rolls Royce of wood and is often used for building boats. It is very durable and takes water very well.

Then there’s the Balau and Resak, known as the Serangan Batu in East Malaysia, which are strong and sturdy woods. That being said, be careful and take note that the range of species are very wide, there is a big discrepancy between the high end and low end range of wood.

Obviously, knowledge of how, when and where to use different types of wood is very important, especially in outdoor conditions. For example, the wood profile, its size and thickness also determines the life span of the wood.

As I always say, if you treat nature well, it will always reward you. Seeing a beautiful wood furniture in your garden or anywhere else, is always worth the effort. Our customers have always come back to us, as time has proven the value of wood as a material for outdoor use.

Stay tuned for the usage and maintenance of wood in various forms next week.

  • Neo Nusantara creates landscapes for Malaysian homes. Website: or Call: 03-7880 8018.


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