The construction of the Panama canal in 1914 created a vital waterway for passing ships on key trading routes linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In preparation, the Panama Valleys were flooded in 1907, which created great lakes, in which thousands of trees were submerged.
Two lakes are key parts of the canal; the Gatun and Miraflores. In them are vast underground forests. The actual wood didn’t decompose, which it would have if it was salt water.
The wood survived, because the water is fresh, and the trees, perfectly preserved over the years, are harvested by local divers with hydraulic chainsaws, with permission from local Kuna tribes, and sold as part of a sort of a subsistence economy.
For Reduxwood, a furniture company that manufactures in Vietnam and retails hand-carved, live-edge tables in North Vancouver, it all started with one tree. Justin Ephraim, founder and creative director of Reduxwood fell in love with the process of taking giant wood slabs selected both for their strength and aesthetic and dried on the beaches of Panama for up to six months, through the manufacturing and design processes.
Through an artistic undertaking that can take months, Ephraim creates unique, live-edge tables that are sustainable, functional and beautiful pieces of art.
“These exotic hardwoods, which for decades have been lost to the world, submerged and forgotten, have been preserved intact underwater, during which time the grain, texture and hardness of the wood has undergone a gradual transformation that can only come about by a slow and natural interaction with the minerals found in freshwater,” said Ephraim.
“The ends are waxed to slow down the drying process – we want them to dry slowly, it’s better for the wood, the grains, the colours come out better,” Monica Clemiss, partner at Vancouver retailer Reduxwood West explained. The slower it dries, the more stable it becomes. That’s why our wood is more stable than anything you would get kiln-dried, because with kiln-drying, you’re rushing the process.”
The result is wood that has been aged and tempered like the finest wine. So they sit, for months or years, and when they reach the desired level of moisture content for woodworking, the Reduxwood creative team chooses what pieces to place in its pallette.
All the pieces are hand sanded, which can take weeks, and finished with natural oils. Ephraim works with a chemist in Vietnam to create the purest form of oil to use on the wood, which doesn’t have polyurethanes, waxes and plastics and lacquers, so the finish, the durability and the beauty is as enduring as the design, creating pieces that are likely to be passed down from generation to generation.
The species of the finished wood products on display in the new North Vancouver showroom include Amargo, which has healing properties, White Mahogany, Dragonwood, Zapatero and Tigerwood.
“Mother nature is our chief designer. We are not trying to manipulate or change what has been created, we are just trying to enhance the beauty,” said partner Deanna Rutherford.