When practicing our craft how much should we as woodworkers be concerned about protecting old growth trees for future generations? Should we only use "sustainable" timber?
For much of what we build, be it traditional furniture pieces, ornamental boxes or built-in entertainment centers, we use traditional hardwoods because of their mechanical strength, their durability or just because they look better.
At last month's meeting at MacBeath Hardwoods in Berkeley we heard about some old growth woods that were becoming no longer available due to lack of supply and increasing logging restrictions. Recently I have been using some sustainable certified new growth Mahogany. It is OK; the grain is very straight and consistent but for anything other than framing it would be classified as lacking in character, dull.
I looked at an Australian Good Wood Guide on the web recently. It listed over 100 native hardwoods, less than 15 of which are plantation grown. So most of the woods are old growth trees which by definition means they have a limited supply. In South America the logging of old growth woods can mean deforestation.
So should it matter to us what species of timber we use? The answer is very difficult. I think if we are making interior framing or maybe an entertainment center which has a life of 10-15 years at most then it might be wrong to build it with some of the world's precious supply of old growth timber. But if we are making a heirloom to leave to our grandchildren, or what we hope is a future antique, and the figuring of the grain adds a key something to the design then it is probably OK to use old growth wood.
The other alternative we can always explore for projects that need old growth timber is to use recycled or salvaged timber. Sometimes finding a new use for previously used timber can be very satisfying and, if the wood is old, then it is probably better than we can buy today.
Like many things I think the answer may lie in moderation -- we should not waste nature's old resources on basic projects but only use them when our project is something of lasting beauty that makes the beholder appreciate that it is made from something that took 200 years to create.