Wood: Nature's most versatile resource and material

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

woods.jpgWood is probably Nature's most fantastically versatile resource and material which is sadly being overlooked all too often in pour modern world of all things metal and plastic today.

Plastic has also, and our extensive use of it, been the downfall of our woodlands and our woodland crafts and skills.

Once upon a time – and no, don't fret, I am not about to begin a fairytale – almost everything was made of wood. Homes, kitchen and eating utensils, that is to say spoons, plates bowls and trenchers, and much more, and basically all tool handles.

Not just tool handles alone. Even many of the tools were made from wood, such as hay rakes and hay forks, and much more, and that until not that long ago.

Our furniture was made from wood, stools, chairs, benches, tables and everything else and so were the wagons that carried goods to market and the carriages that carried people. Even the wheels were wooden, though with iron bands.

Not so long ago the cases of our wireless sets (radios), our television sets, our music centers, and many others, were also wooden. Then came Bakelite and other plastics and wood rarely got a looking in after that in that department.

Mostly everything in the kitchen, domestic as well as “commercial”, almost everything bar knives and pots and pans was wooden, from spoons over bowls to chopping boards and chopping blocks. Most of that was then replaced by plastic because, they said, it was more hygienic, and the chopping boards and blocks, and also stirring spoons, ladles and such like in commercial kitchens and other such places had to be replaced by plastic utensils. Then studies showed that what everyone who had used wood before already knew, namely that wood is better and even more hygienic than plastic. This, however, is still not something that many agencies still have not understood, especially the so-called Environmental Health Departments of councils in the UK and its counterparts in other countries.

The fact, however, that plastic became king and in many aspects still is today because of if being cheaper – but cheaper in which respect? – our woodlands and woodland industries fell into decline. Close to death they actually came, and that goes for both the woodlands and the woodland industries.

But let's leave the kitchen for a moment.

Steel and concrete replaced wood and bricks in the building of homes and other buildings and that too a great cost to the environment, to aesthetics and to the woodland and forest industries and to woods and forests. But the old buildings that have been made by use of wood and bricks have withstood the test of the times, more that can ever be said for the things that have been built ever since World War Two, for example. Now buildings, including apartment blocks, are build by, basically, hanging concrete (if it even is concrete) slabs onto a steel frame. If those stand for 50 years we are lucky. Timber framed houses in Britain, on the other hand, still stand 600 plus years later.

Well, and then there is furniture, something we all need for the home. Yes, wooden furniture is still about but what kind of wood is it made from, nowadays, and where does it come from? More often than not, even though it often is claimed to be FSC certified, a certification that is not worth, more often than not, the paper it is printed on, it comes from abroad and often from tropical forests where sustainability of operations is a question.

Wood as a resource and material for all manner of things has stood the test of time and in many cases it is superior to modern, man-made materials, in many cases. It is also by far more environmentally friendly than many of those other materials which depend on non-renewable resources, be this oil or ores.

For that reason, and the many others, we need a return to proper management of our own hardwood woodlands and forests, with some pine and spruce retained, obviously, in areas where hardwood – native deciduous trees – won't grow well.

The great thing about wood is that the tree has locked up carbon during its growth and it will remain locked up in the wood for as long as the product made from wood “lives”. And, when it finally is, for whatever reason, is made redundant and goes into the trash or to be burned it only releases just the amount of carbon that was used during growing, and no more.

However, even wood, though often claimed to be carbon neutral is not truly so for the carbon that is used in felling the trees, processing the wood and finally making the product, is not factored in when that claim is being made. Nevertheless the impact of wood and wooden products is far less than that of any man-made products. Thus wood ticks all the right boxes and that especially if the wood if locally grown in sustainable woodland operations the best of which, in many cases, is that of coppicing.

For more on coppicing and why, etc. see “Managing our Woods”, a small book that explains the whys and wherefores of managing our woods in this way and calls for us to return to that way.

© 2016