Evolution #4: Stewardship of our Materials (Part 1)

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Blog entry by StevenAntonucci posted 09-19-2009 03:04 PM 1758 reads 0 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 3: Digging yourself out of a turner's rut Part 4 of Evolution series Part 5: Seeking outside influences »

With the recent passing of the master of this topic, I thought it might make sense to post some thoughts on an idea that we should all be thinking about when we work with wood. As woodworkers, we are stewards of the materials that we use. They are a natural resource and the work we produce will hopefully extend their time on earth, and perhaps even ours.

I watched David Marks interview James Krenov on Woodworks, and he made a comment that didn’t sink in immediately. He had a bookmatched set of boards in spalted maple, and he designed cabinet around them. How profound is that? As woodworkers, how often do we start with a plan and make the wood fit with it instead of starting with the wood and planning a project that maximizes that piece of wood’s potential?

Almost every woodturner starts off “wrong”, and I won’t go into a lot of details why on this topic. It is safe to say that if a new woodturner produces his or her first bowl from a piece of 7”x3” wood that the bowl will be 7”x3” EXACTLY. Why- because we are taught not to “waste wood”. The thought is so ingrained in woodworkers that I wonder if there isn’t a gene sequence in our DNA that somehow describes it.

How many of you have a box full of offcuts? Stuff that you couldn’t bear to srap, put aside for some future mystery project, or give to someone that uses smaller pieces of wood? Me too. We all do, and I am not saying that this is the wrong thing to do, but I do believe it plays against our potential as woodworkers. Philosophically, I would rather create one masterpiece and a winter’s worth of firewood than a tree’s worth of mediocrity.

I have been working in wood for probably 20 years now, and I have a house full of compromises- from the knothole in my dining room table top, to the shelf I am making now with the wainy edge. All of them stem from starting with a plan instead of the material. There is a well known woodturner, John Jordan, who is famous for saying that “Life is too short for turning crappy wood”. He selects the right materials from the start that fit his artistic visions and then executes his projects.

We have a certain amount of responsibilty to the material to maximize it’s potential, and in turn maximize our own potential.

Off to the shop to deal with that wainy edge…

-- Steven

3 comments so far

View TheCaver's profile


288 posts in 5301 days

#1 posted 09-19-2009 04:04 PM

I think for reasons of economy we sometimes do that, at least thats my excuse. But were money no object, I’d let the wood dictate the piece and if there were lots of waste, so be it.

The great thing about wood is that it is a renewable resource unlike gas or oil, so if we want more, we can grow more. I think our responsibility is not so much to be frugal with the wood we have, but to plant more for future generations as there is nothing we can do about our current supply.

On the other hand, the demand for MDF and other crap furniture is much higher, presumably due to its economical nature. So then, is there demand for more walnut or cuban mahogany trees? Among this group, yes, but in the grand scheme, probably not. Sad but true.

You know this reminds me of the energy crisis, I hate it when people say that we need to conserve energy and that is the answer to our problems (sound familiar to John Jordan above?). I find it repulsive to think that we should limit our advancement (or enjoyment) of life by some stupid technological barrier or dependence on something we pull from the ground when the answer lies right in front of us just like this wood thing. Do you know that the UK spends more per year on ringtones than it does on nuclear fusion research? Sorry for getting political, but all of the money we spent on the war could have advanced this field by untold orders of magnitude.

So, to digress, unless you like waney edges and knotholes, save that stuff for kids birdhouses…...


-- Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. -Carl Sagan

View jlsmith5963's profile


297 posts in 4810 days

#2 posted 09-19-2009 05:50 PM

There are as many ways to try to construct meaning in life as there are people, however, link...

-- criticism: the art of analyzing and evaluating the quality of an artistic work...

View NBeener's profile


4816 posts in 4635 days

#3 posted 09-19-2009 11:37 PM


Yours was a really well written, thoughtful, and thought-provoking post.

Being new to all of this woodworking stuff, I’m trying to step back, and understand some of the really intangible elements of it before I get too far into ripping and gluing … so that I can come up with something akin to my “philosophy” to help guide me as I move forward.

I hit a couple of used bookstores, online, and …. for less than the cost of a good circ saw … ordered something like 30 woodworking books that can serve as my reference library, going forward.

The first to arrive was Krenov’s A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook. Most of you probably know this book. I get the sense that it’s the “Zen and the art of Motorcycling” of woodworking. Because I have eye problems, it’ll take me quite a while to get through it, but … I think it will be time well spent.

I imagine you’ve read it. I imagine many of you have. While I like the fact that there are some elements of “shut up and build something!” to woodworking, you can also be pretty philosophical about it, and about why each of us does it.

So … rock on. I’ll be reading!

-- -- Neil

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