Monoxylon. The word sounds as if could be a musical instrument or one of those mystery ingredients you read on the side of your ice cream carton, like polysorbate 80.
In actuality it’s a term referring to the ancient way of boat building. Webster’s Dictionary defines it as,
Mo·nox’y·lonnoun [ New Latin , from Greek …, from … made from one piece of wood; mo`nos alone + … wood.] A canoe or boat made from one piece of timber.
It’s a method used over 10,000 years ago.
Long before the days of our modern chainsaw, routers or grinders, ancient Indians had to use other ways to remove wood. One method was the practice of monoxylon.
The method is simple, in theory. Use fire to burn out the part you want removed. Ancient Indians would use bone and clam shells to remove the charred remains. And although the fire did the majority of the work, it was also the difficult part. Controlling the fire where they wanted it, and more importantly where they didn’t want it was challenging. One method of control was to use mud to insulate the areas in which they wanted to keep the fire from burning.
Everywhere online, Monoxylon seems to be define as canoe or boat making. But I suppose it could be used in other ways too. I saw one guy from Germany, used the term Ausgebrannt, which means to burn out. Whether the expression is still considered monoxylon or ausgebrannt, I decided to take a chance and do one for myself.
I am attempting to make a stool using the method of monoxylon.
I first needed to make a cross trench on the bottom of my log to give a reference for what will be the placements for the legs. I used my 1” gouge for this. I’m using poplar and it’s still pretty green. So it takes no effort to chisel away at it. I guess one could use a chainsaw, but i don’t own one, and i kind of like the method of chiseling. I feel more in touch with the ancient ways.
I chisel down about ⅓ and then use some scrap wood to help burn the wood in the inside. The fire is doing two things. One, it is helping shape the look of the legs. Two it is drying the wood as it goes. My goal is to make sure the top, or seat portion of the stool is not cracked or checked. I continue to chisel and burn two or three more times. As i get deeper into the log, the fire becomes harder to control. I don’t want the tips of the legs to become too thin. I pour some water from a bottle on the tips of the legs. Thereby cooling them and keeping the fire abay.
This was a fun project and i’m going to try to make a few more. I love how simple it is to do. And i love the way the fire helps create it’s own unique shape to the inside of the piece. The ancient Buddhists believed in Wu Xing, the five elements. Wood, Fire, Metal, Water, and Earth. It was/is considered to be use in everything from medicine to cosmic phomemons. I can’t say if I believe the same way about Wu Xing, but definitely all five elements were used to create my piece. Oh and with a with a dash…. of monoxylon. 🙂
Keep on Dancin’ !!