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  • Writer's pictureMichael Skalka

I Did Not Chop Down the Cherry Tree

Updated: Jul 15, 2021

The Global Marketplace:

My old, worn out pun is that, “colors available in the pigment world are largely ‘driven’ by the automobile industry.” I now have another bad pun to add to my collection. The global wood market is “stretching” the price of canvas supports. If you have been following the housing and home improvement market, you know that the scarcity and price of wood building products is have a huge impact on the construction of new homes and home renovation costs. While some of the problem has been pandemic influenced, a substantial cause has been the closing down over the last decade or more of wood mills that provided cut lumber for the building industry.

The lack of raw material fabricators has made wood products scarce and expensive. The impact is now being felt in the art materials market. The price of wood stretcher bars is increasing to address the cost of wood. While the increases were absorbed for a period of time, manufacturers can no longer suffer the loss. The increase will be about 18% for a temporary period, (we hope) until production and inventory increase again. A lot of competition exists for wood, especially now, when delayed home renovation projects due to COVID restrictions and high demand for new homes caused by the lack of substantial inventory of homes for sale.

Despite the plea by those in the art materials/scientific community who implore artists to use solid supports (also largely made of wood) some very large paintings are still best executed on stretched canvas. No artists want to wrangle, let alone deal with the weight of a large sheet of wood or even an aluminum and polyethylene sandwiched panel in paintings that measure in feet rather then inches.

Further, canvas on stretchers or their counterpart, fixed strainers (no keys or ability to make a canvas tighter) can be dampened to achieve better response to shock and vibration. Application of a rigid, light weight support attached to the stretcher or strainer aids in the protection from long-term damage due to vibration along with keeping the back of a stretched canvas clean.

I have been doing a bit of recycling over the last month. Our home had a pair of out of place solid cherry built-in LP record cabinets that flanked our fireplace. It has taken me a few years and the assembly of the right woodworking tools to tackle this project, but I have completed cutting the wood elements into 2.5 inch planks that I am using to make 36 x 24 inch frames for paintings I have been meaning to frame for many years.

I know what you are thinking. Shouldn’t you be painting rather than messing with table saws and sanders? I agree. But I just could not pass up reusing that beautiful cherry wood to make some frames. I also tried to make some strainers but realized that top quality wood that costs more than ready-made stretchers is required to construct straight end products. Most of us can tolerate a bit of warping but wood that is far too twisted retains a mind of its own and does not yield to the “will” of the wood worker.

It has been satisfying to set up and tune my table saw and feel the ease of cutting through hardwood with a sharp, new saw blade. However, every cut is carefully planned with safety in mind. Cuts are rehearsed prior to turning on the saw and many safeguards are used to mitigate the dangerous and dreaded kickback of wood from the spinning saw blade.

My meager skills in woodworking are no match for machine made stretcher bars or complex frame profiles. I will continue to purchase ready-made frames and stretcher when a large size painting is being planned.

So, everyone, hang in there. The wood industry is set to ease pricing by sometime in 2022. Shortages and supply chain problems abound. Personally, I blame it all on the ship that got stuck in the Suez Canal. I have been waiting for over 6 months for furniture that was ordered. I think they are still growing the trees that are required to make these items. Patience is required.

Syntax of Color

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