Notes from Windward: #64

The Woodworking Department

      On the one hand, Windward has lots of trees, and on the other hand, Windward needs furniture. The goal of the woodworking department is to use the former to create the latter.

      To the casual eye, a forest seems like a traquil, staid place, but it's actually a very dynamic place, albeit on some thing of a different time scale than humans are used to thinking in. One of the spiritual values that come with learning to work with trees is that they shift one's awareness from being caught in the moment towards an appreciation for the way that time transforms everything.

      We have about 100 acres of forestland, and every year some of those trees die and need to be removed. Most every winter, some trees have their crowns broken off by a heavy snow load; they need to be harvested before they rot out from the core. Each year some young trees needed to be thinned out so that other trees will have the chance to grow tall and straight.

      The function of the Woodworking Department is to transform this steady supply into something more than firewood. In that sense, it's something of a "can't lose" proposition, since the worst-case outcome is that it's still firewood.

      Since for the most part we're talking about trees which have already died a natural death, we don't look to make them into load bearing lumber. Instead, our focus is on applications such as furniture where the woodcrafter has the ability to sort through the resulting lumber to pick and choose boards that are suited to the application.

      Another advantage we have is that since when we're cutting a log into lumber, we get to size the cuts so that the lumber produced is suited to the application. If we're planning on turning a downed tree into fruit crates or picture frames, we'll produce thin cuts ready for assembly, and if we're going to build a massive picnic table, then we'll cut the log into great slabs of wood.

      In the consumer oriented world, bigger is always better, with a result that the size of the average home has steadily grown to the point where the home's energy needs are substantial. While it's nice to have lots of room, it's not nice to have to pay the power bills needed to heat all that extra space. One way to enhance energy efficiency is with custom built-in furnishings that use space efficiently and help insulate walls.

      The result is that we enjoy furnishings which suit our lifestyle and personal desires all at a fraction of the cost of store-bought furnishing. Just as a community's architecture makes a statement its relationship to the environment at large, so too does one's personal furnishings express one's sense of self. By focusing on what matters most on a personal level, and creating furnishings which facilitate those activities, we can greatly enhance our level of personal satisfaction and fulfillment.

      This process empowers us in more than one way in that by being able to create a custom environment which suits our personal needs and sense of aesthetics, we can also generate income by doing the same sort of custome work for others. In a world in which most everything is mass produced, and very little is built to last, there's a ready market for custome built, one-of-a-kind furnishings.

      Because we are able to mill our own lumber from our own trees, we are able to produce furniture and household items which replicate the dimensions and construction techniques used back before mass production took over. Because we have the space, we can store that lumber until it's naturally dried out and ready to work, instead of having to force dry it in a kiln.

      Becasue we approach this sort of work as a team, the range of tools we have access to is greater than what we'd have if we had to rely only on our individuals resources, and because we have a wide selection of tools, we can utilize hand tools where appropriate instead of always having to use power tools in a race to get the work out on budget.

      Because we are living a lifestyle which is as sustainable as we can figure out how to make it, we don't have to generate the level of gross income that would be needed to sustain a commercial woodshop. Consequently, we can take the time needed in order to approach woodworking as a way to make a good life, instead of as just a way to make a meager living.

      Departments are intended to primarily serve in-house needs, but the more effectively they're able to do that, the more able a department is to market its services outside of Windward, and the more products the Department is likely to have on hand to market.

      For example, when we're cutting a log into lumber for some project, the log is only going to yield a certain amount of usable boards. Some boards will have knot-holes, others will have cracks and some will have irregular sides because a log is round and irregular.

      After we've extracted as much usable lumber as we can from a given log, the remaining slabs and boards are cut up into something close to 1x2s, which are then in turn cut to sixteen inch lengths and bundled up for sale as kindling. And the sale of one bundle of kindling brings in enough money to run the saw for another couple of hours.

      And then there's sawdust that we'll use as animal bedding before it makes its way to the earthworm bins, and bark to run through the chipper to make planting mulch. We'll run the branches through the chipper to produce wood chips to burn in the shop heater, and saw the butt and the upper section of the tree into firewood to heat the kitchen.

      It's this comprehsive utilization of every part of a tree which would otherwise go to waste in the forest which makes the Woodworking Department such an excellent example of sustainability in action.        

For a discussion of Windward's Renewable Energy Department, Click Here

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 64