Wood Filler: Fire Palaces

Sacrificial scrap as an art form

Every woodworker knows how relentlessly “waste” piles up from rippings, end cuts, and bandsaw off-fall. You can use this scrap for stove kindling, sure, but why not have some real fun with it by creating a fire palace?

A fire palace offers a singular presentation in its burning, and invites fervent group involvement. In some Northwest Coast tribes, secret societies used to spend an entire season crafting elaborate wooden masks for just one performance that culminated in the ritual destruction of the masks. (I’m sure attendees focused on the show with unusual intensity. After all, you blink and you’ve missed it for good. No reprise. No reruns. No YouTube archive.)

To make a fire palace, lop skinny rippings to length to serve as the basis for a tapered pyramid structure that provides plenty of fire-inducing draft. A dab of glue at each crossing holds it all together. You can then elaborate on the design by adding various shapely pieces. (A gang of kids with a bottle of glue and a box of parts will turn a rather staid structure into a work of flammable art right quick!)

Discover an excuse to celebrate. Fill the interior of your palace with shavings and splinters for quick ignition, and set up in an area with plenty of room. A circle of celebrants starts close but needs room to back away as the heat intensifies. (A 3'-tall palace can produce 12' flames!) The fire licking into the sky often incites singing, dancing, and sometimes just quiet meditation. 

For me, the offering of a fire palace attests to the sun’s energy flowing throughout the living earth. Sunlight captured by leaves is stored in the wood, and then harvested to make our homes and furniture. A blazing fire palace returns the light into the sky to complete the cycle. Nice.

For more of Ric’s musings, visit ArtFarmAntics.com.

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