How to Select Sustainable Wood for DIY Projects

When choosing wood for your project the greenest option is to use reclaimed pieces as they completely remove the need for additional logging. If you reclaim it yourself, either from furniture someone is tossing out or from a pallet a business is getting rid of, you could keep whatever it is you are using out of the landfill.

Another good option is to use a domestic coniferous. These soft woods such as pine, fir and cedar are fast growing (more renewable), and if they come from the US, they are probably not in danger of being over harvested. Hardwoods such as oak and walnut are also acceptable to use, they just take longer to grow, so they are not as renewable. It is important to use a renewable wood because it reduces the use and depletion of older, slower growing woods. Make sure to ask for domestic, and when in doubt, ask for a FSCcertification. This ensures the wood you are buying comes from a forest that practices sustainable harvesting.

NOTE: Just because a hardwood has the word “hard” in its name, doesn’t automatically mean it is harder than a softwood. Both range in hardness; some softwoods are harder than hardwoods and vice versa.

If you want to use an exotic such as Big Leaf Mahogany, Spanish Cedar, Caribbean Pine, Ipe, Rosewood, Teak, Ramin, Merbau, African Mahogany, and Okoume make sure to ask for a FSC certification to ensure the wood has been harvested in a sustainable manner. It is especially important for exotics to have this certification because these trees are highly sought after and are being over harvested to the point of extinction (think long leaf pine).

If you can’t decide on the species of wood for your project, the best bet is to ask someone at a lumber yard such as Brazos Forest Products. The people who work at stores like this are pretty knowledgeable about their products and are more than willing to help out.

Choose wood that is untreated. Pressure treated wood contains many chemicals that you don’t want in your home or on your skin.

After the species of wood has been selected, look for pieces that aren’t damaged with nicks, cracks and deep scratches.

Avoid knots. This is where a branch was growing on the tree. This spot is very strong making it pretty difficult to cut or hammer through. If you want your piece of furniture to have a knotty look however, make sure to purchase wood that doesn’t have knots where you will be sawing or hammering.

Check for warping by holding one end of the wood up to your nose so you can check down the length…if you see any bowing try to find a straighter board.

Some stores will cut a desired length for you, but they probably will not cut width. This is called milling or ripping and a table saw is needed, so try to purchase the wood in the width needed.

Remember when the label says the wood is a 1” x 4”, it is actually 3/4” x 3 1/5”. Check out the chart below to see the difference between “actual” and “nominal” sizes. I always remember the difference between the two by thinking that “actual” is what the measurements actually are, and nominal (name) is what they are called. So, if you have some plans drawn up for your project and the dimensions have to be exact, make sure you are looking at the correct measurements.

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M. Germaine Parra
Realtor, Feng Shui Consultant
Licensed in DC, MD and VA
Long and Foster Realtors
6862 Elm Street Office, McLean, VA  22101
Fax:   703-873-1901
Cell:  703.650.8838

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