There is something undeniably romantic about driftwood. Sculpted and worn by wind and wave into marvellous shapes and soft shades of grey and brown, each piece is as unique as a thumbprint. The beauty of building objects from driftwood is that there is no one way to create. Instead, you simply take your cue from the forms of the individual pieces of wood you gather – no plans required. The one basic tool you will need, however, is your own creative flair. Gibsons artisan Will Cummer has been building with driftwood for eight years. He enjoys making “useful, beautiful things,” and his work with driftwood fits this description to a T. Driftwood is also naturally preserved from the effects of the sea water. Cummer has produced a variety of wood pieces, such as benches, signs and arbours. Here, he takes us through some simple steps that you can follow to build a driftwood arbour. Once you acquaint yourself with the construction basics you can assemble one in an afternoon. Just remember that the look of your finished arbour will depend entirely on the pieces of wood that you have chosen. For those who don’t have easy access to the sea, you can use branches from almost any tree instead of driftwood. Carefully remove the bark with a drawknife, and apply a natural preservative after completion of the arbour.
1. Gather a selection of driftwood, including straight and thicker pieces that will work as upright supports and crosspieces, as well as pieces that will add a decorative quality to the arbour. Decide on the height of your finished arbour and cut your wood pieces a little longer than needed. The wood will be easier to handle if it’s a bit longer, and you can trim it down later.
2. To form the back frame of the arbour, join two upright pieces using crosspieces at the top and bottom. Connect this back frame to the front two upright supports using short crosspieces at the top and bottom. Fasten a crosspiece to the top front, but leave the bottom open. You can use nails or screws, however screws are a bit sturdier and easier to work with. Pre-drill holes to prevent dry driftwood from cracking while placing the screws. Use a drill bit the same size as the screws you are using.
3. Continue to add smaller crosspieces throughout the body of the main framework. This is where you can add your creative touch. As you build the structure the trick is to find the flow in the direction of the form so you end up with a pleasing, satisfying result. The shapes of the driftwood pieces will tell you how best to place them.
4. To increase the stability of the arbour, add driftwood pieces that form a triangle shape. Triangles add stability and complete the overall structural form. Look for wood shapes coming together to make a triangle, which will allow you to find interesting ways to add branching forms. Focus on building triangles onto your upright pieces first. Try stainless-steel screws of 3”, 1-1/2” and 3/4” lengths to accommodate different wood sizes.
5. The piece shown here has a natural branching that fits perfectly with the formation of a triangle. Your woodpile will be full of a vast variety of shapes. Compare sizes, lengths and interesting forms to select the pieces that meet your criteria. There are no rules for assembly as long as you build a basic sturdy arbour by constructing a series of triangles into your upright supports and crosspieces. Now that the arbour is finished you can see how the curves of the wood have helped to determine its overall form. The decorative pieces can be added as attachments afterward because they do not need to be intrinsic to the basic form. Here, however, Will has selected upright pieces and top crosspieces that have interesting forms, allowing him to build decorative elements right into the basic structure. Will Cummer’s woodwork can be viewed at the Wood Co-Op on Granville Island in Vancouver. Barbra Fairclough is a certified horticulturist and regular contributor to GardenWise.