I started working for the sandalwood factory in 2008. They had just started to buy in native Australian sandalwood – Santalum spicatum to chip on site. I was taken by the weird and wonderful shapes of the sandalwood. I took a small, twisted piece, sanded, and polished it, to put in the shop as a display. So many customers wanted to buy it, it wasn't long before I was asked to make some for sale, it just took off from there.
I like the variety in the sandalwood, no two pieces are alike. With each delivery of sandalwood, there would always be shapes and grain like I've never seen before.
A lot of the features and colour variations in Australian sandalwood, you don't see in a lot of other timbers. It's a slow growing species with tight growth rings that look amazing when cut on an angle. Although it's a hard wood, I find it easier to work and more rewarding than other hard woods like jarrah or other sandalwood species.
Most of the pieces I select have natural features that I try to exploit, some have holes in the sapwood like little windows into the heart wood. Some, the heart wood has grown out through the sap wood, creating a huge contrast in colour with the sapwood being light in colour and the heartwood can be medium to dark in colour. Some have bizarre shadows in the grain. I imagine the best way to make that feature stand out, and then shape it accordingly. Some pieces I carve into other shapes, depending on what I can imagine the piece of sandalwood to eventually be. I find sea creatures are good to carve, probably as I sketched a lot of them as a kid.
Carving can be quite time consuming, some pieces may take ten to fifteen hours to complete, while using the natural feature as the art, is often a matter of cut and sand. If the wood is clean, some of these can be finish inside 30 minutes.
I use a range of tools, a drop saw for cutting the desired pieces, an Arbortech grinder to carve shapes, and a Dremil grinder for final work. Sanding is the biggest part; I use a variety of grits on belt sanders from course to fine and orbital Sanders. Chisels and knives are also used.
The final work is done by hand, with 400 grit sandpaper to get a smooth finish, and to remove any last tool marks and scratches. Finally, I apply a light fraction oil. (An unused cut from the distilling process). This makes the grain pop and gives the piece a strong sandalwood smell that can last for months.
Although I don't see many customers in the shop, the staff are always giving me positive feedback from customers. Many staff have purchased carvings as well, which is also a great compliment. I love working with the Australian sandalwood, and feel privileged to do so, and happy the company can see value in it beyond the oil and have a allowed me to continue with supplying uniquely crafted sandalwood art.