As a woodworker, you are sure to have come across the term “sustainable wood.” You may or may not be aware of what this term means. If you are not sure, then you need to read this post carefully. Here, we discuss the different aspects of sustainable wood. If you follow these guidelines, you can be a responsible woodworker.
Sustainable lumbering is a practice wherein we harvest trees responsibly. This process involves planting seedlings faster than the trees are cut down. Cutting trees for timber always harms the environment. Sustainable lumbering reverses the adverse effect by producing some of the most sustainable woods.
The FSC and Sustainable Wood
Several organizations across the world dedicate their efforts to creating a system for maintaining and monitoring sustainable wood. The most prominent is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a non-profit organization. It helps to promote managing the world’s forests responsibly. They have evolved a robust certification system, which is internationally recognized. This has become accepted as a way to ensure the use of sustainable woods. As a responsible woodworker, you need only to use wood that has the FSC logo.
Most Sustainable Woods
It is estimated that less than 20% of the wood sold in the United States is sustainable and FSC-certified. With this shocking fact in mind, here is a list of some of the most sustainable woods you can get:
Bamboo doesn’t come FSC-certified (and technically a grass, not a wood) it is a naturally sustainable resource that grows like a weed and propagates through rhizomes. Bamboo propagates on its own and is one of the fastest-growing plants in the world. There are about 1,500 species of bamboo, and it has a wide variety of applications and in many cases can replace traditional wood products.
Despite its self-sustaining capabilities, some species like the African mountain gorillas and the giant pandas are under threat. The reason is excessive bamboo harvesting. Visit the website of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan for more information on the sustainability of bamboo.
White ash grows in North America and plays a prominent role in making various furniture and sports equipment. This wood is strong, hard, and heavy and serves well in making tool handles, railroad ties, canoe paddles, and boats. White ash is particularly well-known for being the material for making baseball bats.
Here’s one type of wood that you need to take care of while buying. Most oak in the market comes from Britain and other parts of Europe and the US and is FSC-certified. But you need to be wary of stock that comes from certain European countries that engage in illegal logging resulting in decimating ancient forests. This light-colored, durable hardwood plays a prominent role in flooring and making cabinets and furniture.
We get this wood from Africa, Asia, and South America. The attractive reddish-hue of finished mahogany makes it a much sought-after wood. However, you need to exercise caution while procuring it, as at least five species are on the endangered list. This particularly applies to Brazilian and African mahogany. You can play it safe by opting for Jatoba, and Adiroba, which are FSC-approved varieties of mahogany
Maple is another wood found abundantly in North America. It enjoys wide popularity, especially sugar maple or hard maple and sycamore maple. We make bowling pins and billiard cue shafts from this wood. There are some very decorative variants of maple-like quilt maple, burnt wood, birdseye maple, and flame maple.
This wood is also considered as a “tonewood,” meaning that it conducts sound waves and resonates with them very well. It makes maple an essential wood for manufacturing musical instruments.
When you use teak, you are treading on dangerous ground. It is prevalent for making furniture, due to its strength, and natural resistance to insects, moisture and rot. The issue here is that you will find it challenging to locate teak produced legally and responsibly. If you use teak, ensure that it has an FSC certification. If you find difficulty procuring such teak, then you can get some reasonably good substitutes. Some examples are FSC Favinha, Tatajuba, and Guariuba woods.
This wood also grows predominantly in North America, and it has multiple uses. Black cherry has a subtle, reddish-brown tint, and you will find few homes in America without something or the other made of cherry wood. Black cherry serves as a viable substitute for mahogany, and we also call it “poor man’s mahogany.” This wood resembles beech and Honduras mahogany. You can use it for making musical instruments, furniture, and other household wooden items.
Pinewood enjoys great popularity due to its wide availability. It is highly sustainable because it grows so fast, much faster than hardwoods like oak or mahogany. We use yellow pine to construct boats, while the tighter-grained white pine plays a prominent role in making furniture and building materials.
This wood comes from North America as well as Europe. The Douglas fir that you get imported from Europe is the variety that is most likely to be sustainable. The timber that comes from the rainforests of the US and Canada are often products of unethical logging. You can get FSC-certified Douglas fir to ensure that you use sustainable wood. We use this wood for building and construction due to the large dimensions available and its considerable strength.
Least Sustainable Woods (Avoid Buying These)
Ebony is a tonewood that is only abundant in the forests of Cameroon. You can find different varieties in India and Sri Lanka as well. It is much sought-after for making guitars and other musical instruments, but if you use this wood, you would have to check the legality of using it.
Burmese teak is another wood whose sale is banned in most countries. Those in the woodworking industry covet this wood for its good looks, durability, and natural resistance to insect attack and moisture. If someone is selling you Burmese teak, you are likely being ripped off with imitation wood or it may be illegally procured.
Merbau is not a sustainable wood. Estimates indicate that it will be extinct within the next 35 years. It is a versatile wood for building material, hence still prevalent throughout the world wherever available. However, you would do well to avoid using it to be environmentally responsible.
This wood is suitable for manufacturing percussion instruments as well as guitars. Because of its unusual dark color and hardness (rather like walnut), wenge finds popularity in hardwood flooring. Although still on the endangered list, you can get it legally. However, you would best avoid it in favor of viable substitutes for the time being.
Brazilian mahogany is an endangered species of wood along with five types of African mahogany. Although there are no substitutes, FSC mahogany, Jatoba and andiroba are varieties with similar properties to Brazilian mahogany.
Maintaining Sustainability Through Reclaimed Wood
Instead of struggling with procuring sustainable wood, an excellent means taking the impact of deforestation is to use reclaimed wood. You can get a lot of cheap but good lumber from salvage yards. This wood comes from torn down and renovated buildings. There are multiple benefits here – you get wood at a cheaper rate, save the landfills from filling up, and you are helping to reduce deforestation.
If you are already aware of the importance of using sustainable woods and are already doing it, great! If not, now is the best time to start. Although it might sound cliqued, the fact is that we only have one planet. We have been steadily plundering the world’s natural resources over the years. During the last 100 years or so, it has reached dangerous proportions. We need to put a stop to this trail of destruction.
By using sustainable wood, you will be able to contribute your bit to preserve the environment. Once you start using lumber that comes from traceable timber, you will find it easier than you probably thought possible.
It is a matter of making an extra effort and knowing what steps to take. We have provided a list of the most sustainable woods here along with those which you should avoid. You can’t go wrong. We hope that you will be able to continue to be a responsible citizen of the world and use sustainable wood for all your woodworking projects.
Featured Image by Bureau of Land Management Oregon and Washington