My Difficult Relationship With Exotics
Being raised Protestant, guilt isn’t at the fiber of my being. But I know guilt; my wife is Catholic.
And I get a feeling that resembles guilt whenever I work with tropical hardwoods. Like many woodworkers, I’ve read a lot about C.I.T.E.S., both in the mainstream media and in the woodworking world (here’s W. Patrick Edwards’s excellent take on it).
But I’ve never thought that I knew enough to take a firm stand on the use of exotics – for every discussion of the certification process for imports, there is a discussion of the corruption behind it in some countries.
And so my default position was to work with widely available domestic species. I mean really, what’s not to love? We have no shortage of gorgeous species from which to work.
But then I started building campaign furniture.
This historical style was typically made in tropical hardwoods; teak, mahogany and camphorwood were three of the most common species used. And so, in the interest of historical accuracy, I began using some mahogany and teak. This stuff was about 50 years old and had been sitting in a warehouse; some of it I reclaimed from curb furniture.
It was gorgeous stuff. And working with it was a joy.
After a few years of research and cataloging British campaign furniture, I began to turn up a lot of examples that were made in oak, ash, walnut and birch. After reading “Woods in British Furniture-Making: 1400-1900” by Adam Bowett, I became convinced that the many of the British pieces I was studying were actually made using American white oak, black walnut and white ash.
So once, again, I convinced myself to stick with the North American species.
But then temptation reared its finely grained little head.
I got a phone call from the place that had sold me the old and perfect mahogany. They had found a stash of it in the back and would I be interested in taking it off their hands at a crazy low price?
I think my next project is going to need to be building a confessional.
— Christopher Schwarz