15 ways to become an earth-friendly woodworker

How to do your part in the shop, one step at a time

By Steve Maxwell

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It’s getting harder to ignore the evidence that we’re creating a strain on the planet. As workshoppers, we have more than the usual amount of influence in this regard, either for good or for bad. Here are 15 ways you can tip the balance of your workshop practices toward something greener.

1. Use more hand tools: Besides saving electricity, hand tools provide physical exercise–something that most of us could use more of. Consider investing in a good handsaw for those times when you really don’t need to fire up the dust and noise of a chop saw. Even hand-planing lumber is surprisingly practical. I’ve done it for years.

2. Use air-dried lumber: Energy use is a big part of our environmental impact. A large (but hidden) part of the environmental cost of lumber is in the energy used to kiln-dry it. Air-dried lumber has none of these energy inputs and it’s easier to work with too!

3. Buy sustainably harvested wood: Organizations working around the globe are in the business of inspecting logging operations and verifying which ones meet specific, environmentally preferable standards. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is one such organization. If you can’t find FSC wood for sale where you live, consider buying locally cut, sustainably harvested wood. Visit the woodlot and make your own assessment. You don’t need to be an expert to tell the difference between a sound logging endeavour and an irresponsible cut-and-run operation.

4. Mill your own lumber: Whether you live in rural or urban Canada, you’ll find opportunities to turn logs into boards on a small and sustainable scale with a portable mill. Cities often generate quite a few logs from trees that are cut to make way for new construction. Even logs as short as 36″ can be turned into excellent lumber, without the need for heavy equipment to handle the logs.

5. Harvest wood from the urban forest: If you live in the city, you have easy access to wood that comes at almost no environmental cost.

Shipping crates, buildings being demolished and discarded furniture all offer excellent wood that’s otherwise destined for landfill.

6. Aim for a zero-VOC workshop: Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are given off when solvents dry. But today there are water-based finishing options and gluing choices that give off a very low amount of VOCs or none at all. One traditional choice is finishing oils. Organic boiled linseed oil, hemp oil and tung oil are three options I know work well.

7. Pay more for high-quality power tools and keep them going: With nothing more than a change of brushes and a new cord now and then, the best power tools keep running well for years–probably your whole life. You’ll also enjoy better performance.

8. Move toward lithium-ion cordless: Worn-out cordless nickel-cadmium batteries can be recycled safely, but the process is not without risk. Cadmium is the reason why. It poses a persistent environmental threat if it gets into the ecosystem. There’s no known antidote for dealing with cadmium poisoning. Cordless tools powered by lithium-ion batteries don’t pose the same environmental threat and they work better too.



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