Craftsman who is potty about wood
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Craftsman who is potty about wood

Harold Mallia has always loved wood.

Even the smell of it.

But the inspiration to work with trees came when he visited a small Norwegian village in the fjords and came across a professional wood-turner.

At that time he had a large number of fire logs at home and wanted to save some from the flames.

So he started experimenting. He took suitable bits of log and worked on them. Some of them took shape, while others were discarded.

It took him years to get a basic idea of what carving involved, but his enthusiasm for what he was doing led him to a course on woodturning in the UK.

His tutor was impressed with what he had achieved on his own, and encouraged him, pushing him further.

“It does not come easy to produce a decorative wooden object,” says Mr Mallia.

It all starts with selecting the wood. He chooses cuts from trees, pieces of wood from uprooted ones. The next step in the process is roughing out – shaping the log and hollowing it.

The task takes hours and he is left with an approximate thickness of one and a half inches.

Wood-turned commercial items are generally left at this stage.

But in Mr Mallia’s case, this is not a commercial activity, it is a labour of love.

The roughing out process is followed by the sealing of the object with wax or other materials.

A piece of wood, in its near-final shape, is allowed to dry out for two years. But in that time it is not lying on a shelf, unnoticed and uncared for.

Every two months the applied wax is removed, natural oils are applied and the item is covered again in wax.

By the end of the drying process a large portion of all items must be disposed of as many become unusable; only 60 per cent of the items survive for further treatment.

The next step in the process is the thinning – which is when further experience and precise handling of tools comes into play.

“The surgeon is at work, so to say” Mr Mallia jests.

But having survived its aging, waxing, oiling, and thinning, there are various other stages to consider, such as treating, sealing and polishing, using natural oils, shellac and hard waxes.

Time and patience are of the essence as this final part of the process may take up to another four months.

Mr Mallia is showing a selection of wooden artefacts in an exhibition titled 360 at the Carmelite Priory in Mdina, running from Friday to April 28. Opening hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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