6 Reasons Wood is THE Sustainable Building Material

1. Wood is a carbon sink.

As we all learned in school, trees absorb carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, converting it into oxygen. That carbon is locked away in the fibres of the wood, acting as a carbon sink. Once the tree is cut down, and turned into a lovely outdoor setting or a wall in your home, it is stored there and the space can be used to grow another tree. So the cycle continues, and that leads to the next reason…

2. Wood is renewable.

Plantation timbers can be rapidly and sustainably be grown and re-grown on the same plot of land. This continues the cycle of carbon absorption using species that grow rapidly and are ideal for use as milled timber. Traditionally, large trees have been used to achieve the larger dimensions required for structural timber or show pieces. More recently, the rise of engineered timbers mean that we can composite many of these smaller dimensions into a larger piece suitable for beams or bench tops.

3. Wood is durable.

With our sustainably produced timbers adorning the structure and furnishings that make up our home, their ability to resist damage means our homes are replaced less often. Furniture produced using timber, using quality joins and workmanship can last a life time. Homes produced using quality timber and protected from the elements and pests can last 100 years.

4. Wood is a good insulator.

Compared to brick or steel, wood is a fantastic insulator. Its fibrous structure naturally prevents the movement or heat or cold into or out of a structure. The voids created by using timber structures facilitate the use of highly insulating materials to further improve the quality of heat retention. Heavy timber structures using methods like post and beam / sip further reduce the surface area of the structure to the outside world, increasing the insulating quality of the building. When used in conjunction with SIP panels to seal your home, your old timey wood frame house becomes a sustainable power house.

5. Wood is reusable.

Especially with traditional joins, wood structures like homes and furniture can be repaired easily by remaking broken components. The broken components can be cut down and used for other projects. Most of our projects result in waste, and that waste is used in other projects until all that is left is wood chips and saw dust. With a little bit of treatment, old wood can be reconditioned to look good as new. Often, when protected from the elements, wood ages fantastically as it becomes more seasoned and stable.

6. Wood is biodegradable.

When the day finally comes that you need to dispose of your wood structure, it is perfectly suitable for returning to the environment. Fungi have developed over millennia to break down wood that is exposed to the elements and return the nutrients that remain into the earth for use by living plants. If the structure is burned, it limits the carbon damage to unlocking the carbon that had been locked down for the previous hundred years. Not the worst outcome!

Building a Timber Gate Latch (by hand)

I think the best lesson I have been learning while developing my hand tool skills is that, hand tools can be quite fast for one off projects. Of course, if you want a perfect finish, super strong joints or complex designs you have to put the work in. But the same could be said for power tools IMO.

This project only took 2-3 hours of work and the result was very pleasing. I will repeat again, I am barely an amateur. This project was good to practice some very basic skills and the result served two great purposes: it saved a trip to the hardware store and it used waste from other projects. Please enjoy.

Tool List

  • Hand Saw
  • Chisel
  • Marking Gauge
  • Brace and Bit
  • Router Plane (Optional)
  • Jack Plane

Procedure

This tutorial will run though how to build a rustic wooden gate latch for your wooden fence.

After what seems to have been years of neglect from various tenants, the old latch finally gave out. Specifically, the mounting block failed. The latch itself was also quite small when compared to the size of the gate and this meant that the gate could often blow itself open as the latch worked its way out.

In any case, a replacement was warranted.

I had a bunch of scrap left over from some practice runs and errors made while working on my Moravian Workbench. I decided this would be a good opportunity to use up some waste material and to avoid a trip to the local hardware store.

I started by blocking off as much material from a failed timber split as I could recover and marking it with the marking gauge to thickness.

I used a saw and chisel to knock as much material off as possible and reduce the amount of planing we had to do.

Once the bulk material was removed, I was able to clamp it in place and run the plane over it.

The result was a nice smooth block that was decently square and straight. Precision is not super important for this project on all faces, however the face with the bolt I retained from the original dressed side of the timber.

I was able to take the block across to the back gate and mark up the recesses so it fit nicely. With the recesses marked, I cut and chiseled the bulk material again using the same process as before.

While we could have planed it flat with the router plane, I chose not to as it was going to be hidden anyway and to save time. Checked for fit and it looked like a nice fit.

Next I moved onto the guides. I took another bit from the scrap pile and cut it in half.

I cut two slots in it with the hand saw ready to create a slot in the piece.

I chiseled out the bulk material and created the rough slide way.

Since this is going to be a friction surface, I decided to router plane the recess smooth.

Once completed I marked it up and cut with the hand saw.

I then checked that the bolt slides correctly. The bolt was made of another bit of scrap that was planed down to size. I also took this as an opportunity to cut the rabbets that the guides would slot into.

With the rabbets marked, I was able to hit it with the chisel. Not the finest work but I wanted this to be quick and effective. My focus was function over form.

I glued the components in place, drilled some counter bores and screwed the guide assembly onto the gate

I used the same process for the bolt retainer, and used the chisel to cut out a small notch to fit the bolt knob in place. This was all glued up using wood glue and allowed to cure before screwing into place.

And that was a nother job down. Overall I was really happy with the outcome. It demonstrated to me again that with a few simple hand tools you can achieve a lot. Even more satisfying is the fact I was able to complete this project just with wood from the scrap pile.

A very utilitarian design, but I think its simplicity turned out quite nice.

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Thanks again!

Can you repair furniture with just Hand Tools?

After 10 years of service, our outdoor setting has started to fall apart. This has been my first opportunity to do some home repairs using hand tools.

I have an outdoor setting that has come with me from house to house for the last 8 years that I purchased second hand. My goal with this project was to demonstrate that, cheap wood furniture can be upcycled by repairing the weak links with traditional techniques.

With a hand full of hand tools and a bit of time, we were able to save ourselves the cost of a new outdoor setting.

Essential Tools

  • Chisel
  • Mallet
  • Square
  • Pencil
  • Auger
  • Hand Brace
  • Plane

Procedure

First stage was to disassemble the chair and remove the broken part. The broken component is essential as it is used to mark up the duplicate. Next I purchased the closest size DAR timber from a local hardware store. I rough cut the timber to length using the hand saw and used a marking gauge to mark out the correct dimensions based on the original and marked to size.

Using the Jack plane, I dimensioned the timber to the gauge lines and had my material ready for structural operations. I also aligned the broken piece and the prepared material next to each other so I could mark the locations of each operation with a pencil and square.

Using a 16mm and 10 mm auger bit, and a brace was able to make the counterbore hole for the chair bolt. Using a 1/4 inch chisel and the mallet, I could start to cut out the mortise. The technique I followed for the mortise part can be found here.

Repeating this technique, I was able to replicate the old part with square holes instead of round ones.

Then, using a saw I cut the angle at the bottom, and fit it to the chair back.

Final Thoughts

This was a great little project. It only took me a few hours, and the tools required to complete the task can be purchased for a pittance. We were able to up cycle our cheap old outdoor setting and extend its life for another few years.

More importantly, I got to learn some great new skills and have the satisfaction of repairing an item using my hands.

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Why bother with Hand Tools?

When I first thought about woodworking with hand tools, I thought it was an unnecessary chore, a relic of our past. I grew to learn that it is a wonderful past time that is becoming more and more relevant in a quickly changing world.

In my first engagements wood working community I learned there was two very distinct groups. The power tool guys and the traditional guys. I think both have their merits, but in the end I decided that traditional woodworking was for me. This post will give you some ideas on what best suits you.

I am just an average guy, I am not a builder or a carpenter. I found myself with an interest in building things, and a need for a few small repairs around the house. My first learning experiences came when an outdoor setting had broken after years of service and I endeavored to repair it.

Sunburned and rotten after 10 years of service, my chair finally died

Old me probably would have just made a trip to the tip and bought a new one; but locked down at home, I had to find a way to fix it. I pulled the chair apart and surveyed the damage. I looked at what would be required to replicate the broken part and came to learn, I needed thousands of dollars worth of tools to fix this thing.

This is when I learned my first lesson:

Hand Tools are Great Value

I picked up all the tools I needed for this repair for less than $100. Don’t get me wrong, there are some really nice tools out there and you can pay a lot for them. With that said, a budget set of quality tools is inexpensive when compared to a budget power tool kit.

Hand tools are also very versatile, so that purchase will cover lots of different jobs. This means your dollars spent will go much further.

Hand Tools are Relaxing

I chose woodworking as a way of escaping a busy life. The process of building things is meditative for me. I get to make things I need, while also relaxing. Traditional woodworking is a physical process, so I get a dose of serotonin while I am at it. It requires you to focus and be mindful, a proven technique to improve mood and reduce stress.

I move a lot with my day job, and that means a lot of new inner city neighbors. While occasional mallet blows are necessary, it is much quieter than the power saw and electric router. That means more relaxation for me and less angry neighbors!

Hand Tools Are Compact

For most of us, wood working is a hobby. Space to set up a workshop is often out of reach for the majority of us. Even for those of us who have space, it is often shared with life’s other priorities.

A great benefit of Hand Tools are their versatility and compactness. Armed with the right skills, and a hand full of tools, we can achieve a lot. A table and a small toolbox of basic tools is all that is required to do most household repair work.

This is easily setup and packed up, moved or otherwise incorporated into our lives.

Hand Tools Are Sustainable

Hand tools are very simple machines. They are often only made of steel and wood, and can be expected to provide effective service for decades. Compared with the complex and difficult to recycle power tools, with short expected working lives.

There is a dedicated community of traditional woodworkers that restore and use hand tools that are a hundred years old. The design of these core hand tools have remained unchanged for hundreds of years.

A wonderfully simple and rewarding process to repair

The repair went ahead with these handful of tools, and I walked away learning some valuable lessons. Importantly, I got bitten by the bug. If I could do this with so little, imagine what you could do.

Please feel free to comment with your experiences or thoughts. I would also ask that you please consider joining our mailing list so you can join me us on our journey of learning new and old skills.