Upcycling an old chair with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint

The Life-Cycle Of Wooden Furniture

We all know that wood comes from trees. How many of us, though, really pay attention to the journey that the timber used in wooden furniture goes through over its whole life cycle? All too often in the modern world, we simply acquire and discard with little thought for the energy, time and resources used over the life-cycle of all the things we have accumulated in our homes. For the sake of sustainability, it is essential that we all pay more attention to where things come from and where they are going.

Repainting an old chair with blue Annie Sloan Chalk Paint

In the case of wooden furniture, it may seem simple. But are you really aware of everything that the wood went through between its life as a tree and its eventual use as, for example, a table in your home? Do you understand what it took to make that table?

First, the tree grew in the forest. It absorbed moisture and nutrients from the air and the soil, it absorbed carbon dioxide and expelled oxygen – a natural factory. At some point, that tree must have been cut down. How exactly this was done would depend on when and where it grew. In olden days, a man may have cut down the tree by hand, whereas a tree cut today would be far more likely to have been cut down by means of a mechanised process. The process of cutting down the tree would have taken energy – energy in the form of fossil fuels to run machinery, in the vehicles used to get to the site and used to move the felled trees that have been harvested.

The tree was not burned and so the carbon is still held within it. This is carbon that could otherwise be free to enter the atmosphere and contribute to the greenhouse effect and global warming. It is, however, no longer living and can sequester no more carbon. We should hope that the tree was growing in a sustainable forestry system, one in which trees that are taken for timber are replaced. Of course, there is no way of knowing whether an old piece of wooden furniture was from sustainable forest or not.

Next, a tree is taken for processing. It is cut and the pieces for furniture created. Chipboard and other such materials are created from the waste product ad scraps. This process takes yet more energy, yet more fuel. But this is still not the end of the journey for the timber. Most wooden furniture is not made from green wood. Rather, the wood is dried. While air drying can be achieved, it is slow. More often, timber is kiln dried (more energy/ pollution) and sometimes treated with chemical preservatives and other treatments.

Whether on an industrial scale or my local craftsmen in small workshops, a piece of wooden furniture is assembled from the materials. At this stage more treatments (with their own polluting and energy guzzling lifecycles) may be added – perhaps some glue, for example, or a varnish or paint. The new item must then be transported to its place of sale and from there to a home.

All of these separate stages add up, meaning that by the time a piece of new wooden furniture reaches a home, it has chocked up a fairly large carbon cost – even though wood is a better material than most others. This is why it is so important not to buy new furniture unnecessarily and to take care of old furniture, giving it a new lease of life and holding onto it for as long as possible. Love Restored can help you do just that.

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