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Will Wilcox

Environmental Impact

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I just purchased a piece of Gabon Ebony and it really got me thinking...

 

These exotic woods that a lot of us use, many are listed as endangered or vulnerable by the IUCN. The ebony which I purchased is listed as vulnerable, for example. 

 

I'm borderline activist (if I wasn't a hermit) when it comes to the environment. These resources, these exotic woods that we use for our artwork, I would like them to still be around in 400 years so future bladesmiths can make their artwork. The destruction of the rainforests of the world are a genuine issue. 

 

How much of an impact do we really have on this sort of market? Would it even matter if we stopped buying these exotic woods? The farmers in the rainforest may well still clear their land whether we buy the material they clear or not. Might as well use it I guess, yeah? And chopping the trees, selling them, and using the wood is far better than burning them which too often happens. 

 

A lot of the people who cut these trees down, they live in more impoverished conditions then I do, and I imagine cutting down a large cocobolo tree and selling it would put a lot of food on the table for that family. So what I'm saying is, I cant blame them. I would probably do the same in that situation.

 

Obviously the solution is sustainable farming of these woods. Plant two for every one cut down. But I dont know if that's what really happens. 

 

I'm not trying to get anybody to stop using these woods, this is just a list of some of the random thoughts I had while pondering this subject. 

 

What do you think about it all? 

 

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Good points; most likely the blade handle industry is a small part of the market, but it is good to be aware and try to keep our impact as low as possible. Hard to convince people in the 3rd world though.

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We as knifemakers have very little impact on tropical hardwoods.  The biggest culprit by far is the Chinese (big surprise there) making high-end furniture for themselves.  They are singlehandedly responsible for the international ban on rosewood, which of course they didn't sign on for and so continue to scarf it up like crazy, the same way they do ivory and rhino horn.  Their government simply does not care, period.  A very VERY far distant second is the musical instrument world, which takes most of the Blackwood (clarinets, oboes, bassoons, bagpipes, piccolos, etc.) and ebony (fretboards on almost all acoustic stringed instruments, pianos).  Fine furniture makers, both industrial and hobbyist, take care of the rest of the tropical hardwoods.  About the only wood our little world is remotely responsible for overharvesting is Desert Ironwood.  Just think of all the handles you could get out the board it takes to make a single clarinet, and how much less waste we produce... maybe eight bowies, twelve kitchen knives, 20 sets of folder scales.  And I know, cheaper clarinets are not made of blackwood anymore, but you get the idea.  

 

Since most of the tropical hardwoods are irritants if not flat out toxic to work with, I've never had a problem not using it.  I do have some pre-ban rosewood from a pool cue factory that was cut over 70 years ago, and I have a little ebony and blackwood that I don't feel too bad about using.  However, I mostly  use North American and European hardwoods.  Except Cherry.  I'm very allergic to cherry dust.  Just today I did a hatchet handle out of curly ash.  Of course, ash is now close to endangered by the emerald ash borer (another present from China), but I figure I may as well use it while we have it.  If the only wood I had access to were curly maple I'd be happy.  

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trees won't be safe until after the war that comes a few hundred years after the cold wars go hot, which would be the greater Cold War as well as those smaller ones disguised as simple politics, giant spiders will develop a taste for human as the earth loses nearly all of its diversity and we are left with nothing but bamboo forests with scattered citrus trees. Humans will be smaller, hairier, and much more sour.

 

It would be better to use the wood as I don't think anyone could stop the exotic wood trade or the hellscapes that are palm oil plantations where only rats and Cobras thrive. It is as they say, when life gives you lemons...

 

I agree with Alan, most tropical hardwoods are nasty, hard as a rock, and have wild grain that can't be worked with hand tools which means lots and lots of grinding dust. 

 

I have walnut, ash, maple, oak, mesquite, Osage, pecan, and other stuff that can be found on the side of the road during bulk trash pickup events, there is a huge selection of American hardwoods that is not well represented and I really don't see what is so great about something being exotic. 

 

Certainly the "darker wood is better" attitude plays some part in this too, but better for what? Better at being darker, because people will stain lighter wood which only changes its color and shows that it doesn't really matter what you use at all if it is strong enough.

 

if everyone is using burls and curls and exotics then how is it exotic? Can you compliment the natural beauty of rare woods with the rest of your work? Some knives should be plain, keep in mind that vanilla is not the opposite of chocolate. 

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Finger boards for violins, violas, cellos and basses are all made of trueGabon Ebony.  I use Gabon Ebony on many of my pieces, like this music box I made for my wife.  All the black on it is Gabon Ebony.

 

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I also use it in knives, occasionally.  I'd say that as little as I use, I'm not "stressing" the environment.............nor would I think any knife maker would be.  China, where they use it for massive pieces of furniture is one of the main culprits................butthen they are the main culprits in most anything they do.  :angry:

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I lived on the border of Thailand and Laos in the last days of wild west wood transfers from the forrest of Laos. Like Allen said, Knife makers are almost zero impact just like knife makers are almost zero impact on elephant tusks. Its the people that use huge pieces in furniture and maybe guitars to a certain point. Mostly what you would use in a knife handle is considered a cut off or scrap piece. With elephant tusks, its the people making sculptures and demanding large pieces and quantity. 

 

Chinese culture does not give a damm about environment, go check out what they are doing to the Mekong River. 

 

On the same topic,,,,,,, I am in the market for a chainsaw. 20 something years ago I bought a new Stihl, had it flown into my camp in Alaska,,,,,, it worked like mule at twenty below and all summer,,,, almost daily use, it was a beast, two stroke perfection. Now because of environmentally sensitive laws on two stroke engines, Stihl has been forced to try and reinvent the wheel with highly regulated designs. Where one old chainsaw was practically indestructible, the new ones do not last long, get hot, burn up, are a big pain in the back side. The same jack wagons flying around on jet airplanes to have their fancy meetings are accusing me of hating mother earth for liking the simple pleasure of a good honest chainsaw that will start every time and work. They are happy to fly around, heat up mansions, own multiple houses, dozens of cars, and fart away 500 dollar plates of food,,,, , but its us guys out here with a little forge, a old chainsaw,,,,,,,,  a wood stove with a good dog in front of it nice and warm that ate Thanksgiving left overs and if were lucky had a crafted beer this Saturday night that are the evil that is destroying the earth. 

 

Note: If you use any environmentally sensitive material to make art that will stand the test of time, will be desired to own in a thousand years,,,,,, that is good thing!

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Im not so concerned about the odd bits of tropical wood I use, but do have a ponder every time I swap over a 47kg propane tank I've burnt through, basically for fun.

 

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Well, maybe I can help you with that concern, John.  There's durned sure a whole lot more petroleum products in the ground for Propane than there are exotic woods to cut down.  Still, I don't think I would worry about either, if I were you.

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I have a decent stash of koa from living in Hawaii; I use to buy offcuts from the furniture industry, and cut and milled some from trees that fell across forest roads on Kauai that had been left to rot. Recycling is good.

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Koa is mighty hard to come by here in the States.  I'd love to have unlimited access to it for handles.

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On 11/30/2019 at 10:33 PM, Alan Longmire said:

We as knifemakers have very little impact on tropical hardwoods.  The biggest culprit by far is the Chinese (big surprise there) making high-end furniture for themselves. 

I'm Namibian, we have Rosewood.

Your statement is 100% correct, and I'm glad you said it because I can't say it within forum rules :angry:

 

They've just arrested 2 ministers and others involved in the FishRot scandal along with Icelandic(k) partners, plumdered our fish stocks and crippled the fishing industry.

 

The plunder of Rosewood and others from Northern Namibia and the bordering countries continues.

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I have spent a lifetime recycling and re-purposing, by nature and necessity... real stuff; not just making myself feel better by throwing a bottle in a blue box. All of my adult life I have fostered habitat for wildlife and have done better raising deer and wild turkey that I ever did with cattle. We were environmentally responsible before environmental responsibility was cool. 

 

That said, I find it a bit humorous and a bit frustrating to see folks stay torn up about about global issues they can never fix while things under our noses are falling apart. I live at the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains. Less than a century ago much of what is now the National Park was skidder logged until it looked like the surface of the moon. But it recovered on its own when left to its own. But first the chestnut blight killed all the native chestnut trees. That was long ago. But in recent years invasive invaders have killed the fir trees on the high tops, then the hemlocks, and as Alan mentioned, the ash are all gone now. I've notice the white pines and burr pines are dying left and right and something is up with the very old oak trees. Add to that the plight of the honey bee.

 

But what is prospering? Carpenter bees, fire ants, asian lady bugs, mimosa trees, kudzu, those awful yellow flowers that cover the pasture fields in spring, autumn olive bushes, etc. No more ruffed grouse or quail, but the place is crawling with coyotes. All invasive, or better yet, invaders. How much press do you see these issues getting? Sometimes it gets noticed and often times it's laughable. The NPS decided to save the ash by forcing folks to buy government approved fire wood. Now the ash are all dead and you still have to buy official wood. Meanwhile they promote a continued increase of traffic on Park lands... thousands and thousands of vehicles every day.

 

I really don't have any solutions to offer. I'll just keep warring against the invaders on my own little patch of Creation. I'm heating my home this winter with some of the aforementioned ash trees and when it warms up I'll be bushhogging yellow flowers and jousting with carpenter bees while they slowly eat my house. I just think it's kinda funny to think of folks driving past the Round-Up sprayed right-of-ways and a dozen new subdivisions while they're worried about what's going on 3000 miles away.

 

 

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