Handmade in Bali: 4 Types of Wood Commonly Used in Indonesian Wood Furniture and Art

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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 materials. Most of the time, they use inexpensive materials. Usually trees as they are plentiful on the island. What trees are they reaching? What trees are you using to create your art? Let’s take a brief look at 4 main trees that are frequently used in Balinese wood carvings and look at 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 by the 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 considerably well to a staggering 130 feet tall. Now that’s 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 Indonesian plantations. It can grow 30 feet tall in just 2 years. That’s astronomical! It holds 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 just this tree, 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 on one of our pieces and left it near a termite mound for a week and surprisingly the termites did not damage it. For these reasons, most of our carvings are made from the almighty Albesia wood.

The next tree is known as “Crocodile” or Satin Wood. (Zanthoxylum Rhetsa) You can see why it’s called alligator wood. Some villagers have been spooked before by crocodile wood floating down the river, as it looks like the back of a crocodile. Something funny! =) It is a white wood, relatively hard. Carving with this wood gives a very smooth finish. So smooth it looks like ivory.

Moving on, we have the “Suar” or Rain Tree. (Albizia Saman) This tree has a hard, brown 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 sets. It reaches a height of 82 feet and almost 120 feet in diameter. The wood is quite heavy, making it an ideal choice for house supports. Bali wood carvings using this wood are dark in color and have considerable weight. It is a favorite wood for importers outside of the tropics because its crisscross interlocking grain prevents the wood from cracking when placed in drier climates. If you live in the desert or in Texas, you should choose this wood.

Finally, we have the “Waru” or Gray Hibiscus. (Hibiscus Tiliaceus) The wood is white mixed with light grey. 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 paltry 32 feet in height. 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. That 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.

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