Pillar I.I - Environmental

Some of the way wood turners and wood workers are able to have sustainable businesses/practices are that we have the ability to use every last scrap of material we work with as well as the ability to get wood for free! I know I personally check craigslist, Facebook marketplace, and all the other sites that list free things almost daily. There is always, without fail, a post made by someone trimming branches or breaking down dead trees and asking for people to help themselves to the wood – often to be used as firewood and scrap. While these free logs can be used for fuel, they can also produce some beautiful artistic creations. Many, many bowls, plates, platters, vases, and sculptures have been found in the firewood pile.

Some of the ways I’ve been able to keep Oakenwell sustainable in regard to the materials and practices I use are:

  • Using thrift store, damaged, discarded, and reclaimed wood items for inlaying
  • Finding wood being given away for free on craigslist for turning
  • Finding wood to turn from lumber store scrap bins
  • Sawing and sharpening by hand whenever possible (which is all the time since I don’t have any power saws or sharpeners)
  • Using recycled tee shirts and cloth for waxing and finishing
  • Saving the shavings for drying green rough pieces and personal kindling
  • Packaging and shipping pieces I sell in reused cardboard boxes with reused insulation (I save all the boxes and packing materials that are sent to me)


Some ways I hope to be able to implement to practice sustainability for Oakenwell are:

  • Finding ways to recycle and reuse sandpaper (does anyone have any tips on how to do this since sandpaper isn’t accepted in recycling bins?)
  • Getting a coring tool (this tool cuts a bowl-shaped chunk out of a blank that can be used to make a whole other bowl instead of hollowing out a bowl by creating shavings)
  • A solar generator to run my lathe on (this article here shows that this could be easily possible for my 4.5-amp lathe)
  • Being open to continuously learning how I can create and manage a business in a way that makes the most of the materials, tools, and energy I use.


One of the things I do see that concerns me as an environmental activist is the allure exotic woods have on the woodworking community, which may come from or influence the allure exotic woods have on consumers. Nobody who respects and works with a material actively seeks to see less of it in the world, and while wood turners today might never see a day where the woods we like are endangered, this may be a real possibility for future generations. Yes, there exist greedy corporations that put profits over the environment and they make enough to continue to stay in business and illegally or irresponsibly harvest valuable wood, but there are a lot of organizations out there that are helping consumers and those of us who work with wood see the good guys from the bad guys. Organizations like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) can be trusted to certify manufacturers on the basis that they are managing privately owned forests responsibly. Other organizations like the international Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) holds certification standards that ensure companies and forest owners are sustainably managed across the globe and can provide proof that their practices are not harmful to people or to the planet.

Shopping for lumber with these kinds of certifications can go a long way to helping make sure we have not only this valuable material to work with, but that we have trees as well. They’re not just sources for woodworkers, they’re the lifeblood of our atmosphere! And yes, it does matter that deforestation is happening, even if it isn’t happening in your backyard. We knew we were going to be affected in North America by deforestation in the Amazon decades ago, even before the destructive fires (Gedney and Valdez, 2000). I know woodworkers care about this, people who have common sense care about this, and businesses that care about this more than profits are the ones that are driving us into a more beautiful and sustainable future. Getting excited about all the ways things can go right and all those who are fighting for the health of our planet is one of the ways I’ve been able to combat my climate anxiety.

Now, I’m incredibly new at this, so green if you turned me you’d get ribbons, but one thing I’ve come to know about the wood turning community is that these people pride themselves on their resourcefulness and their ability to do a lot with very little. In this community, pride does not come from having the newest lathe, the latest tools, the most perfect and proprietary blanks. Success looks like using the most tired, true, and trusty machines, gouges and scrapers that have stood the test of time, and turning the most unlikely and rough looking pieces of wood into beautiful, purposeful, and functional works of art. I have seen this attitude in so many of the turners I’ve met in my online communities, it’s hard to resist adopting the way turners think!

Maybe it comes from a place of true respect for the materials and a deep appreciation for the beauty of the natural world. I know when I see a beautiful piece of wood with an intricate grain just waiting to be turned, I pause, and I’m overcome with a little bit of existential anxiety (which we already covered that I’m prone to experience). I don’t feel worthy to impose my imperfect will upon something that could have so much more potential with a more skilled turner, especially as a beginner who is bound to make mistakes. I get really scared of messing up. I get really scared of creating more waste in the world instead of something that can be beautiful and useful. I’m very aware of how new I am and how much I have to learn, and I know I can’t get better unless I make all the mistakes that lead me to understanding and growing. Yeah, I know “the expert has failed more times than the beginner has even tried”, but it hurts me somewhere deep inside to see myself waste materials as a newbie. That’s why I try my best to read as much as I can, watch as many videos those expert turners put out there (thank you guys SO MUCH for these, seriously), ask as many questions, and take every chance I can to be better than I was the last turn. People who have been there for me have really made the difference and helped me fight the anxiety that comes naturally with support, expertise, and genuine care. I feel pushed to do better, gifted with room to grow, and proud to show my community what I can do with what little I have. The woodturning community is wonderfully sustainable without even trying. As an advocate of sustainability and a student in turning, I’m in a great place to learn more and create what I love in a way that is gentle and respectful of the earth and her gifts.

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