Saturday, February 15, 2014

Meet Alan and Elizabeth Hill, Makers of Wooden Rings

When Alan Hill married Elizabeth Hill, a metal allergy prevented her from wearing her beloved wedding ring for over a year. Inspired by Eizabeth's childhood home--a farm by the name of Lots-of-Oaks--Alan was inspired to create a ring out of wood for his wife. As time went on, Alan perfected his craft, and they soon found themselves being approached by people for rings of their own, and Northwood Rings was born.

Our interview below is with Elizabeth.

1. I was impressed at the variety of different looks of the rings on your site. What are some of the materials you use to create different designs for your rings?

The materials we use are constantly growing. We source most of the woods and stones from other artists that have small amounts left over, too little for any work they're doing. We're always taking in new materials to experiment with. Our common woods include Ebony, English oak, Walnut, Mahogany, Santos, and Indian rosewoods, just to name a few. We'll also be adding some really gorgeous patterned woods in early 2014. Some of my new favorites are Tulipwood, a rich red and pink striped wood, and a Mediterranean Olivewood.

Customers are also a big contributor to our materials list. They send sand, a shell they picked up on a beach, or even wood from their own property. The Birds Eye Birch that we display on our site was sent in from a customer in Quebec. It was such a beautiful piece of wood that we automatically added it to our site. Other materials we commonly use are crushed turquoise, crushed malachite (which has a beautiful rich green tone), and sands that we've picked up or collected along our own travels. We received a large paua shell from a New Zealand friend of ours, which creates striking inlays. We also offer gold and silver inlays to add an extra touch of beauty to our rings. We love the contrast between the smooth look of the metal and the grainy woods.

2. How do you work with customers at a distance to help them design their own unique rings?

Most of it comes from learning to listen. When designing wedding or engagement rings we'll start by getting to know the story. We'll ask where they met, their backgrounds, where they're heading, the best experiences they've had together, or what their relationship means to one another. We listen to what is important to them. For some, it's the experiences they've shared, and we'll base their rings off of those experiences. We've made rings from popular guitar woods and inlays for a couple that fell in love over music at acoustical concerts. For others, the symbolism found in the meanings of the wood and materials used are the most important part. We try to draw out their story and create from there. It's different from person to person, but I'll always tell my customers that they can't get it wrong. As long as the love and story is in the ring, it will never turn out badly.

3. How is the fit and feel of a wooden ring similar to--and different from--a metal ring, and what can customers do if their ring size changes and their wooden ring no longer fits?

The first reaction we always get when someone tries on one of our rings is that they can't believe how light they are. There's no weight like with a metal ring. The second thing they mention is the thinness and delicate appearance of the ring. Most people expect a wooden ring to be a bit chunky but the profile is similar to that of a metal ring and remains comfortable to wear, while the bentwood process ensures that it is durable and strong. The wooden rings also stay warm against your skin, even out in the cold, which is something I've always loved about them. The acrylic finish we apply makes them smooth to touch, which isn't very different from metal, but the grain and texture of the wood underneath creates a beautiful ring to look at.

Wooden rings do require a small amount of care. While our rings can be worn in water, keeping them away from harsh chemicals that can eat away at the coating, like chlorine or nail polish remover, and having to send them in for the occasional refinish adds a little bit more to the experience. A lot of our customers like the care they need to give to their rings. I've even had a customer mention that the care he needs to show his ring reminds him of the care he needs to put into his relationship with his bride to keep their marriage looking beautiful and like new. I loved that, and it added to the experience I have with my own ring, and with my husband.

As for size, we promise our customers rings that fit, and that includes over the lifetime of their wooden rings. Even though wooden rings can't be re-sized, it was important to me to create a wooden ring that could be worn for as long as a traditional metal ring could be. After all, most of these rings are going out as wedding rings and no one wants to choose a ring that won't last. We have a Care-For-Life Guarantee that ensures that if our customers are taking good care of their rings, we'll take care of them, too. The acrylic coating I mentioned keeps the wood sealed in and protected from water damage, chips, and other harm. When it wears down, we offer free refinishing so that the ring can be kept looking fantastic. As long as a customer is following our advice and sending their ring in for refinishing as that coating wears down, the ring will always look great. When they need a new size, we'll take back the old ring and replace it with one that fits at no charge.

To make sure we're not wasting a perfectly good ring, the old ring is then sanded down to the wood and given a fresh coat of finish. These rings are sold separately from our site to people who know they've had a past life and want to take them anyway.

4. Could you tell us a little bit about the bentwood process you use to make your rings?

The bentwood process is where our rings get their strength. When we make our rings, we use a long thin strip of wood going along with the grain. If you take a moment to picture a tree swaying in the breeze, bending with the wind, you'll get an idea of the bending that is possible. The grains that run up the tree allow for flexibility, and it's by manipulating this that we can create strong, lasting rings.

We take these long strips and steam them in a steam box. The heat and moisture adds more elasticity to the wood. Each variety takes a certain amount of time, and some woods have more flex than others. Once properly steamed, the strip is taken from the box and wrapped around a form. This part needs to be done quickly and carefully to make sure no cracking happens. The wood cools very quickly and will hold its new spiralled form.

When it's completely dry, we then take our spiral of wood and use an adhesive to glue the spiral into the right circumference for the ring we're creating. Each ring is made to order when our customer requests it, and nothing is done ahead of time. There is usually twelve inches or more in each ring and around five to seven layers of wood. The wood overlapping itself creates strength, sort of the way that staggered building blocks create strength, and the end result is a very durable, solid looking ring. From here the ring is shaped, sanded, and finished over a three day period of time and carefully inspected before being sent out.

5. For people who were unfamiliar with wooden rings before reading this interview, what do you most want to share with them about your rings?

I think most people hear of wooden rings and think that they will break easily or succumb to water damage within a few months. That's largely because wooden rings are nothing new and most have only experienced the cut-out variety that can be bought at the checkout counter for a few dollars. The difference between a bentwood wooden ring and one of these is not even comparable; they are very different rings. If anyone is interested in a wooden ring, they should talk to someone who has worn one, or give it a try for themselves. Even though they do require a slight amount of care, wooden rings can offer a beauty and uniqueness that can't be found in a traditional jewelry store. The whole idea of taking something that was once alive and had a story of its own and making it a part of your own story is the best part of wearing a wooden ring, in my opinion.

Thanks, Elizabeth!

No comments:

Post a Comment