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Seeking more sustainable practices? Follow furnituremaker John Wiggers

comments (25) June 22nd, 2011 in blogs

CustomMade CustomMade Staff, contributor
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 - CLICK TO ENLARGE Photo: http://www.custommade.com/kidney-shaped-desk/by/John

John Wiggers is a pioneer of eco-conscious furniture. In 2005 John was commissioned by The Furniture Society to write a chapter on sustainability for their studio furniture journal: "Focus on Materials" (ISBN: 0967 100437). The materials used in his "Kidney Shaped Desk" can inform your own sustainable building practices...

How it started

It was a series of connections that led to the Kidney Shaped Desk's creation. From a gallery rep in Miami to a NY party featuring holistic-minded supermodel Christy Turlington (click hear to read more) and world famous designer Vladimir Kagan - never could I have imagined that one day I would be working with this icon to build some of his actual furniture.

My connection to Turlington and Kagan came through a common interest in holistic and sustainable living. After my unforgettable encounter in NY, I actively sought a means of incorporating an underlying mode of sustainability into my woodworking practices and into my surrounding environment. Diana Beresford-Kroeger's extensive knowledge of holistic healing and botany seemed to be the necessary key: the notion of introducing rare and unusual trees to the property surrounding my new woodshop seemed perfect. Diana helped develop a bioplan for what I was intending to create, and over time our discussions evolved into an ever expanding exchange of ideas.

The sustainable materials I used:

The Kidney Shaped desk emerged as I continued to wrestle with the idea of how to meld holistic Ayurvedic principles with sculptural furniture design. Using careful mathematics and sacred geometric proportions based on Feng Shui and Vastu Shastra principles, this desk was also designed to utilize discrete inlays of wood that were ultimately suited to their particular holistic attributes. These include special cuttings of Black Walnut for the drawer pulls, and woods such as Hawthorn and Sassafras inside the pencil drawer, all chosen for their natural holistic and aroma-therapeutic properties.

To finance a protype of the Kidney Shaped Desk desk, I needed a buyer. Fate smiled upon me when Todd Marckese needed a desk for clients with strong holistic beliefs. The design I had been tweaking for almost a year wound up meeting the clients' specifications perfectly. I faxed Todd the drawings and explained in detail the holistic attributes of the various woods I was intending to use as inlay.

Less-common sustainable woods:

The main structure was crafted from FSC certified ply, and laminated with Macassar Ebony veneer. The inset of black Tuscany leather was bordered with a radiating grain pattern of wood that was cut to allow it to cascade like a waterfall down the vertical sides of the apron. The plinths on the legs were satin stainless steel.

Inset into the back of the desk were 3 drawers crafted from solid cherry. These drawers were mounted to the Macassar drawer fronts by means of sliding dovetail construction.

Inside the pencil drawer was a pair of trays made of a wood called Sassafras (Sassafras albidum). Sassafras carries within it an oil based complex of compounds that are naturally saturated within the wood itself – both as a wax and as oil. The oils contained within the Sassafras are released as an aerosol each time the tray is opened and exposed to air.

Hawthorn, a traditional healing wood, makes up a small storage compartment between the trays. It was well known to the ancient Greek herbalists, and records indicate that it has been used in Ayurvedic medicine dating back almost 5,000 years.The benefits of the aroma-therapeutic properties of Hawthorn include stress alleviation and heart strengthening. According to Diana Beresford-Kroeger, Hawthorne promotes an overall feeling of well-being and clear thinking.

When you incorporate these kinds of woods into your projects, you give clients access to traditional holistic health benefits that derive from specially-chosen natural materials and a deeper connection to the environmental source that their furniture comes from.

Contributor John Wiggers is a CustomMade.com affiliate and a seminal voice in the field of green woodworking. Feel free to pose any questions relating to sustainability and eco-friendly woodworking practices below and John will address them.



posted in: blogs, sustainable woods, eco conscious furniture


Comments (25)

conromanm conromanm writes: The desk is beautiful. Very creative. Some might find it silly to use feng shui or anything like that to base a design on. However through history many great works were fashioned based on religious beliefs, symbolism and superstitions.
I personally prefer a piece of furniture with a story or meaning. Otherwise, why bother to build at all? There's always Ikea.
Posted: 3:27 am on June 30th

jwiggers jwiggers writes: @ MadScientist

Regarding sacred geometry and the proportions used on this desk the most obvious starting point would be the Golden Rectangle a.k.a. Fibonacci ratio of phi = 1.618034. This ratio is found throughout the natural world (i.e. if you measure the distance from the floor to your bellybutton and multiple by Phi, you'll calculate your total height).

These geometries are also repeated frequently in ancient architectural structures such as the pyramids - not only Phi but also Pi (3.1415). The square roots of each also being factored into various proportions on the desk.

You're astute in noting the symbolic use 3 - not only with respect to the # of legs, but also repeated in the # of drawers, # of compartments in center drawer, and # of inlays on the lidded box contained within. The continuous curves of the surface of the circle (legs) was repeated in the kidney shape (top) in the form of being a larger split circle that was conjoined by concentric arcs.

As for sustainable furniture design, probably the most politically correct and easy to embrace design would have been some derivative of a recycled barn door resting on a stack of old tires. But, then, would the irony of those tires having been "Made in China" been lost in the process?

Yes, expanding the discussion of sustainability to include things like the holistic uses of woods was meant to provoke thought and intelligent discussion. Currently we humans have studied only about 1% of all the plant and tree species that are indigenous to the rainforest, but from that 1% alone we currently derive over 20% of the world's medicines.

That said, I think it is quite prudent to see trees as representing more than just supplies of raw material in the form of board feet of timber.

Traditionally most of us woodworkers have bought into the simplistic mantra that the best way to protect any forest is simply not using any wood that comes from there. While this argument holds true in the case of certain endangered species, a one-size-fits all application of this approach is unworkable since it ignores other factors such as the need for people living in those forests to derive some kind of livelihood from there.

In this regard simply assuming that we can protect those forests by putting a white picket fence around them and declaring that we're not going to use any wood from there is borderline delusional, because the forces of globalization (i.e. explosive demand for cropland and biofuels alone) will only accelerate the demise of these areas if a more sustainable alternative is denied.
Posted: 5:08 pm on June 29th

MadScientist MadScientist writes: I am amused by the immediate dismissal of all the "new age mumbo jumbo" used in this project. I have found that what you believe is real is real. Even if it is a placebo effect, the mind is a powerful thing and can do much for you if you believe.

That being said, I am mostly interested in the use of sacred geometry in your design. What aspects of sacred design have you used? Is it an issue of ratios, shapes or both? I like the three legged design as it is inherently sturdy and also incorporates the idea of the sacred trinity.

Overall, I think the best thing you have done was to raise awareness of sustainable practices. In our culture, it is commonplace for people to not know where their stuff comes from. Thank you for that and keep it up!
Posted: 7:35 pm on June 28th

jwiggers jwiggers writes: @ JimFuller1

No, the Macassar used on this desk is not actually FSC certified. On that note I don't think I've ever come across any Macassar that has ever been certified.

The desk in the photo was made in 2004, using offcuts of veneer I had purchased about 10 years earlier. (Those original bundles were 11' long, and I saved those short oddball lengths for years looking to find something useful to make out of them).

It's been many years since I've purchased actual Macassar Ebony veneer, largely due to the growing uncertainty over the origins of some of the material. For that reason I've been using a good deal of reconstituted Ebony in recent years, and it's helpful that the engineering of these veneers has come a long way to looking like the real thing. A company in New Jersey called Brookside is where I usually buy these from, and some of their reconstituted stock is also FSC certified. Here's an example of their FSC certified Ebony:

http://www.veneers.com/list_veneers.htm?3-1-Dark
look

I've dealt with Brookside for about 20 years, and they're very helpful and good to deal with.

@ saschafer (Steve)

That's pretty cool what you're trying to accomplish in Costa Rica with the tree farm. I wish more people were trying to do those types of things.

Regarding an earlier comment you made about how difficult it is to find FSC certified exotics, there is product out there but it can be difficult to find. Some years ago I purchased large quantities of lesser known Amazon species such as Vermelho, Angelim Fava, Louro Preto and Cupiuba that were FSC certified and brought into the USA by a company called Forest World, and sold through SJ Morse.

My rationale for doing this was because although there are many species of trees in the Amazon rainforest, many of the lesser known species are considered "worthless" because they are unknown and, therefore, have no commercial value. These trees often get bulldozed and trashed by loggers who are high grading in search of more valuable species such as Mahogany. The idea behind trying to find commercial application for the lesser known species was to help raise the value of the forest as whole to thereby increase the incentive for people living in those areas to manage those forests sustainably.

Unfortunately, very few people are receptive to new ideas such as using lesser known species of wood, so the exercise has been a futile one at best.
Posted: 5:33 pm on June 25th

kbwoody kbwoody writes: I too thought this must be a put-on transplanted from The Onion at first, but since it is serious and well, since you asked for comments...



On the desk itself: Very nice craftmanship, especially on the interior of the drawers. Rather inelegant design though. Looks a bit like what an embittered Jacques Ruhlmann would have come up with if forced by Hermann Miller to design a milking stool.

On the wonderfully prolific narrative surrounding the non-visual qualities of the desk: Sometimes people get so wrapped up in whatever worldview they've created for themselves, they forget just how strange they might sound to others. Just saying...

By the way, was there any new-age, feel-good touchstone that went unmentioned? Let's see, Aromatherapy, Ayurveda, Greek herbalists, Black Elk, Vastu Shastra, Holistic, Feng Shui, Sustainability, Green, Eco-conscious, "Sacred Geometry," etc... I'm feeling morally and spiritually inferior to this thing already.

Not to mention the fact that this desk rubs shoulders with holistic-minded supermodels, iconic world-famous designers, and has official paperwork from a non-profit NGO. What would the lucky owner do with such a wise and precious desk, set it out in the Zen garden and sing Sufi ghazals to it while waiting for Madonna to come over for Kabbalaah study? Silly me, I forgot; one doesn't "own" something like this, one only shares space with it as a caretaker.

Maybe it's just me, but I found that all that narrative a bit silly, pretentious, and more then a touch sanctimonious. Like a long winded version of "but she's got a great personality." But then again, I'm not FSC-certified, so probably not qualified to opine.


Posted: 2:28 pm on June 25th

Stephkg Stephkg writes: HUH? WHUT? Um neat desk gee
Posted: 1:39 pm on June 25th

saschafer saschafer writes:
@jwiggers,

The kind of tree farms that I'm looking at are not the ones over which concern is expressed in that FSC article (although there is plenty of that kind of operation in Costa Rica, too). In fact, "investment" is perhaps misleading, as all I'm really interested in is reforestation and habitat restoration, not monetary gain.

Specifically, I'm restricting my search to operations that are replanting previously deforested upland acreage (typically pasture, but occasionally old coffee plantations), so no logging of existing forest is involved, and in particular no lowland rainforest.

My second criterion is that the operators must be planting native species (purpleheart, cocobolo, Spanish cedar, etc.) along with high cash value non-natives (principally teak), and certainly no eucalyptus, radiata pine, etc. Ideally, only natives would be planted, but it doesn't appear that that is economically feasible. An advantage of natives and teak is that they can be grown without pesticides or fertilizers (intensive teak monoculture plantations exist, but I'm specifically avoiding those).

The third criterion is that the operation must have significant local involvement.

I have an acquaintance, a US expat who has lived in Costa Rica for over thirty years and works as a naturalist there. He knows more about the natural history of Costa Rica's flora and fauna than anyone else I know of, and also a fair bit about its eco-politics. I will be meeting with him later this year, and one of the topics of the conversation will certainly be narrowing down the choice of operations to invest in.

In January 2001, I was standing along the edge of a road near Mindo, Ecuador, watching a bulldozer knock down a tree, making way for an African oil palm plantation. It was a fairly small and rather scraggly tree, but it had a special significance to me: Two weeks prior, I had seen three species of bird in that tree that I had seen nowhere else before. I invest heavily in tropical forests to avoid having to replay that scenario.

-Steve

Posted: 12:29 pm on June 25th

mjncad mjncad writes: I like the design and execution of the desk. Not sure if I like the wood veneer that was chosen as it seems overly busy to me in that much quantity.

As for the holistic mumbo-jumbo...give me a break. This guy sounds like an archijerk who builds furniture instead of buildings.
Posted: 11:21 am on June 25th

berbear berbear writes: What a load of utter crapola.
Posted: 11:01 am on June 25th

HandsomeHarry HandsomeHarry writes: "Sacred geometric proportions"? Perhaps Wiggers means the Golden Ratio, but somehow I think there is something more Vedic going on in that phrase. Kinda weird.
The ultimate test for "sacred"--when it comes to design--is how the item appeals to the eye in an overall sense. Personally, I think the kidney shape fails to please in this case. I suggest that "sacred geometry" should demonstrate more of the classical and less of the innovative.
Posted: 9:41 am on June 25th

ChikWeid ChikWeid writes: Give me a break.
Posted: 9:35 am on June 25th

MarK39 MarK39 writes: this article seems more of a debate piece for tree huggers and eco terrorists to me, I agree with needing to sustain our lumber resources and we in the US are getting much better at it but the 3rd world countries are the 3rd world for a reason!

and the idea of planting a foreign tree in your yard is a bad idea to me, you can not say for 100% certainty that there will not be any harmful effects on our eco system. think emerald ash bore, and box elder bugs and the numerous fish that people have imported all with good intentions and such terrible consequences to our own country.

we are losing enough of our own resources to foreign invasive species, we should not risk more!
Posted: 8:12 am on June 25th

JimFuller1 JimFuller1 writes: Well, I guess I'll ask a stupid question then. Is the ebony FSC certified or not?

Jim
Posted: 3:13 am on June 25th

jwiggers jwiggers writes: @ saschafer

To address your comments:

1) I never said, or implied, that "veneer is sustainable, solely by virtue of the fact that you're using less material, without worrying about where that material comes from." Let's be clear on your candid use of the word "fraudulent".

As it stands I have been FSC certified for 13 years, and have been actively involved in forests sustainability issues since before there even was an FSC. As part of my certification I am required to not only document and track my FSC materials, but also prove that my non-FSC materials do not come from illegal or questionable sources.

2) Given the extensive travels you and your wife have made to Central and South America it would seem that you should have a good understanding of the market dynamics and how they impact sustainability in those regions.

That said, you mention that you are considering investment in a tree farm in Costa Rica. I find that quite interesting, in light of your other comments.

During my 4 years as a board member of FSC Canada I was privy to some raging internal debate surrounding the possible certification of tree farms and plantations. To make a long story short, while the arguments in favour of tree farms includes providing alternative wood fiber supply that would other have to come from cutting natural forest, the counter arguments to tropical tree farms and plantations include impacts of possible pesticide and herbicide use (which also leach into the broader ecosystem); the planting of monoculture crops that undermine biodiversity; displacement of indigenous plant, animal, insect and birds species; and the razing of natural forests to create the farms themselves.

Since you do seem sincere regarding your efforts to effect positive change, I think you'll find the following link rather interesting since it deals with a decision FSC is currently mulling regarding possible certification of plantations. This document is about 6 hours old, so this is about as current as it gets:

http://news.mongabay.com/2011/0624-hance_fsc_motion18.html

Hopefully you find this information helpful, and I'm confident that you'll ultimately make the most prudent decision.

@ Asheen

I'm not sure about some of the wording of your summaries, especially given how dissected every other word/phrase has become in this comment thread.

I would suggest that one generalization we can make is that just because a wood is tropical, that doesn't mean it is bad to use.

Similarly, just because a wood is domestic doesn't mean it is automatically sustainable and good to use. On this latter point one need only look at Big Leaf Maple, which is popular with luthiers and guitar makers. Few people realize that this rare tree, although domestic, is currently becoming endangered due to rampant illegal logging on our own soil. That said, it illustrates the illusion that just because it's domestic does not mean that it's OK to use.

* Comparing FSC to SFI as certification schemes is like comparing apples to oranges. SFI is a watered down version of FSC, although they have been progressively raising the bar of their standards to become more like FSC and, thereby, gain acceptance by NGOs such as Greenpeace. So far they have not met with success, although the bulk of their energies seems to be directed at trying to get the USGBC to lower their LEED certified wood standards to allow SFI to wedge their way onto the LEED standard as a partial credit.

* For the full life cycle approach mentioned by you and saschafer, one can look to the works of William McDonough and his Cradle to Cradle philosophy:

http://www.mcdonough.com/cradle_to_cradle.htm

But, then, given your LCA background I'm sure you're already familiar with this.

Last, but not least....

@ rant

Party on, Garth !
Posted: 10:02 pm on June 24th

RonS1953 RonS1953 writes: It read like a parody of a religious tract where someone substituted wood working terms for dogmatic buzzwords.
Posted: 3:43 pm on June 24th

Asheen Asheen writes: This discussion is *awesome*. Thanks @CharlesCulp for kicking off the candidness.

I think we're converging on an agreement in ideal, if there are some tactical disagreements. Let me try to summarize:

* A material that is naturally sourced may still not be sustainably sourced - i.e., not all woods are "sustainable" materials.

* On the flip side, just because a wood product comes from a region that may be in danger of deforestation, does not mean we should *never* harvest from there. There are worse outcomes than logging a forest responsibly -- such as clear-cutting for cattle ranching -- and so supporting logging in these areas is not inherently unethical.

* The quantity of that material sourced is irrelevant to its material sourcing, i.e. the important metric is what % is sourced from a sustainably-harvested forest (FSC, SFI...).

* Regardless of whether it's FSC-sourced or not, waste of the product should be minimized, whether through minimizing the manufacturing waste and/or through quality and longevity of the ultimate product.

* Supply of chain-of-custody certified wood products has historically been low, but is increasing.

* The full life cycle of the material and ultimate product should be optimized (what @sashafer calls "a comprehensive end-to-end approach"), rather than just one stage.

What do you think?

It's this last bullet point (life cycle assessment, or LCA) in which I have expertise, but I've been learning a ton from your back-and-forth about the world of FSC woods. I'd love to talk to you both more direclty, or even convene a panel discussion/debate on this topic. :)

Cheers
Asheen
Posted: 11:03 am on June 24th

saschafer saschafer writes:
@jwiggers,

I apparently failed to get my points across:

1) I did not say that using veneer was fraudulent. What I said was that making the claim that the use of veneer is sustainable, solely by virtue of the fact that you're using less material, without worrying about where that material comes from, is fraudulent. It reminds me of the old joke about the shopkeeper who takes a small loss on every sale, but makes up for it in volume. Using a little bit of a resource that has been harvested unsustainably is still unsustainable.

2) I did not say that obtaining FSC-certified material is next to impossible in general. What I said was that obtaining FSC-certified exotics is next to impossible. I see from the FSC database that your certificate applies to black cherry, white ash, sugar maple, and Cuban mahogany, which demonstrates my point. (One could consider Cuban mahogany to be an exotic, even though it's native to Florida. Of course, since it's a CITES II species, and commercially extinct in the wild, I assume that you're dealing with plantation-grown material.)

I am well aware that sustainability is a complex issue and requires a comprehensive end-to-end approach. Specifically relating to the tropics, my wife and I have made seventeen trips to Latin America, everywhere from Mexico to Peru (with two more scheduled for this year). When we go, if we can manage to set up a relationship with a contact there (it doesn't always happen), we take with us Spanish-language natural history educational and reference materials (field identification guides, for the most part) to donate to schools and other institutions. A few years ago, we assisted a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala who was working with a community to set up a nature preserve in their community-owned forest. We've also made significant cash donations for land purchases to preserve primary forest habitat in Belize, Ecuador and Panama. And I've been trying to schedule a trip to Costa Rica in order to visit a tree farm that I'm considering investing in.

So I assure you that I know whereof I speak. Overall, the sustainability picture in North America is slightly better than "bleak." In Latin America, it's awful but at least getting better. In Africa and tropical Asia, apart from a very few and scattered signs of hope, it's utterly catastrophic.

With a species like Macassar ebony, for which there is a thriving illegal trade, if you can't document the provenance of the piece you're holding in your hand, you're contributing to the problem, not its solution.

-Steve

Posted: 9:16 pm on June 23rd

Ed_Pirnik Ed_Pirnik writes: I gotta say - this is a fantastic debate! More! More! I feel as though I'm geeking out on furniture design!! Cheers all - and quite frankly- cheers on a super-interesting furniture design.
-Ed

Posted: 3:23 pm on June 23rd

rant rant writes: Wow, Man.. you guys are far out, man, far out
Supprised ya didn't hang some crystals around the perimeter ta channel the energy of the universe
Don't forget to pass that around, man.

Posted: 9:58 am on June 23rd

jwiggers jwiggers writes: Saschafer: Thanks for posting that link because it illustrates exactly what I'm talking about.

You quote the document as saying:

From the fact sheet: "The number of mature trees has declined and large parts of the habitat have been converted to crops." And "Felling of the species is now only allowed by quota but continues illegally."

My contention is that it is important to support sustainable use of this type of wood (i.e. what is allowed by quota) on a limited and monitored basis to provide an ongoing financial incentive for those living in the forest to manage those forests responsibly. By not using those woods whatsoever those trees are thereby rendered worthless altogether, which thereby increases the likelihood that they'll be destroyed for other reasons i.e. illegal harvest for black market trade and/or the lands conversion to more profitable uses such as agriculture.

The trade of illegal timber is currently the biggest issue facing the sustainability of global forests, and a more comprehensive approach is needed to address the problem. True sustainability includes people and all sources of life, and the inconvenient truth of the matter is that if people are cut off from a sustainable and viable means of providing for themselves and their loved ones they'll turn to something else.

As for dismissing veneer use as fraudulent "unless there's a plan in place to regenerate the wood", this logic should actually apply to all types of wood - veneer, solid or reconstituted. The fact remains that throughout history veneers have resulted in a more efficient use of materials through better yields. Using solids, for example, typically involves cutting square boards from round logs which thereby creates a good deal of waste. Perhaps we should say that solid timber use is bad unless a sustainability plan is in place that includes regeneration and the growing of square trees.

As for the contention the FSC material is unavailable and "no mere mortal is ever going to be able to obtain any" is completely untrue. I have been FSC certified since 1998, and in the early days I would agree that FSC certified materials were all but impossible to source. As FSC has grown so has available supply, and the old mantra of "can't get any material" is no longer valid. Today there is an abundance of material available, including lesser known tropical species. If you're interested in finding sources please let me know and I'll post links.



Posted: 7:44 am on June 23rd

Old_Ironballs Old_Ironballs writes: I can understand what the author is saying about using a resource in order to ensure it is maintained as a cash crop for the future, but in many cases this is just wishful thinking. Ebony is one of those woods where it is almost impossible to use with a clear conscience and the FSC certification is no guarantee as there are many flaws in the system.

My view is that any wood that does or could come from the DR Congo (or similar countires) should not be used as the whole system in those countries is corrupt.

I thought this piece was going to be along the lines of the celebration of native North American woods you had a few months ago, that was a much more useful read as far as learning about sustainability goes.
Posted: 7:08 am on June 23rd

saschafer saschafer writes:
I have to agree as well. If this were April 1st, I would have thought that the whole post was a joke.

The article doesn't say whether or not the Macassar Ebony used in the piece is FSC-certified. It's within the realm of possibility for it to be (lots of vendors claim to be be able to supply FSC-certified exotics), but the unfortunate reality is that except for a few species, unless you're interested in container-sized quantities, no mere mortal is ever going to be able to obtain any. The only exotics where I've ever been able to confirm the availability of FSC-certified material is in the species that are used for flooring.

And using veneer under the guise of sustainability is just plain fraudulent. Sure, you use less material, but unless there is a plan in place to regenerate the material you consume, no matter how little, the practice isn't sustainable.

You can read the IUCN fact sheet on Macassar ebony here:

http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/33203/0

It's listed as Vulnerable, which is just one notch below Endangered. From the fact sheet: "The number of mature trees has declined and large parts of the habitat have been converted to crops." And "Felling of the species is now only allowed by quota but continues illegally."

Regarding sassafras, the author is correct that sassafras contains volatile oils. The major component of the oils in sassafras is safrole, which is a suspected carcinogen. The reason it (and most essential oils in general) are present in plants is that they are effective insecticides...

(I'll never understand the "It's natural so it must be good for you" crowd. I recommend that they try a salad of fresh poison ivy leaves with castor bean dressing, and a cup of comfrey tea on the side.)

Regarding hawthorn, the results of the clinical trial demonstrating that hawthorn promotes well being and clear thinking is published in which journal, exactly? If we visit a Chinese herbs web site (http://www.chinese-herbs.org/), we find that kava kava is recommended for well being and clear thinking, but hawthorn is not. Similarly, if we visit a different herbal site (http://evenstarherbs.com/spotlight.html), we see that hawthorn is recommended for allergies and "blood building," whatever that means. And so on and so on and so on.

The irony is that hawthorn actually does have some medically recognized cardiovascular effects, but certainly nothing to do with "clear thinking."

-Steve

Posted: 10:04 pm on June 22nd

jwiggers jwiggers writes: Although principles of Feng Shui and Vastu Shastra have been incorporated into the overall design of this desk, the sustainability elements (from a materials standpoint) have more to do with the use of FSC certified woods, non-UF glue and low-VOC finish.

The use of a tropical veneer in this case is deliberate because it provokes thinking to address the issue of sustainability from a deeper level. Since the late 1980s the commonly accepted "solution" for saving the world's rainforests has been to simply not use any of the woods that come from there.

What few people realize is that this overly simplistic approach (of refusing to use the wood at all) actually makes the deforestation problem worse, because by denying those who depend on the forest with a means of making a living people become forced into unsustainable practices such as cattle ranching and cash crop farming to produce commodities such as beef, soy beans and biofuel.

Yes, sustainability is about the wise use of resources, but it also about fostering a world that is sustainable for all sources of life that includes human beings.

Encouraging sustainable practices by using woods wisely is, in the long term, far more practical and effective. That said the veneers used on this desk were sourced in a manner that is also consistent with the principles and standards required by my FSC chain-of-custody certification i.e. not using wood that is endangered.

Beyond this it should also be obvious that building furniture of a quality level that will last for many generations is far more sustainable than today's common practice of producing cheap, disposable furniture that typically ends up as landfill within a few years time.

The use of lesser known species of woods (i.e. Hawthorn and Sassafras) that have been used for thousands of years in traditional holistic and Ayurvedic practice has little to do with promising "magical powers". Instead, the use of these woods is an attempt to raise awareness and, hopefully, foster better appreciation of some of these lesser known species of trees by encouraging others to understand more about trees and, therefore, see forests as something more than just standing inventories of timber supply.

As Black Elk of the Oglala Sioux once said: "What Man does not understand, he fears. And what he fears, he destroys." By using the design and materials of this desk as a means to also communicate a bigger story, the intent is to foster better appreciation and understanding.

Is that not, ultimately, what sustainability is about?
Posted: 9:59 pm on June 22nd

BStev BStev writes: I have to agree with Charles, the title doesn't fit the article. I have a hard time imagining Macassar Ebony as a sustainable material unless just using it as veneer is considered a sustainable practice which is reasonable. Otherwise the article is a description of the design of a particular piece of furniture, not really sustainability. Interesting though.
Bob
Posted: 6:55 pm on June 22nd

CharlesCulp CharlesCulp writes: Huh!

Your article title had me interested. Sustainable furniture making is important; and as manufacturers of goods we need to be cognizant of sustainable efforts.

Your title is misleading, as this desk is more interested in holding magic powers than sustainable building practices. Feng Shui and Vastu Shastra state that you can imbue material objects with magical powers if you follow certain rules. That's just silly.

Continue with the good magazine!
Posted: 1:44 pm on June 22nd

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About The Pro Shop Blog

Thinking about going pro and selling your woodwork? Or just want some advice on how to market your business and make it stand out in the marketplace? Well this blog’s for you.

A joint venture between Fine Woodworking and CustomMade, The Pro Shop will give you tips on selling custom furniture or just getting started in the business.

Questions for our bloggers? Post a comment here and we’ll try to address it in an upcoming post.

About Fine Woodworking: Your source for expert advice on woodworking and furniture making since 1975.

About CustomMade: An online marketplace designed to help serious craftspeople sell their wares and help customers locate a custom maker.