A Wild Material

The back-to-the-land movement (as well as more recent offshoots such as the farm-to-table trend in dining) seeks to short-circuit the elaborate industrial complex that produces most of our consumable and durable goods these days. Proponents of the philosophy point to the loss of skill that is evident in the average person for basic tasks; to the health and environmental effects of large-scale industrialization; and to the sociological harm that comes of being dependent on technologies that are beyond the control or comprehension of most individuals. This dependence becomes crippling when a technological or supply-chain disruption renders us incapable of executing those basic tasks that we have turned over to mechanization. Even as we enjoy the benefits and ease that these technologies offer on a day-to-day basis, it would be wise to contemplate what we might be losing in this transaction as a culture, as individuals, and as woodworkers.

This is a tale of two trees – or rather, a tale of two ways we might go about processing them into the materials we need to create things. One way is wholly modern, relying on the many advances in science and technology that we currently enjoy, to process the “stuff” of a tree into the dry, stable, predictably cuboid stock of our local home center or lumberyard. The second approach is far older, and necessitates a more intimate, visceral, and, frankly, sweaty process to work out the stock we need. Wood is a wild material not easily tamed, but seeking to understand the substance of it at a deeper level, beginning with the tree in the forest, can be an immensely rewarding task with distinct practical advantages.

–Michael Updegraff, excerpt from “A Tale of Two Trees: The Radical Efficiency of Green Woodworking,” in Issue Six


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