Stop Apologizing for Using Wood

Too often it seems …
Photo of a forest landWhen I’m browsing blogs about various kinds of woodworking, I read the “About” blurbs for the authors and find things like “I’m environmentally responsible,” or “I use only sustainable wood,” or some such nonsense. Things like that trigger my “I’m outta here!” response.

Shannon Rogers reached the point where he decided to write an article with exactly the same title as this post. Besides being the woodworker and online teacher we know him for, his day job is at a very highly respected hardwood lumber company. So, he knows of what he speaks when he talks about the very obvious sustainability of wood. Wood is one of the most renewable resources in the world. As Shannon says, “It’s already green!” “It grows on trees!”

Markets and international trading systems have matured tremendously from what they were 150 years ago when Honduras ruined it’s precious mahogany resource, or only 70 years ago when the Phillipines did exactly the same, destroying not only a source of income, but their watershed and hydro power generation capability by over harvesting.

Shannon points out that we have more forested land on the planet now than we had 50 years ago and that every species is being renewed, some a little faster than others, and that the more we use it, the more demand, and hence the more it will be renewed.

Shannon is also very generous in suggesting that the people like those I mentioned in the first paragraph are simply misinformed and have been fed “stupid falsehoods.”

Go read it. It’s one of the best things you’ll read today! “Stop Apologizing for Using Wood” by Shannon Rogers.

photo credit: Creative Commons: Christopher Schoenbohm, 2011

PS: For all you out there who regret owning Gibson guitars, with supposedly contraband fret boards, let me know. I’ll buy them at prices that will afford your consciences appropriate penance, especially goldtop and deluxe Les Pauls.


11 Responses to “Stop Apologizing for Using Wood”

  1. Brander Roullett Says:

    Then you really won’t want to read my blog. :)

    I’ve made the choice to work wood responsibly, although I’d like to point out that I STILL WORK WOOD. I’ve just made a choice on where it comes from.

    Shannon is totally dead on with this article, no one should be apologizing for working wood. That’s just dumb. However, I also think it’s a good idea to ask where my wood comes from. There is a difference between dogmatic preaching, and asking questions about sources.

    I use only sustainable wood. AND I work with lots of great exotic woods, and wonderful local species as well.

    I know you’re probably reacting to some fanatical loudmouths or something, but I’d be careful about broad statements like every one who uses sustainable woods is a misguided fool. :)

    Badger

  2. jasongc Says:

    Badger,

    What makes the wood you use “sustainable”? What is “non-sustainable” wood?

  3. Bob Says:

    Brander,
    You’re right. I took a 5 second look at the subtitle on your blog long ago and left quickly.

    The whole point is that ALL wood is sustainable. You can’t actually buy wood that is not sustainable. (Or, do you know some guy standing on a street corner selling pre-1840 Honduran Mahogany from the inside of his overcoat?)

    The simple fact is that the only wood you and I can actually afford to buy is sustainable. Some of it is more abundant and costs less. The exotic and less abundant costs more. And the outlandishly rare is too expensive to buy anyway. That’s the way markets work. So, you don’t really have to worry about sustainability. The markets take care of that for us.

    Having said all that, there’s nothing wrong with staying informed, but I don’t see the point of wearing a green badge on my sleeve.

  4. Brander Roullett Says:

    I personally define sustainable sourced as the following: (again this for my own personal way of doing things)

    1. Recycled or re-purposed woods
    2. FSC certified or similar bodies
    3. Urban Harvested woods
    4. Woods like Pines and Bamboo that grow quickly and are not threatened species.

    I’m a little surprised at the heat of this guys, it’s about wood working. If you’re so opposed to the word “sustainable” I can simply go away, drop your RSS feed and quit reading your blog if that would make you happy. I’m not telling you how to work the wood, use whatever what you want and be ok with it.

    I’m making NO judgments at all so, just offering a different point of view.

    Is there a PETA like group out there that is shoving this Green thing down peoples throats? I’m frankly surprised at how vehement the response is to the original post.

    badger

  5. jasongc Says:

    Badger,

    You’re the best, and rarest, kind of greenophile – someone that is “environmentally conscious” (oh, how I hate that phrase….) but doesn’t preach his form of eco-salvation as the one true path to enlightenment. If only the rest of the green apparatchiks were so inclined….

    The problem that I have with the notion of there being “sustainable” woods is that by incorrectly using such a term you necessarily create the impression that there are “non-sustainable” woods currently on the market. You’re creating and perpetuating a falsehood that divides wood into good and bad categories.
    If there were such woods out there, they’d carry an exorbitant price and no one would work with them. Because of basic economic forces, the woods we have available are sustainable.

    There are numerous things driving this mild backlash, but now it’s supper….

  6. Paul B Says:

    There’s a lot of bullshit ‘green” marketing out there but a simple distinction can be made-if the harvesting of the wood irrevocably dregrades or destroys the habitat it’s growing in, then it’s not considered sustainable. The linked article makes a lot of wild claims with nothing much cited to back it up. We can talk about instrument makers and hobbyists using exotic woods but the real gorilla in the room is probably the exotic hardwood flooring industry.

  7. James Montgomery Says:

    Beware of bamboo as a green alternative, it is my understanding that due to its high demand as an ecologically friendly wood paired with the resultant rising cost, old growth forests are being clear cut to make room to grow it. This is especially true in China. In which case any reduction in negative environmental is more than negated.

  8. Bob Says:

    What’s to beware of James?
    Bamboo is incredibly renewable. It’s almost like a weed, growing very rapidly and propagating endlessly. If you live in a climate that will support it, plant some in your yard. Within a few years, you’ll be working not to groom and maintain it, but to stop its spread.

    Rising price comes from rising demand and that’s not necessarily bad, just the way markets work.

    As an aside, I have some bamboo cutting boards in the kitchen and they are remarkably resilient.

  9. Shannon Says:

    Thanks for link Bob. I certainly was not expecting the landslide of interest that the article created. My intention was just to get people asking questions before just blindly believing that exotic woods and non FSC woods are bad for the environment. No I did not back up any of my claims other than linking to more thoroughly researched articles I wrote for McIlvain. This is one of the reasons I wrote it on my personal blog. These are my personal feelings. Yes I have a lot of “stuff” to back up those feelings but in my experience I could cite study after study and those opposed to the idea won’t be swayed. Environmental issues can be easily spun in either direction by an interested party so I chose not to bother. The key is that truly woodworkers are environmentalist and we as a demographic need to embrace that and stop feeling like we need to make “sustainability” statements.

    Brander, good for you on the urban harvest and recycled stuff. I hate to see that good wood getting ground up and burned. If nothing else, it is releasing all that hard sequestered carbon from years ago. But just to think about the possible beautiful, high quality things that could be built with it is what gets me more than anything else. Keep doing what your doing, but if I may, don’t accept the FSC label as gospel. There is a lot of gerrymandering going on with those labels, and very little accountability ensuring that the wood you buy is actually from an FSC forest. For that matter, how can a sustainability body certify a plantation. There is nothing less sustainable than a mono-species eco system. I don’t mean to say that FSC is bad, just that they have done such a good job in marketing that the label has become so valuable that many will go to great lengths to get the label just so they can sell it at the higher dollar amount or to meet a LEEDS requirement. ‘Nuff said on that.

  10. Ryan Says:

    I agree with Paul B, that a ton of rather shady businessmen are taking advantage of the “eco” “green” movement to make a quick buck. I’ve read somewhere that they’re now selling “organic firewood” at double the usual price – and people are buying it!! I’d rather stick to my artificial, robot made firewood ;) The thing with sustainability is, that you have to have a plan on how harvest and replant. If you take a look at the fishing industry, you’ll find that they have to fight illegal over fishing because it destroys the ocean! The same is true when it comes to harvesting wood. The rain forest for instance is a very intricate microcosm of plants and animals. Some of the species living there have adapted to a very small plot of land and won’t survive anywhere else. You can’t just take a chainsaw and cut right in!

  11. Bob Says:

    Ryan,
    Most comments accompanied with an advertising link get quickly deleted here. Yours is an exception, not that I’ve tried any of your products, but for the “organic firewood” remark. Precious!!!

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