Kim Gent from Chunky Timber Co. invites us to his workshop to find out a bit more about his amazing one-off timber work.
Photography & article by Georgia Foulkes-Taylor
Kim Gent (everyone just calls him ‘Chunky’) is a bit of an unlikely local artisan. A truck driver turned timber artist, Chunky has spent the last 15 years in Kalgoorlie-Boulder crafting gorgeous one-off work from local timber.
Chunky’s commitment to his work is inspiring, with self-imposed high standards he diligently follows. “I don’t need to worry about what anybody else does,” he says.
“I just go out there and do what I think is right and I know the work’s done in it. I know how the timber is harvested, I know where it comes from. I know the finish on it, I know everything about it. I’ve handled every part of the manufacturing of that board, from basically the timber being cut down to selling it.”
Chunky rises at 5am most mornings to start the day in his Boulder workshop. He might cut a huge log into panels for a gorgeous dining room table, or slice up a smaller tree into chopping board-sized pieces. He’ll work until it’s time to open the Chunky Timber Co. shopfront on Hannan Street, where he sits down and does paperwork between drop-in customers. The pieces he sells are full of history and many take several years to complete. I asked him about the process one of his beautiful chopping boards has gone through to be ready for sale in the shop.
“[It would have] come in as a log, it’s gone through my saw mill, then stacked away for two years drying,” he says.
Chunky cuts each board about 50mm thicker than he’d like the finished product to be, as the piece shrinks and warps as it dries. Once it’s bone dry, he’ll sand it back flat, use resin to fill any gaps, and seal the piece.
“That’s a piece of me being sold,” he says. “I know how much work has gone into that. I will not compromise. I make things to a standard, not to a price.”
A strong sense environmental responsibility drives the business, with almost no waste recorded from the workshop. “I try to keep everything as local and as recycled and as earthy as I can,” he says.
“The only trees I use are ones that had to be cut down… I can tell you were they’ve all come from. I use every piece of it. Down to all the offcuts I use for my beads. The sawdust I give to people and they use it in horse stables and chook yards and all that sort of thing.”
“I would be lucky to take one bin of rubbish to the dump a year. I pride myself on that.”
This kind of ethos is something that surprised me about Chunky, and really made me appreciate how special his work is. He’s a bit of a gentle soul in person, kind to his doting workshop dogs, and very open to speak with. Then there’s the imposing, heavy, strikingly beautiful work he creates – it’s as local as you can get and there’s something a bit magic about how he sees woodwork.
“Someone that makes things just buys the raw product in, and they’re looking for the best quality timber, the straightest piece…the piece with the least imperfections,” he says. “I’m the other way.”
“I want that twisted mongrel piece that’s got cracks and faults in it. Because you can’t hide a fault, you make a highlight of it. That’s the way I look at it.”
Chunky showed me a stack of boards he cut 12 years ago, lined up neatly in rows. They are the most incredible shades of faint pink and orange, and the gnarled edges almost glow with lustre. He’s had them for so long because they’re too beautiful to use for just any project. He said he’ll know when the right project comes along for those ones.
He seems to find great satisfaction in his work, despite the difficulties of working as a regional artist and business owner.
“Every day, every piece of wood is a struggle and it’s good to have a fight with it,” he says. “At the end of the day it’s good to have a beer and look at what you’ve done. You appreciate it.”