Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Getting Started - Recycled Jarrah Cabinet, Part 1.

This project has been brewing for a while. For some months my customers and I have been bouncing design concepts back and forth. I've done a pile of drawings, we've had a couple of meetings, and exchanged a bunch of emails... Well, a week and a half ago I started the build...

What is about to be created? A large L-shaped cabinet which will be a stunning feature in their living room. It will have two primary functions: to house some very nice HI-FI/media gear and to display a heap of very beautiful collectibles - particularly ceramic works by a range of artists.   Not only will it be made from recycled jarrah, but the cabinet must also fit in with a nice antique tall sideboard which shares the room. Many of the little details in the new cabinet will be taken from that sideboard. That'll be fun!  For me, it always feels such a privilege to make a beautiful heirloom for someone. I'm looking forward to this project. It's a big job, so I'll post stories about the build in a number of parts as we progress - interspersed with other stuff which occurs along the way.

On the Material, a foray into history, and the wood recycling imperative...
The jarrah we'll use will come from a range of sources - my customers, my own stocks, and stuff I obtain from other sources, like salvage yards.
The first batch of used jarrah my customers have contributed. Old shelving and heavy floor joists.
For those readers outside Western Australia, it's worth just reflecting for a moment about Jarrah. This magnificent tree, Eucalyptus marginata, is indigenous to the south-west corner of the Australian continent. When the British colonists first invaded this part of the world in the late 1820's, they couldn't believe their luck. This amazing and seemingly prolific tree offered a dark reddish-brown high quality hardwood timber found to be suitable for building construction, furniture, joinery, ship building, charcoal production, firewood, fencing, later railway sleepers, and so much more. The settlers gave it the common name Swan River Mahogany, and the colony was built on its back. For many years it would be the primary source of export income for the growing colony, as the flourishing logging industry sent railway sleepers, construction timbers, paving blocks and more all over the British Empire.  Jarrah would continue to be the building material of choice in Western Australia for the next 150 years. It was treated as an infinite resource, and taken for granted by generations.
However, by the 1980s, growing limitations on the supply of jarrah logs to the industry, emerging competition from plantation-grown pine, the increasing availability of cheap imported rainforest timbers from South East Asia, and the rising voice of the environmental protest movement  would combine to see things gradually change. It is said that less than 6% of the original Jarrah forest remains. Reducing rainfall over the last 40 years has had a dire impact, which is accelerating through the drought stress which these trees are suffering each summer now. The result is that our remaining jarrah forests are not regenerating like they once did. In fact, too many of them are dying. In addition to this, huge swathes of jarrah forest are cleared every year under the steady march of bauxite mining and mineral sands minimg (and most of these trees are burnt!), others in the way of the ever expanding urban sprawl are chipped up into landscaping woodchips, and much of the remaining forest is threatened by the spread of the deadly Die Back disease (Phyophthora cinnamomi).

You would think that we would value this once plentiful timber, and treasure it as it disappears from the environment and from the timber menu. Tragically, we still take Jarrah for granted. Housing pressure, economic affluence, "urban infill" and a lack of commitment at all levels of our community to environmental sustainability is seeing perfectly good houses being demolished to build smaller units or huge "MacMansions".  The majority of these older houses, having been built over the last 100 years, are constructed from jarrah. Even the brick houses still have jarrah floors, bearers, joists, rafters, etc. Why is it that we don't value this amazing timber - that the majority of this timber from demolished houses ends up in landfill!? It is a criminal waste, and breaks my heart. Our children and theirs will be gob-smacked that we could be so short-sighted.

In case you hadn't noticed, I am passionate about the wood recycling imperative. Recycling, up-cycling, re-using, value-adding - whatever you want to call it, we have a responsibility to the planet and to the trees themselves to treat this wonderful resource with the respect and value which it truly deserves.

This big cabinet build which I have embarked on will be made almost exclusively from recycled jarrah. Having had a variety of former lives, these pieces of timber will come together to have a whole new life. Nice. Unless it rots or is eaten by termites, timber can be recycled indefinitely for centuries. I am honoured to have this joy and responsibility.

I hope you enjoy the story of this project as the journey unfolds...

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