When you see and touch the massive furniture of David Kiss, you feel something sensational, something deeply ancient and radiantly modern at the same time. I recently joined the Hungarian product designer and sculptor for a day, to watch his process—which verges on alchemy.
This week, David is presenting his work at the Salone Satellite 2014, a prestigious showcase for young designers in Milan, Italy. But a few days ago, as he made a few new pieces of "castwood" furniture for the show, I got to witness how these wonderful wooden-metal hybrids are born.
The first furniture I saw at David's studio were two simple barstools and a matching table in a pub. At first glance, the two pieces seemed quite sturdy, and, well, rather boorish. But a closer inspection revealed wondrous details.
The wooden parts looked as if they all originated from a dismantled Viking battleship, and the four main joining corners were definitely made of some special kind of metal. At these joints, the metal penetrated the wood, and the cracks were filled with s silvery material. The two substance were locked together so strongly, it was almost as though they had been joined together at the creation of time.
How does David make these fascinating pieces? With a fiery bit of craftsmanship.
David, under the name Thebakker Manufactory (named after a Hungarian-dubbed catchphrase from MTV's Beavis and Butthead!) had experimented with metal and wood in the past, but his love for the craft came when he produced a metal and wood chair as his product and design thesis at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics. That was the piece that inspired his current practice.
The tricky part is that David makes his furniture by pouring molten metal on wooden joints—no screws, no nails, just pure wood and melted metal. He uses ZAMAK for casting, an alloy of zinc, magnesium, aluminum, and copper, developed by the New Jersey Zinc Company in 1929, because it has a lower melting point and a much rougher texture than pure aluminum. That means it doesn't set the wood on fire, and looks gorgeous when it solidifies.
Although he created his first batch of furniture with his own hands, this time David had asked local woodworkers and smelters to contribute to the process. When I visited, he had ended up spending almost 12 hours casting a stool and a bench—but the end result was mesmerizing.
The first experiments with ZAMAK and wood:
Beautiful castwood details:
On the left is a barstool made of recycled wood, on the right, one of the new pieces:
Here's a castwood easy chair in the making:
And here's David preparing the wooden parts for casting:
Here's the raw ZAMAK:
Putting together the casting frame:
And here comes the molten metal:
Here's the half-made stool (note the burnt, blackened tannin from the oak–you can see the flames in the video above):
Details of the rough metal joints (which are to be cut and burnished):
Here are the three stages of creation:
The finished product elevates two common materials to otherworldly status, and it was an absolutely magical process to watch. Check out more on David's website here—you're going to be seeing his name in the near future.
(Photo: Attila Nagy/Gizmodo, additional report by Dávid Klág/Cink)