Living during a pandemic has refocused our interest in sustainability and increased our thinking about what is required for a healthy life and a healthy planet. Like many we thinking more about where things come from and how they are made. It is often difficult to see the whole supply chain, the conditions for workers and end of life disposal and we want to be as transparent as possible in our business.
‘Sustainable furniture making’ might mean as little as using wood – a renewable resource – however it has to be much broader and deeper than that. We find Kate Raworth’s model of Doughnut Economics helpful for thinking about sustainability. Her model has two rings and looks like a doughnut. The inner ring represents the basic needs of people to keep them healthy and happy including housing, work, education, healthcare, community, air, water and energy. The outer ring represents the need of the planet to remain in balance, and human demand must not exceed certain limits, to prevent damage to atmosphere, oceans, soil, bio-diversity and natural resources. There is a sweet spot between the two rings where people have what they need without damaging the earth. At the moment there are many people who do not have enough to meet their basic needs and we are damaging the planet by over-consumption of limited resources and generating too much pollutants and waste.
As a micro-business we are thinking about what we can do to thrive in the sweet spot in the short, medium and long-term. At a basic level we transform local hardwoods into treasured furniture but it can be useful to analyse the steps.
We are lucky to have a small team of dedicated people who derive job satisfaction from making museum quality furniture. Individual makers are responsible for whole projects where possible (for better job satisfaction and learning) and frequent discussion about the best way to do things leads to highly skilled makers and efficiency, helping to make our furniture as affordable as possible. We have annual occupational health checks and improve the working environment through investing in the best machinery. Normally we offer paid internships and apprenticeships but sadly this is on hold during Covid-19.
We source some oak from our collectively owned, local bluebell wood (above) and we fell and mill as part of a sustainable woodland management plan designed to increase bio-diversity and the overall health of the woodland. We also use Perthshire grown oak, ash and cherry which are felled and milled on a micro-scale by other tree surgeons and saw-millers. The process is skilled and time-consuming but having a continuing local supply of timber has been helpful during the pandemic.
Recently we were offered two large oak trees (being felled as concerns that they were old enough to drop limbs and block a crucial access). These trees are too big for us to manage alone. They were prepared and felled by a tree surgeon (below left), then split by Pol Bergius from Black Dog Timber , who will return with his wood miser and Angus to mill into planks. The wood will then air-dry in stick (for minimum of a year per inch thick).
It has really helped our furniture making to be very close to the felling and milling. It has stimulated experimentation and Angus can work with the miller to prepare the tree as efficiently as possible for our unique combination of furniture making processes. It has also reduced transport miles, supports local businesses, and helps celebrate our local timber and woodland.
We are licensees of the Scottish Working Woods Label.
The Scottish Working Woods Label benefits both the environment and the local communities in the following ways:
“The label supports local growing, harvesting, processing and production which in turn mitigates climate change and supports local economy and employment.
The label endorses the value of local biodiversity, character and identity in the woodland resource.
The ‘chain of custody’ from raw material to finished product brings producers, customers and communities into a meaningful relationship with each other and with Scottish woodlands.
The label supports and promotes the value of traditions in the areas of woodland management, craftsmanship and use of resources, encouraging the development and retention of the associated skills.”
We specialise in steam-bending which allows us to use air-dried oak and ash. Steaming for an hour requires less energy than the more usual kiln drying for weeks or months. Bending with steam means we can achieve interesting curves and shapes with minimal waste.
We use harvested rain water for steam bending.
We use traditional cabinetmaking or green wood-work techniques for jointing, rather than faster screws, as we believe it is ‘better’: it will be longer lasting and is more beautiful. We have also developed innovative ways to simplify jointing and we harness the inherent strength in woods long fibres.
Most of our work is bespoke and therefore our making process is always evolving. There are frequent discussions about the best way at all stages including selecting, machining, joint work, construction and finishing and we are proud that we have been selected four times for The Wood Awards best new bespoke furniture design.
Although we hope our furniture will be treasured for decades (even centuries) it can be repaired, up-cycled or recycled in the medium to long term, and at the very end of life it could be burnt or bio-degraded. This fits with notion of a “circular economy” – keep a resource in use as long as possible and think about disposal from the outset rather than a “linear economy” – make, short life span of use, and no responsibility for disposal.
We are always happy to assist in the unlikely event that our furniture needs to be repaired and we provide advice on care and maintenance.
Wood waste is recycled or burnt for fuel.
Our furniture is finished with natural oils. This is easy to repair and refinish and is not damaging to human health or the environment.
We are trying to minimise the use of plastic in the workshop and we are improving our packaging so that smaller furniture can be sent in totally bio-degradable packaging.
We have recently switched to Bulb – a 100% renewable electricity supplier.