The morality of buying wood

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Forum topic by Purrmaster posted 12-02-2013 02:48 PM 3709 views 0 times favorited 84 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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915 posts in 3170 days

12-02-2013 02:48 PM

I’ve been thinking about something for a while and I was curious to see what opinion’s you guys might have.

The store where I get my lumber (Crosscut Hardwoods in Portland, OR) recently put out some Gabon ebony for sale. It’s small, irregularly shaped pieces. It’s also $136 a board foot. Needless to say I won’t be getting any.

And that got me thinking: Are there species of wood we shouldn’t buy? On ethical/environmental grounds? Are there woods you simply won’t buy because of sustainability concerns?

Even I could afford the ebony I’m not sure I’d buy it. Because my understanding (which could easily be flawed) is that ebony trees are in danger of being annihilated. I don’t think there are any plantations for ebony either, as there are for teak.

I think I’d take the same stance for lignum vitae and maybe Indian rosewood.

So… thoughts?

84 replies so far

View laketrout36's profile


201 posts in 3103 days

#1 posted 12-02-2013 03:09 PM

One way I’ve limited my use of some species of wood have been to only use very small pieces for an accent and not large pieces. Actually I’ve gotten to the point of using predominantly local woods. Looking for not so frequent sources of wood can turn out to be very fulfilling. One friend was getting rid of some Cherry that he had cut and air dried but no longer needed.

If there was (and maybe there currently is) a company that was creating sustainable select specie regrowth plantations that might spur more interest from me. But at this point I don’t have much need for rare species.

Also, has anyone else noticed the large increase in price for some exotic woods? Ten years ago I bought Cocobolo to make a shelf for awards and other display momentos. That shelf at the time cost me $70. It’s approximately 18” x 36” in size. Those dimensions today with the grain pattern is hundreds of dollars more. And to me that increase no longer makes that wood an option. Just my opinion and experience.

Thanks for reading.

View HamS's profile


1842 posts in 3466 days

#2 posted 12-02-2013 03:54 PM

Unless you are actually cutting the tree, the wood would go into something. The tree has already been cut. However, there are some woods that should not be used for purposes other than their’natural’ use. My example is rosewood. It should be used inluthurie but is too valuable as a tone wood to use in furniture. I can can also see validity to other opinions though, after all who determines what the natural use is?

-- Haming it up in the 'bash.

View rustfever's profile


800 posts in 4387 days

#3 posted 12-02-2013 04:09 PM

Not only is it ‘Immoral’ but very very illegal to log, cut, transport, trade, purchase, use or even posses some woods. Martin [or was it Gibson] Guitar was fined heavily for the purchase, use, and possession of some woods, WITHOUT HAVE THE PROPER DOCUMENT TRAIL!

An international agreement between governments was formed in 1973, called the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species, or CITES for short. CITES has three different levels of protection for species, known as Appendices.

If you were to ‘Google’ CITES you would be able to find the list of protected species.

Ebony is listed as one of the species that is so protected.

-- Rustfever, Central California

View Jim Baldwin's profile

Jim Baldwin

56 posts in 3435 days

#4 posted 12-02-2013 05:14 PM

I’m no treehugger but deforestation statistics are staggering and not only bad news for the lumber business but not particularly good for the birds and bees either. “Experts estimate that we are losing 137 plant, animal and insect species every single day due to rainforest deforestation.”

If this number doesn’t take your breath away, consider this…20 percent of the world oxygen is produced in the Amazon Rainforest and…(“In the time it takes to read this, an area of Brazil’s rain forest larger than 200 football fields will have been destroyed.”

Just ask any native Rapa Nui (Easter Island) inhabitant about the negative aspects of deforestation. (Don’t bother though , I doubt you’ll find any real indigenous native or trees either).

Now shall we talk about global fisheries?

-- Jim Baldwin/[email protected]

View pintodeluxe's profile


6370 posts in 3890 days

#5 posted 12-02-2013 05:15 PM

I have reservations about buying anything from Crosscuts in Portland (because of price).
I substitute walnut for ebony. It looks just as nice.
In general I try to source my lumber locally. A tree still needs to be cut down, but at least it isn’t shipped across the country.
Also, there are local sawyers that focus on trees from storm damage. The trees are already down, and will be sold for firewood if not sold for lumber. I can’t stand to see white oak advertised as fire wood.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

5350 posts in 5037 days

#6 posted 12-02-2013 05:20 PM

BTW, the Martin and Gibson case was a rip off. Martin sure had all the documents, and so did Gibson.
Those companies are not stupid. And why did the feds go in with armed agents?
I really get torqued when I see developers clear cut and burn for home sites.
Exotics are just that, and it does a huge injustice to a specie when land is cleared for sugar cane.
We woodworkers can only vote with our dollars, and we must keep that in mind.
Same thing with elephant ivory. Go figure. There must be a market….............................
Whewwwww. I feel much better now that I’m gonna turn some stupid walnut that would be sold to gun stock makers. BUT WAIT!!!! Gun stocks are really cool, and I have one.

-- [email protected]

View jmartel's profile


9183 posts in 3227 days

#7 posted 12-02-2013 05:29 PM

Crosscut has the best prices in Seattle other than on craigslist. Funny that Portland is so high. Ebony is still $135/bdft here though. Can’t say I have ever worked with it (and at that price ever will). If you are just using it for small accents, you can try using old Piano keys. The black keys are ebony and can be bought fairly cheaply on ebay.

-- The quality of one's woodworking is directly related to the amount of flannel worn.

View CharlesA's profile


3466 posts in 2874 days

#8 posted 12-02-2013 05:39 PM

I have sworn off all Mahogany and its African cousins except for places where I really need it (I just built a piece to match our Mahogany bedroom furniture). I’ve read about what’s going on with Mahogany in South America and I’ve seen the deforestation in Africa first hand.

So, I’ve decided that I will use only domestic, local wood whenever feasible. I live in Louisville, and I have three sawmills within 50 miles, with a choice of 35 varieties. I figure I can deal with that 95% of the time.

-- "Man is the only animal which devours his own, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor." ~Thomas Jefferson

View Mainiac Matt 's profile

Mainiac Matt

9884 posts in 3405 days

#9 posted 12-02-2013 06:04 PM

Gibson got raided because they were vocally criticiseing the anti-business practices of the “anointed one”. They had all the paper trail they were supposed to have for “sustainably harvested” rose wood. The fed acted like they were raiding a meth lab and siezed valuable lumber and all their computers, only to sit on the whole lot for over a year without pressing charges. Gibson was coerced into cutting a deal, because it was cheaper than a prolonged court case.

No different than sicking the IRS on conservative leaning non-profits.

Facism in the making…. so much for the promised transparent government…. Thank God for Edward Snowden! Now even liberal media outlets have woken up.

-- Matt -- I yam what I yam and that's all what I yam

View CharlesA's profile


3466 posts in 2874 days

#10 posted 12-02-2013 06:09 PM

Heavy on the politics there, Matt.

-- "Man is the only animal which devours his own, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor." ~Thomas Jefferson

View BHolcombe's profile


180 posts in 3152 days

#11 posted 12-02-2013 06:22 PM

The dramatically increasing price of Gaboon and Macassar ebony should be a detractor enough for many. How often do you see it used in production furniture or other goods?

That being said, I’ve moved from using exotics regularly to using them quite sparingly for the reasons mentioned above in addition to price.

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 3438 days

#12 posted 12-02-2013 06:30 PM

The “except for small accent pieces” is the kind of hypocritical rationale that leads to extinction. Nyuk nyuk

I say, if it’s available and you can afford it and want it, if you don’t take it somebody else will.

-- Clint Searl....Ya can no more do what ya don't know how than ya can git back from where ya ain't been

View KnickKnack's profile


1099 posts in 4643 days

#13 posted 12-02-2013 06:30 PM

HamS said …Unless you are actually cutting the tree, the wood would go into something. The tree has already been cut.
Clint Searl said… I say, if it’s available and you can afford it and want it, if you don’t take it somebody else will.

With respect, that’s a fallacious argument.

By using the wood, even if it’s already been cut and is sitting in the local shop, you create the demand, and so the next tree gets cut…. until there are none left.
You buy it from the shop, the shopkeeper sees stock levels falling, so he orders more from his supplier, who orders more from his, and … well, now you can hear the sound of another endangered tree falling, and yes, you are responsible for that as a direct result of you buying that piece of wood.
If no-one ever bought the ebony (for example), they would pretty soon stop felling the trees.
It would help if places like The Wood Database moved their “Sustainability” section to the top, rather than burying it within sections saying how wonderful it is!

-- "Do not speak – unless it improves on silence." --- "Following the rules and protecting the regulations is binding oneself without rope."

View mahdee's profile


4291 posts in 2844 days

#14 posted 12-02-2013 07:17 PM

I am with Charles. Live in Arkansas and have plenty of local wood to choose from. No need to create demand for “exotic” wood that does not even help the people in those regions.


View alohafromberkeley's profile


257 posts in 3481 days

#15 posted 12-02-2013 08:27 PM

A few months ago Shannon Rogers wrote about not apologizing for using wood- opened up a much needed debate on the subject:
The most credible action I’ve seen has been taken by Bob Taylor (Taylor Guitars) he talks about ebony in a youtube vid: Back to buying or not buying- I would love to get a hold of old stock Cuban Mahogany, quarter sawn Brazilian Rosewood and real Madagascan Paudauk and Ebony. That’s my pipe dream. I have Braz Rosewood in my older acoustic guitar and did buy small boxes of cutoffs of Pink Ivory and Snakewood back in the 70’s and got Cocobolo fingerboards for $5 per rough board before it went CITES. The price has doubled to tripled for those same pieces. CITES is just the guideline and the Lacey Act is really the teeth in this country.Under the Lacey Act you have to prove when and where every part of say a guitar came from. Right down to the bone saddles and Mother of Pearl inlay. That’s where the Elliot Ness actions were allowed in the Gibson raids and why Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top won’t be touring with his $5,000,000 Les Paul anytime soon: The problem isn’t one of supply and demand in the South American rain forests -a lot of slash and burn is happening for subsistence farming by locals. It’s just cheaper and faster to burn Rosewood stumps than to get the necessary papers to allow harvest of a few of them . Rosewood was cut about 4 to 6 feet up to avoid that wild compression wood at the ground level. That is what you’re seeing these days and is totally legal. Most of the new farmland is used for supplying huge multinational companies with products (ever heard of MacDonald’s?).I’ve read that certain countries are buying up huge quantities of tropicals because they know how short the supply will get.(Won’t name countries because I haven’t seen any articles with any veracity) The term “exotic” is such a subjective thing. Osage Orange, Fiddle-back Hard Maple, Hornbeam, Sassafras, Koa and Mesquite are some of what I think of as exotics in my part of the world. What I used to burn as firewood in Humboldt Co. i.e. Redwood, Bay Myrtle, Madrone and Manzanita may be considered exotic to someone on the East Coast. BTW- I think it’s more moral to buy than to steal wood.(Trying to keep on topic, y’all!)

-- "After a year of doing general farmwork, it was quite clear to me that chickens and I were not compatible"-George Nakashima

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