After more than twenty years of college teaching and research, and working with wood as a hobby, I have now reversed the prominence of these roles in my life. I recently moved to New England after a long stay in Kansas City, and this move allowed me to re-define myself as a woodworker who teaches on a part-time basis in order to support my woodworking habit.
I live in a state of dissonance. I love the process of changing a piece of a tree into an object of beauty and usefulness. But, I also recognize that trees are disappearing from our planet at an alarming rate. We read about the massive clearcutting of the South American rainforest, and the illegal logging in our national forests. We can see the woods in southeast Massachusetts being cleared for new housing subdivisions on a daily basis. What is a person who loves to work with this wonderful material to do?
One solution I’ve developed is to work with “used” wood: material rescued from the town dump (the transfer station); trees cut from a neighbor’s yard; boards discarded at construction sites; and timbers harvested from building renovations. A good bit of the pleasure I derive from this work is the understanding that this material has a chance at a second (or third) life.
Another solution is to use “new’ wood that has been harvested in a sustainable manner. The Forest Stewardship Council (http://www.fscus.org/) has developed a set of standards representing the world’s strongest system for guiding forest management toward sustainable outcomes. The Massachusetts Woodlands Cooperative (http://www.masswoodlands.coop/) provides a variety of lumber to work with.
Currently, I’m working to bring my production into line with the Shaker tradition that emphasizes simplicity, utility, elegance, and a striving for perfection. I have some philosophical concerns with the pursuit of perfection, but it’s a worthwhile goal to consider.