Non-exotic Wood

April 7, 2012 Comments Off on Non-exotic Wood

When I look at the stacks of wood in my shop, I see Douglas-fir, Oregon white oak, Western red cedar, bigleaf maple, and red alder. When I walk through our neighborhood, or in the forests surrounding our fair city, I see these same trees. I don’t see bubinga, cocobolo, bocote, or mahogany. And that sums up how I choose wood for my projects. A house in the Pacific Northwest that is filled with furniture made from South American and African woods would be as odd as a Namibian house furnished with Douglas-fir and oak. Exotic, non-native woods are certainly beautiful. But if I can’t find beauty in oak, alder, and maple, then I need to find a new hobby.

I also question how some of these exotic woods are acquired. We certainly have more stringent rules on harvesting trees from third-world countries than we had decades ago, when richer nations helped themselves to the forests of unsuspecting communities. Still, it gives me pause when I see lumber yards filled with woods from far-away lands. I’m not implying that all that wood is dirty; much of it carries appropriate documentation that it was harvested sustainably.

I don’t begrudge any woodworker using exotic woods – to each his own. And I can’t say I’ll never use any. A small splash of an exotic wood in our house would admittedly be a nice focal point. But for me woodworking is a reflection of my surroundings. Almost all the wood in my shop is either reclaimed from deconstruction projects in the city, or milled by local small-shop sawyers – much of which was salvaged from dying or unwanted trees in the surrounding urban area. Most times, the sawyer can tell me the exact location of the exact tree that the wood originated. Try getting that out of your cocobolo supplier.

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Some trees are not native to our area, but have become naturalized. Walnut and cherry are two examples, and you will see these at lumber yards. Walnut has become so prevalent that one local hardwood dealer, Goby Walnut & Western Hardwoods, always has an amazing inventory of walnut.

On the subject of how exotic woods are acquired, Gibson guitars found itself in a recent dustup (again) over the importing of exotic wood from Madagascar.

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