It’s About Wood

Rutland Herald & Times Argus Archives

THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
From Forests to Furniture
Author(s): athaniel Gibson Date: January 16, 2011 Section:ENVIRONMENT
The buy local movement has significantly increased both the
availability and consumption of locally grown food in Vermont.
Another major local resource – wood – looms in the background of the
state’s numerous farms. Vermont’s landscape is 75 percent forested,
and the abundant lumber supports an important value-added wood
products industry.
Woodworking has been a legacy industry in Vermont for over 200
years. Woodworkers have passed down skills from generation to
generation and developed an international reputation for
craftsmanship, attention to detail and exquisite design.
In 2006 the forest products industry in Vermont supported 13,807
direct and indirect jobs, produced $1.83 billion in output, and
generated $486 million in personal income for a net fiscal benefit to
the state of $12.92 million, according to the report “The Economic
Impact of the Value-Added Portion of the Wood Products Industry in
Vermont,” prepared by Economic & Policy Resources, Inc.
But even though their industry is large, Vermont woodworkers still
face challenges.
“There are fewer of us out there doing what we do – making domestic
U.S. wood products,” said Malcolm Cooper, president of J.K. Adams,
a manufacturer of wooden kitchenware and furniture located in
Dorset.
The recent economic downturn and competition from China have put
some less financially well-off companies out of business.Because the
wood furniture market typically tracks the housing market, wood
products manufacturers have had difficulty maintaining sales volume
the past few years.
Manufacturers in China can copy products within six to eight weeks.
Even when prospective buyers recognize the large carbon footprint
required to ship materials from overseas, it can be tough to turn down

imports from China. They are very cheap – so cheap that the prices

cannot always be explained by low-labor costs.
Some Chinese manufacturers appear to benefit from significant
government subsidy. U.S. trade groups representing wood
manufacturers have had some success getting the Commerce
Department’s International Trade Commission to increase import
duties on Chinese bedroom furniture illegally dumped on the U.S.
market.
These duties were renewed in 2010, which is good news for Vermont
woodworkers. But duties are not always foolproof; individual Chinese manufacturers
have been able to secure exemptions from some of them.
Cost-cutting measures sometimes backfire on Chinese competitors. A
recall of Chinese toys in 2007 due to concerns about lead paint
content meant much higher sales volume that year for many domestic
toy manufacturers, including Maple Landmark Woodcraft of
Middlebury.
Owner Mike Rainville believes that this event made people think
about the safety of their toys and where they were made.
“Christmas season was chaos for us because everybody was looking
for alternatives,” he remembers enthusiastically.
There have been success stories despite the rough economy.
Kevin Hastings, owner of Amoskeag Woodworking in Colchester, was
able to buy Morse Hardwoods and Millwork when they went out of
business and keep those jobs in Vermont.
After that acquisition, Hastings moved the business into a larger
facility and hired even more employees.
J.K. Adams hosts a weekly Sunday farmers’ market in Dorset that runs
year round except for a small break in February. Beyond boosting the
company’s Sunday business, the farmers’ market has raised public
awareness of local farmers and artisans.
Local wood products manufacturers represent a boon to the state’s
economy in many other ways.
They support local wood mills and loggers practicing sustainable
forestry.
As a major renewable natural resource, Vermont’s forests require
careful management to ensure their future and maintain Vermont’s
working landscape.
The local wood industry has traditionally worked with foresters and
landowners for years to sustainably manage this natural resource from
forest to finished product.
“One of the neat things about Vermont is that you have a long-term
pattern of small landholdings passed down from generation to
generation. You have people that live in and among and on the land
that they own, and there is a built-in ethic of conservationism,” says
Tim Copeland, owner of Copeland furniture in Bradford.
In their schoolhouse naturals product line, Maple Landmark
Woodcraft focuses on using local maple lumber bought only 9 miles
down the road from a Bristol mill run by Tom Lathrup, who represents
the fifth generation of his family in the business.
J.K. Adams buys its raw lumber primarily from brokers in Vermont,
New Hampshire and New York, although Cooper points out with
some disappointment that with the decline in the working landscape in
Vermont fewer local sawmills are operating.
Occasionally he must procure lumber from Canada that originated in
Vermont and was exported for processing.
J.K Adams also buys reject ash wood shovel handle blanks from a
local manufacturer and uses them to make their wine racks, recycling
what would otherwise be waste.
Copeland Furniture uses sustainably harvested hardwoods from the
Northeast.
Most of their maple comes from Vermont; however, not all species are
abundant in-state. Some wood, such as cherry, must be purchased
from New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland.
But the ease and environmental benefits of getting local materials does
factor into their design process.
“We have a predisposition to making things out of maple because we
can get maple from local sawmills,” Copeland said.

 

Amoskeag Woodworking also uses sustainable, local materials. They
recently worked with the University of Vermont on a project using
timber from UVM property that had been harvested by a Vermont
logger and finished by Amoskeag – a local endeavor from start to
finish.
Wood products made in Vermont from local, sustainably harvested
materials support the state’s working landscape and the local

economy. The next article in this series will look at the environmental
problems associated with importing wood furniture from overseas and
the issues related to sustainability certification standards for wood
products.
Nathaniel Gibson is a freelance writer and locavore who lives in
Pawlet. He can be contacted at ngibson@collaboration133.com.
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Copyright, 2011, The Times Argus

(Used by permission)