by Michael Smith (Veshengro)
Wood was most important once as almost everything was made from wood and the wood came – primarily – from coppice operations, the most sustainable woodland management system known to man.
Today plastic has replaced wood for many products once made from this raw material much to the detriment of not only forest industries but also the forest itself.
On the positive side, however, slowly people are, once again, coming back to value wood and treen goods and that also and especially goes for wood in the kitchen. In fact, wood is more hygienic and much healthier to use in the kitchen and in conjunction with food than plastic will ever be.
But plastic was made out to be a material of almost magic value, properties, qualities and much more though nothing could be further from the truth.
Alas the woodsman himself often falls for this looking for the handles of his tools to be of fiberglass and plastic rather than of wood believing them to be stronger. Another fallacy.
All too often we find axes, hatchets and billhooks with plastics (ABS) or carbon fiber handles which – one – also can break and – two – the way tools are made to join with the handles means that, should the handles break the tools themselves have to be – more often than not – thrown away as no new shafts can be fitted to the head. But I digressed.
Wood, while indeed often heavier, is a much superior choice and not just in the kitchen and for tool handles over plastic (or other materials).
Walking sticks and hiking staffs crafted from wood will outperform and outlast those newfangled plastic or aluminum ones each and every time. Having had more than one kind of those – even an expensive brand – collapse and break on me in use, I can vouch for that, as my wooden ones stood up to the same use and even more without any problems.
Going by the amount of those newfangled high-tech hiking staffs that end up broken in the litter bins on mountains, hills and in parks it would appear that I am not the only one who has had bad experience with those.
Coppice management of woodlands actually enhances biodiversity and creates new growth with much higher carbon sequestration than that of old trees that have reached the end of their productive lives.
A single standard tree lives – productively – for between 30 to 140 years – depending on the species – while a coppice stool, properly managed, renewing itself depending on the management cycle between 7 to 20 years will live – productively – for thousands of years. Trust me, I am a forester. But back to wood as a material.
As a raw material from which to make things wood is – more often than not – superior to man-made materials and the fact that it is natural and at the end of its life can go back into the cycle of Nature is but one, though important, point.
Wood can also be fashioned into so many objects and products with often but simple hand tools and that is the reason it was so extensively made use of in the days of old, aside from the fact that plastics, for instance, did not exist back then.
The advent of plastics saw the decline of many of the products that were previously made from wood (and other natural materials) such as baskets, as they could be produced much cheaper in plastic than could be wooden hand-made ones and the same goes for other products too, such as kitchen utensils, garden trugs, etc.
Britain's industrial revolution was not fueled by coal dug from out of the ground but by charcoal from coppice woodlands and almost all wood products bar the ships of the navies, both Royal and merchant, were made predominately from wood that came from those woodlands. Depending on the rotation cycle of coppicing even large beams and planks can be milled from the trunks of the trees.
Wood is – obviously – a natural material that, unlike man-made ones, such as plastic, is biodegradable even in an ordinary compost heap when the product has come to the end of its life. Until such a time, however, any wooden product keeps the carbon dioxide locked up that the tree has absorbed during the time that it grew.
The best way to dispose of wood – a wooden product – at the end of its (useful) life, unless it is possible to reuse the wood for something else, is to burn it, ideally in a stove for heat. Burning only sets free the CO2 the wood has absorbed while the process of composting it also releases methane, on top of carbon dioxide, during the decaying process, and methane is a greenhouse gas that is between 20 to 40 times more dangerous than CO2.
I love wood and wooden products but then, as said before, I could be seen very much as biased being a forester, a woodsman, by original trade. Wood is extremely tactile, as is leather, and most pleasing to the eye.
Wood and leather, though the latter is not really the subject matter here, are seen by many in the “green movement” as something rather not to use as the former “harms trees” and the latter “harms animals”. The alternatives, however, are materials which in themselves, in the production and in their disposal, harm the Planet.