Know Your Wood: What's in a Name?

by Sloane Middleton

A key part of shopping for furniture sustainably is to understand the materials in question - how are they made and where do they come from?

Hardwood is one of nature’s most beautiful materials and beloved among high-end furniture makers. These qualities also make certain trees especially vulnerable to illegal logging or being over-harvested.  

Jaime Pitarch, Subject, Object, Abject, 2016.

For example, the unique black color and dense quality of Ebony made it highly sought after in cabinetry, chess pieces, piano keys, and musical instruments around the world. This global demand nearly brought the species to the brink of extinction, and it is now illegal to harvest it in most countries except Cameroon. 

Situations like this make it all the more necessary for consumers to be educated on the woods they purchase. Not only could you be contributing to deforestation, but to dangerous illegal logging practices by purchasing furniture containing certain types of wood.

Leonardo Drew, Number 185 (detail), 2016. 

Think of buying wood similarly to how you might plan your garden - if you aren’t educated in the plant’s name and light needs, you could end up with flowers that will wither. But would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? In the case of conscious furniture shopping, becoming familiar with the names of wood species is the first step. 

Luckily for the conscious consumer, there are resources like The Wood Database which provide ample information on any wood species imaginable. Plus if you are a furniture enthusiast like us at TORTUGA, becoming knowledgeable in topics like the varieties of walnut and the densities of maples can be quite intriguing. After all, you never know when your Sunday crossword puzzle clue will be “only country that can legally source Ebony.”