Furniture designers and SMEs can access a plethora of wood species, from ubiquitous red oak and walnut to subtle fruitwoods and urban park thinnings. furniturelink selected 14 species for special scrutiny — six softwoods and eight hardwoods, all indigenous to Canada and/or the United States — divided into four categories (listed below) to reflect the national source of the technical data.
Criteria for selected species reflects furniturelink's priorities — support for design-driven small and medium-size domestic furniture producers using sustainable materials. This sector requires unique and innovative design to generate the niche products that appeal to North American consumers: it makes no sense to compete with mass-marketed products using mass-marketed materials. Small companies' flexibility enable them to work with local woodlots, kilning services and lumberyards to identify rarer species with aesthetic appeal. Look around in your own backyard for relatively small volumes of "interesting" timber that lacks the economy of scale to attract large multinational corporations. View the 14 woods selected as examples of these values and not as a definitive list. furniturelink appreciates opinions on wood species meeting these criteria to add to the list.
furniturelink gives some practical examples of "interesting" uses of regional wood species (below) to inspire designers and manufacturers to search out local materials that the competition usually ignores.
Many of us have retained the images of North American and tropical clearcut wastelands caused by commodity species extraction. The 2008 report Assessment of Lawful Harvesting and Sustainability of US Hardwood Exports, by Seneca Creek Associates, concludes that, with the exception of Washington State, hardwood growing stock in the United States more than doubled since 1952 and increased by 28 per cent since 1987, and selective logging accounts primarily for the harvesting of North American hardwoods. (1)
Manufacturers need credible chain-of-custody monitoring of their raw wood supplies to help consumers identify furniture made of sustainably harvested materials. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a respected organization overseeing ethical wood harvesting, provides an online database of approved suppliers.
Manufacturers who self-monitor wood sourced from local community forests (below) provide another option. To determine the sustainability of harvested wood, manufacturers can make random unannounced visits to small woodlots that can't afford the high cost of formal certification, take photographs and talk to forest professionals. (See also furniturelink's eco furniture page.)
California: Urban Wood, Berkeley: GWRY, Marshall: Arborica, Martinez: Urban Lumber, San Luis Obispo: Pacific Coast Lumber, San Leandro: Moore Newton, Whitethorn: Whitethorn Hardwoods, Woodland: Walnut Place.
Colorado: Forest Products
Delaware: Wood Products Directory
Kansas: Forest Products
Kentucky: Urban forestry
Maryland: Brick and Board
Massachusetts: Sawmill/Kiln Directory
Michigan: Urban Wood
Montana: Community Forestry
New Jersey: Sawmill Directory (PDF)
New Hampshire: Directory of Sawmills
Alberta: Forest Products Directory
Nova Scotia: Windhorse
(1) Unfortunately the report is no longer available online.
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