Mapwood - A Conversation With Maker Luke Diaz

21 . 08 . 20

A week or so after ​re-opening the workshop post-lockdown, a delivery driver dropped off a large, heavy parcel.  We had no idea what it was, but opened it to find a beautiful outline map of Cornwall made from western red cedar, about the size of a coffee table, made by former workshopper Luke Diaz and sent to us as a gift.  Luke was already an accomplished craftsman when he made a surfboard with us back in 2014, and since then has started his own business called Stitchwood making bespoke wooden furniture and these beautiful maps, which he now sells under the brand Mapwood.  As a surfer, Luke's been naturally drawn to creating maps of counties with wave-rich coastlines, and when he got hold of some western red cedar (the same timber that his Otter Surfboard is made from) from the New Forest he decided he'd make a map of Cornwall, laser etch the co-ordinates of our workshop at Porthtowan onto it, and send it to us.  It now hangs on the outside wall of the mezzanine office alongside one of our surfboards, overlooking the workshop doors so that it's visible as you walk in, and we absolutely love it.

We got in touch with Luke to thank him, and took the opportunity to catch up with him and find out more about his journey with wood and the development of his wooden map business. 

So Luke, why maps?

That’s a great question!

I find it is mixture of things really. I have always had a fascination with maps and locations. I can easily spend a lot of time browsing through an atlas, or scrolling through google maps observing where places are in relation from one another, so there’s definitely a natural want to understand layout and locations, it’s something I tend to gravitate towards.

But, the initial idea of wooden maps came about when my fiancée and I visited New Zealand back in 2017. We travelled to Kaikoura, and one of the campsites we stayed at happened to have this fantastic map of New Zealand that covered the entire back wall above the reception desk. It really struck me how effective it looked and the way it represented their passion and love for their home.

I have spent most of my life in Dorset. It is where I was brought up, and it’s where I still live today, and I love it! (plus on a good day the surf’s not too bad either.)

Coming back home from my trip, I was inspired to recreate this narrative of geography and love for home, into something that would touch the hearts of fellow locals. The significance of where I live sparked my creativity and inspired me to utilize my craft into making maps of Dorset that would be appreciated and celebrated in the same way as that map of New Zealand in Kaikoura. Since first exploring this concept I have done several shows and had a lot of positive feedback. However, I was quite surprised that a proportion of people did not know the geography or the shape of Dorset - I even had some people asking if it was Australia?? But this was good, as there was this element of discovery that had quite a profound influence on people as I told them that it was actually the shape of Dorset and watched their expressions transition from intrigue, to surprise, to recognition, which always makes me smile. What also excites me about these maps is that it doesn’t stop at Dorset. There are so many counties that can be done and it can reach the hearts of many. So in the future I plan to recreate many different regions and encourage people to love where they live.

When you joined us in 2014 to make a 7’4” Island Hopper wooden surfboard, you were already working with wood in your day job. Can you take us through your development as a craftsman, and how you’ve ended up making wooden maps?

I found my love for woodwork back at secondary school, with my GCSE project, and at home making plywood skimboards for myself and friends (I still have the first one that I made) and so it became apparent woodwork was the career choice for me. I enrolled at my local college to study for a City and Guilds in Furniture Making.

To further develop my drawing skills, I attended the Arts University at Bournemouth and completed a one year foundation course in Art and Design. Out of all my years as a student this was my favorite year, it really pushed my abilities and opened my creativity in ways that I couldn’t imagine.

This prepared me for a degree in Fine Furniture Making at Bucks New University, and in 2011 I graduated and completed my third year with several projects, one of which was a chair for Animal that encompassed their ethos for free sports. It was great project, as it really tested my ability as a craftsman. I had never tried to steambend timber before and with this project I went right in the deep end. This was an important experience for me as I was able to learn and understand how to apply my craft into a business and taught me how to engage with clients. The company took a real interest with the project and posted it through their social media.

After graduating, I wanted to get some hands on experience and I got in touch with artist/woodworker Charlie Whinney who demonstrated his steambending techniques in our workshop at Bucks. Fascinated by this process, I did a month-long internship with him and was able to explore and experiment with the many different ways of manipulating wood.

Before becoming self employed I knew a lot of craftsmen and women benefited a lot through their products online and there’s something quite appealing about reaching out to many people through my own online shop and so I had this aspiration to create and produce my own work that customers and browse and order through.

The Maps were the first product I developed in my own small workshop; I began making them by hand using a plywood template which was cut from a paper printout. This template would be fixed to the desired hardwood, then with a profile cutter on a router, I’d run the bearing on the finished shape, then run a radius cutter along the finished edge to create a round bead which softens the look. This way was quite a long-winded process but worked at the time. Fortunately, I got to know someone who built his own CNC machines and was keen to have one based in Bournemouth. This was an absolute game changer as it allowed me not only to learn the technicalities of a CNC machine but also to batch cut maps in less than half the time.

You’ve made tables and other items of furniture out of some beautiful pieces of hardwood in the past before starting Mapwood. How do you source the wood that you use and how important is the provenance of materials to you?

I currently source timber in a number of different ways. All the tables you’ve seen are made using native timbers. Through social media I have been able to find and get in touch with local timber mills and pickup timber from The New Forest and parts of Dorset. Even today I’m still discovering new timber millers. I think people like to know where pieces are sourced from and to be able to have beautiful timber from your province adds a significant richness to each piece.

When I built my surfboard with you in 2014 I was still working full-time as a joiner, and I remember you talking about how you source your cedar locally and your emphasis on the environment inspired me to try and do the same with my work.

Do you use any of the same tools or processes that you also used to make your wooden surfboard with us?

I think there are many skills within all fields of woodwork that are transferrable. During the workshop with you there were many tools that I could recognize and have used in the past however there was this one tool that I had seen but never used, which was the Japanese Saw Rasp. It’s very simple tool and looking at it, it’s just a series of band saw blades that are bent and bonded together to form a rasp. I remember it being a very affective tool when it came to shaping my board, though I had to be careful not to get carried away and take too much material off. I find a lot of the Japanese woodwork tools are fantastic and I use a couple of Japanese hand saws which cut on the pull stroke in comparison to the conventional European saws that cut on the push.

You live on the south coast, in Dorset. It looks like there’s a great surf scene there, can you tell us a bit about it and the spots where you ride your Island Hopper?

My nearest spot is Bournemouth pier, which I tend to go to as it is conveniently close and on a good day you can get some decent waves. It’s great for all ages and levels. The east side tends to be really popular with the locals so you have to be extra vigilant of others, especially when the conditions are perfect and it gets busy. I prefer the west side purely as it’s not so packed, and I like to have some space. I love taking my wooden surfboard out, just the feel of it and being hollow the acoustics you get from the movement of the water is very calming.

Other spots such as Boscombe pier and Highcliffe, which is located east of Bournemouth, are other spots surfers go to, however they aren’t as popular. Back in 2009 the council wanted to encourage surfing in the area by contracting a New Zealand company to build an artificial reef. Sadly, the reef did not work and I won’t go into detail as to why it failed, and the efforts of the council, however there are plans set to build a surf lagoon similar to Surf Snowdonia and that is set to open in 2022 which is encouraging as I’ve visited Surf Snowdonia and had a great time! Finally another location is Kimmeridge Bay (or K-Bay as it’s often known as), which is a great spot located on the lsle of Purbeck with a stunning coastline and also known for its fossils and big barrels.

Do you think there’s a natural fascination with maps amongst surfers?

Yeah, definitely! I tend to find the counties connected to the sea have this dramatic coastline which can be very distinctive and beautiful. Take the map of Cornwall, for instance, it has outline that every surfer can relate to in many forms. I think there’s a great attachment between maps and surfing, not just because of the knowledge and heritage but also because of the comfort and connection, which is what I try to achieve through these maps. It’s about connecting people to the land and sea, in celebration and memory.

Find out more about Luke's maps at https://www.stitch-wood.co.uk/map-wood/

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