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Meet The Designer

Maleny woodcrafter works with trees’ souls

spring 10

MASTER FURNITURE DESIGNER and maker David Linton’s bliss is to to be surrounded by trees, out in the open in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.

So he describes his Tuesdays as “joyous”. It’s the day of the week he dedicates to milling timber on his property, a graceful old dairy farm six kilometres outside of Maleny. 

“We’re under some trees and it’s just the logs, the simple bandsaw and some cows,” David explains of the peaceful country setting that doubles as his open-air office. Working alongside him is retired dairy farmer Cedric Denning, 76, who has discovered in the mill a new skill and passion. 

“We start at 8.30am and mill all day,” David says with a smile at the thought. “We stop for smoko and to have a chat. Last night we finished in the dark.” 

As one of Australia’s most experienced woodcrafters, having worked with timber for more than 30 years, David is living his own version of nirvana on the Maleny property he shares with his artist wife, Lyn, and two daughters. 

At any one time he is surrounded by hundreds of fallen trees and timber of all sizes, ages and species – bunya, jacaranda, huon pine, Queensland maple, silky oak, jarrah burl, brushbox, Spanish cedar, silver quandong. The logs lie haphazardly as if pieces in an oversized game of pick-up sticks.

Each piece of timber remains on the property while it is air-dried and milled outdoors, then kiln-dried, designed and handcrafted by David and his team of three passionate woodworkers in the workshop. 

Depending on the type of timber and its potential, it could take weeks, months or even years before it is ready to be displayed as a finished furniture piece in David’s Maleny gallery, a renovated blacksmith’s studio in Maple Street. 

David says his work is inspired by the late master crafter George Nakashima, who wrote a book titled The Soul of a Tree. As such, each of David’s unique pieces lets the natural beauty of the wood speak, perhaps as a dining suite or barrel chair; or in his ‘Eat’ kitchen range as a bench top, chopping block or wooden bowl.
“Here, I have the privilege of milling the trees myself,” David explains of his ‘woe to go’ approach that allows him creative control to preserve the innate beauty of the timber. “And each tree is special. You can take the ugliest looking tree and open it up and it has the most beautiful looking thing inside. So every tree has its own soul and its own personality.”

Clients travel from all over Australia to view, touch and hopefully own a David Linton piece. David also creates commissioned furniture and sells timber to other furniture makers, both the professionals and the hobbyists. 

David drives his business along sustainable lines, which is ironic really as Maleny’s early settler history was anything but. The first red cedars were felled in 1871 as timber cutting and dairy farming evolved as the area’s defining industries. 

In contrast, David’s mission is to source trees from sustainable plantations and to rescue timber from waste, whether unwanted trees from excavated building sites or fallen trees from storm sites. 

When Cyclone Larry battered the Atherton Tableland in 2006, ripping bunya trees from the ground with roots intact, David went to the rescue. He was also the first point of call when excavation of Maleny’s Coral Street site began in preparation for the new medical centre.

“We managed to get seven truck loads of trees off that block – camphors, silky oaks, avocados and jacarandas – which would have normally been mulched,” David notes proudly. “So we’ve been milling that. When it comes through it will be the silky oak table from Coral Street Medical Centre.” 

Even though he’s the boss, David chooses to work the gallery’s Saturday shift – the busiest day of the week.

“Saturdays are an absolute ball for me because I get to see that connection people have with a piece and I get to hear when they come back and say, ‘Wow’,” David says. “It’s a lovely thing. I think maybe the love of the timber radiates from me and they pick up on that.” 

Like any boutique artisan, David confesses the emotional reward of following your creative passion is sometimes tainted by the financial challenges. But it’s the little encounters that make it all worthwhile. 

“I had a dear lady come in here on a Saturday; she’s a local. She walked around the gallery and stopped in front of me and said, ‘I’ve just come in to top up my soul’. It makes her happy to see these pieces so if I can provide that joy, then that’s just great.”

words frances frangenheim photos kate johns

To view this article in our online magazine please click here: Maleny woodcrafter works with trees’ souls