"A tree is our most intimate contact with nature" - George Nakashima
It's quite safe to say that without trees and plants our planet is doomed, without them I'm also out of business. There is a reason why the colour green is proven to make us feel better; why a walk in nature, with no man made buildings, can actually help alleviate depression and anxiety. Whether we choose to recognise it or not, the natural world is clearly important to our mental and spiritual, as well as physical health.
I think all woodworkers have a real reverence for trees. Wood is a beautiful medium; which is why we choose to work it, and why we choose to have wooden items in our homes. No two pieces of wood are alike, even from the same tree. Some trees are thousands of years old, taller than buildings and will outlive us with ease. Every knot and grain has its own individual character just like the difference between myself and you, the reader. We have our interests and likes, music preferences, foods we hate, foods we love.
You may be thinking "But how can a woodworker impact the health of the planet?" Many of the woods used by ourselves have to travel across the world, whether driven or flown, which increases our carbon footprint. Some of these woods are classed as "exotic" which usually means they come from rainforests where trees are being decimated to make way for agriculture as the population and demand of the planet increases. After we have created something out of these woods and we sell them, they're being flown or driven across the world once again.
The growth rate of many of the exotic hardwoods is incredibly slow which is why our demand for them needs to lessen. Oak for example, though not classed as exotic, takes many years to reach maturity; for Lord Nelson's Flagship, the victory, they used 6,000 Oak trees, just to put that into perspective, it takes about 75 years for an oak tree to reach its full maturity. Even by replanting an oak tree it's still going to take almost 100 years for that tree to re-grow!
The growth rate of an oak is one of the reasons why I'm so perplexed about large companies who mass produce oak furniture, where the hell are they getting all that Oak from?
Now i'm not saying we should not us these woods at all, they're beautiful woods to work, forrests do have to be maintained, some trees catch diseases and have to be cut down to stop the spread to other trees; but we can do a few things to help the planet and lessen the damage.
Tip One - Use less exotic woods! After reading the above this one is self explanatory.
Tip Two - Use Woods that have a higher growth rate. Woods such as Pine, Poplar, Birch, Spruce, etc all grow much faster than exotic woods. They can also be coppiced, which means the stump of the tree is left alone, more trees will then sprout from the base.
Tip Three - Use reclaimed materials. I live quite close to wooded areas, usually after storms, branches fall, old trees collapse and provide enough wood to be content for a while. These woods also don't have to travel very far so your carbon footprint is drastically reduced. You can be imaginative with reclaimed materials, do you have or know someone who has furniture they no longer want? Can you use the wood from these?
Tip Four - Be Eco friendly with your packaging! If you're selling or gifting items you'll need to post them. Don't use bubble wrap or other plastics in your packaging. I save all of the wood shavings from my workshop and use these instead of bubble wrap. You can also use paper based packaging tape instead of plastic based.
Tip Five - Use more hand tools. You're using less electricity! Next time you're cutting something, ask yourself whether it needs to run through a table saw or can you just use a hand saw. All of those little choices add up in the long run.
Tip Six - Contact your local Tree Surgeons. Everyday, people choose to have trees removed from their gardens; the wood from these goes straight into a wood chip! Offer to pick up the wood from your tree surgeon, are they willing to sell the lumber to you for a small price? The trees are being cut regardless but if they're local to your area then they don't have to travel long distances.
There's just a few tips to get you started but you can be creative, there are many more ways we can help the environment as woodworkers. We all want to carry on crafting with the materials we love but not at the expense of damaging the planet, nor do we want those trees to go extinct! But it's also about the future generations of woodworkers too, we're leaving them with less forests, the cost of wood will continue to rise too. We need to set an example for them but also be able to pass on our knowledge and skills so woodworking by hand can go on.