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Thread: Exotic Wood Ethics

  1. #1
    Senior Member hobbitling's Avatar
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    Exotic Wood Ethics

    So here's an awkward subject for us to discuss...

    I love looking at all the beautiful knives and handles people on this forum make, and I enjoy reading about all these exotic woods that we use to make handles, but I've noticed that some of the woods I see used for handles (and some that I am currently using myself in my projects) are fairly rare, and in some cases actually threatened or endangered to some degree. Even the ones that aren't legally protected are often from tropical or semi-tropical forests, which means that we are directly supporting rain-forest logging.

    The rosewoods and ebonies in particular are all from tropical or semi-tropical forests, and some have very small natural ranges. desert ironwood is becoming increasingly rare in some areas, and it is one of the most ecologically important plants in the sonoran desert. Koa is protected in Hawaii, and only dead trees may be used for wood. I could go on down the list, but you get the idea. Most of these naturally hard, dense woods are extremely slow growing, and cannot be grown on plantations, which means that we're using old-growth trees that will not re-grow any time soon.

    So I'm wondering, Are there species of wood that any of you refuse to buy? Do any of you try to buy from sustainable sources (salvaged, reclaimed, plantation grown, dead wood etc...), and if so, how to do you know these sources are actually sustainable?. Do you check to see if a wood is endangered before buying it?

  2. #2
    Weird Wood Pusher Burl Source's Avatar
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    Most of the exotic woods that you are talking about were cut for use making furniture or veneer for paneling.
    When it comes to this sort of wood the logging / timber companies tend to look for the lowest cost method of harvesting the wood.
    That is usually clear cutting. Kind of like burning down a house so you can catch the rats when they run out of the house.
    They still do a lot of clear cutting in Oregon. We call them the forest rapers.
    There will be a thin strip of trees next to the road with barren wasteland on the other side.

    Most of the highly figured woods and burls come from the salvage of stumps left behind by the forest raping scum.
    Burls are usually cut from the side of the tree trunk much like pruning off a branch.

    In a nutshell;
    If it is straight grain wood they probably clear cut everything so they could get the wood at the lowest cost.
    If it is highly figured wood, it was probably salvaged wood.
    Mark Farley / Burl Source
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  3. #3
    Weird Wood Pusher Burl Source's Avatar
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    Just wanted to add a little bit more.
    If you buy plywood, particle board or 2x4s, they most likely clearcut everything in sight to make them.
    I used to live in Washington where they would clearcut everything. Then the big and small went offshore to international waters where they would chip it all and make particle board. Then it would come back in the same port to be sold back to us. By doing the processing in international waters they are able to bypass any environmental guidelines and do whatever they want. By doing this the mills shut down so no local jobs, no tax revenues and higher profits for the timber companies at the expense of everyone else.
    Mark Farley / Burl Source
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  4. #4

    Zwiefel's Avatar
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    I had wondered about this before as well. thanks for the insight Mark!
    Remember: You're a unique individual...just like everybody else.

  5. #5
    Twistington's Avatar
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    I try to stick to reputable vendors when I buy wood: people/companies who I know reflect and care about the block of cells they sell to me.
    [FONT="Microsoft Sans Serif"][I]-"we're gonna make gluten free lasagna"[/I][/FONT]

  6. #6
    Weird Wood Pusher Burl Source's Avatar
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    OK, you have got me going now. Not sure if this goes under the umbrella of forbidden politics. If so, mods feel free to delete.
    For the past couple years the timber companies around here have been spraying the forests with a defoliant to kill the underbrush.
    They say that it is harmless to people and animals. But there have been a number of documented cases of the chemicals from the runoff poisoning wells and the watersheds.
    So far most of the response has been "just ignore those environmental wackos".
    I say "***....if you are a big corporation you can do whatever you want as long as you contribute to the tax base, or more likely grease the right palms".
    Mark Farley / Burl Source
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  7. #7
    Senior Member hobbitling's Avatar
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    This is actually a very civilized and informative thread so far. Thanks Mark. I always assumed burls were probably trimmed in such a way as to leave the tree standing in most cases, right? So that's perfectly fine. And certainly temperate trees like maple grow quickly enough that we're in no danger of depleting North American forests, at least not in the Northeast where I live (although we have transformed a lot of old growth to young, secondary growth, which is quite ecologically different).

    I guess it really all comes down to how it is harvested (clearcut vs selective harvest etc...), but it's just so hard to know when you walk into a wood store. I agree about the plywood and pulpwood industries. they are often completely indiscriminate in their logging. Toilet paper and particle board can be just as bad, or worse, for the envirionment as exotic wood harvesting. I didn't know they used offshore factory ships to pulp the wood. That's a little alarming. I know that process is a messy business.

    And there are lots of exotic woods that aren't generally used for handles. Ipe, Jatoba, and Mahogany logging is a very destructive process, for example, but as you mentioned, that's mostly for flooring, and the trees used for marine plywood and luan especially are a major target for clear-cutters, but again, that's not a knife-making issue.

    But I'm thinking, for example, of things like Cocobolo, which was recently put on the CITES appendix II list, or African Blackwood, or other tropical species that are becoming increasingly scarce. I'm wondering what the harvesting process is like for those species, the really high end species where a single log can be worth tens of of thousands of dollars (or more, once it's milled into blanks). It's not just knife makers either, Gibson Guitars got fined a while back for buying illegally harvested wood, for example. I would imagine the financial incentive to poach these trees must be hard for people in these relatively poor countries to resist.

    http://www.wood-database.com/wood-ar...-wood-species/
    http://www.rainforestrelief.org/What...rest_Wood.html

  8. #8
    I was curious about this too, thanks for clearing up the matter.

    Here in MI the forest rapers abond...

  9. #9
    One benefit of being in down under is there are lots of timber got cut ages ago, so it's not hard to just get a few pieces of wood for a project that's probably being in someone's shed for 20 years. Even they are protected species now, they weren't when they were cut.

    Not to mention that burls like mallee and coolibah are quite easy to get.

  10. #10
    You mentioned ironwood. It's nowhere near as rare as many vendors would like you to believe. However...in every state that I'm aware it grows in...if you cut down an ironwood tree, and get caught...it's no small issue. You can file for a permit to pull out deadwood and such though.

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