Project #1: Wooden Vase

Design Products MA: Platform 15 Project #1: Make a vase (a container that can be used to hold cut flowers)

My first project within our platform was a quick 2 week introduction to myself and my approach to briefs.  We had a very interesting crit yesterday, it always amazes me the contrast and extreme differences of peoples response to projects at the Royal College of Art.  Really fascinating!

Make a vase, a container of cut flowers.  I considered on answering this brief with questions of why and how we, as a curious race, chose to capture moments of natural beauty out of context to its real existence.  There is the view that it can be seen as the start of desire and not need, which brings us to consumerism and social impact our desires have on the world in all its facets.  The can-of-worms wiggles out in all directions and bigger picture get even bigger..

The thing is, this opinion / observation is integral to who I am, and what I believe.  The path I have made for myself is an expression of debate, mainly because I'm rubbish at verbal debate, I can only demonstrate.  My reasoning for pursuing wood and hand craft is in response to these heavy issues.  My ethos and morals are born from these realities.  To some I might appear to be restricting myself to success and money, but that is not what I desire.  I work to explore responsibility.  Desire is a natural human trait, it is here to stay.  However, it has grown to a point of distraction and destruction.  Can we provide for our desire with a sense of responsibility?

So, it was a bit of a cop-out to chose to create my vase with wood, however, I knew my reasoning and debate was there in so much more depth than I think I could have presented in 5 minutes.

Essentially, a vase is a vessel to contain water.  Besides tools and clothing, utilitarian forms to contain and transport was a change of man dictating his environment for his own convenience.  The bucket or barrel, to me, is an incredibly important object.   The idea to use the swelling properties of wood to create a watertight vessel represents the most intuitive use of material and it's properties.  Wood is a living material.  It comes from one of the most important living organisms on this planet.  Nowadays the movement of a piece of wood is seen as a hindrance, an inconvenience.  It's is engineered to stay flat and straight and square.  Tamed for our desire.  The wooden bucket is the product of skilled workmanship that only comes from an inherent understanding and respect for the material.  It is very sad that this skill is becoming extinct.  These days barrel making techniques are replicated by fast moving machines.  When the last Cooper Master has gone, will the true understanding of cooperage and its unique understanding of wood be lost with him?

I wanted to explore the coopered vessel.  Not reinvent it, just play with it.  Stereotypically the bucket is defined by the structural steel rings that hold the swelling slats of wood in.  Without them the bucket wouldn't work.  However, I am making a vase, an object of desire and not utilitarian need.   I wanted to create the vase without the 'bucket rings'.  Ironically, my solution meant I had to CNC a precise bottom section that would replace the bottom ring.  All the past coopers simultaneous turned in their graves!

I have been reluctant to embrace the CNC machine, but now that I finally have I will have to admit I'm ever-so-slightly converted.

For the tapered shape of the vase and for the success of a watertight product I needed to create precise side slats.  There is very little room for mistakes.  The angles are so important, half a degree out will not do!  I made a jig with my hand plane and spindle moulded each slat as close to the finished width as possible.Replacing the top ring is where I got experimental.  Flower arranging is great, but sometimes the flowers don't really stand up as well as you'd like.  I figured a tension wire system on the inside could replace the top ring and provide a grid for the flower display.  This is when doubt was expressed by a few members of the workshop.  Wagers have been made, the stakes are high!

Bango machines and violin pegs were used for the pivot points.  Two patterns of wiring was tried.  The one with 2 machines worked best.

Here we go...

OK, it leaked!  But I had suspicions this vase would, the bottom joints between slats weren't tight enough.  I figured they would swell enough to compensate.  However, the top part around the tension wire was fine, completely leak free.  Does that mean I won the wager?!  The test continues...