Everyone knows Hawaii’s beaches, but people forget about its
soaring mountains and lush valleys. The cool woods there create
shade for gorgeous hikes and a hideaway for birds and animals, but
they also yield unique native woods, like koa and ohia, which are
crafted by local artists into many beautiful objects.
Honolulu woodworker Marian Yasuda might have been a graphic
artist if she hadn’t fallen in love with grain and finish as an art
student on the Mainland more than 20 years ago. Her favorite
Hawaiian hardwood is silky oak, a pest tree in the forest that
Yasuda prizes for its pink-tinted honey color and a fish-scale
texture that makes it shimmer.
But silky oak is a relative of poison oak, which means a lot of
people can’t work with it, so it’s hard to find. But koa, a hard
native wood prized by ancient Hawaiians for everything from eating
utensils to canoes, makes up 80 percent of her business and is well
known for its own charms.
“Koa is absolutely beautiful,” Yasuda said. “There’s a lot of
variation and there’s nothing like it anywhere else in the world. I
love koa: I love looking at it and buying it.”
Koa can run from very blond light yellow to dark (almost black)
and red, with a huge range of color and patterns from straight
lines to leaping flames.
Another favorite of woodworkers is ohia, a chocolaty dark brown
wood that is generally less expensive than koa.
Today Yasuda makes unique pieces of livable art for the home,
like dining tables, vanities and bedroom sets that are
Hawaiian-style with an art deco flair. But even if your client’s
carry-on luggage won’t fit that sideboard or entertainment center
they want, portable items like jewelry boxes, small sculptures,
picture frames, traditional Hawaiian bowls (called calabashes),
pens, hairpins and even earrings make excellent gifts and
In any piece of woodwork, no matter how small, Yasuda recommends
examining the finish. Look for defects, like drips in the varnish
or scratch marks where the piece wasn’t sanded enough. For bowls,
no matter what the shape, the thickness should be consistent.
Really fine pieces will be very thin and uniform, sometimes even
translucent. Anything constructed jewelry boxes, lamps should have
tight joints without any gaps.
Perhaps the best place to see a wide range of wood items large
and small from about 50 artists from around the state is Hawaii’s
Woodshow, held this year from Sept. 10-14 at Honolulu’s Aloha Tower
Market Place (for information, call 808-221-5171). But if your
clients miss that event, lots of outlets on every island show a
wide selection of Hawaiian wood items.
Martin & MacArthur
At Ala Moana Center, Aloha Tower Marketplace and the Hyatt Regency
Waikiki (outlets also on Maui at Whaler’s Village in Kaanapali and
The Shops at Wailea)
The Arthur Dennis Williams Gallery
(upstairs from the Maui Crafts Guild)
43 Hana Highway, Paia
Kawaihae Shopping Center, next to Cafe Pesto
The William & Zimmer Gallery
Store opening by October in the Tip Top Building on Akahi St. in