Eco-Friendly Products for the Eco-Conscious Woodworker

Have you ever been surprised at the ingredients in your wood stains?

Or wondered whether the wood you bought from Home Depot contributed to harmful logging practices?

As it turns out, many woodworking products, materials, and tools have been shown to harm the environment—whether through deforestation or the release of toxins into the environment. Fortunately, you don’t need to use these products to be a good woodworker.

By using eco-friendly materials, you can practice sustainability, encourage ethical logging practices, and promote a healthier environment. Let’s look at some eco-friendly alternatives:

Sustainable wood

A warehouse cart stacked with hundreds of wood piecesSustainable wood refers to wood that is harvested, processed, and transported without unduly damaging the environment.1 So, practicing sustainability means using wood in such a way that you won’t be (1) stripping the land of its resources or (2) processing it in a way that damages the environment.

For now, let’s focus on the first point. If you want to find sustainable wood, you’ll have to find ethically sourced wood.

Finding wood with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label is one of the best places to start.

The FSC is the main authority for responsible forest management. If a piece of wood or wood by-products have their label, you can trust that the wood has met their rigorous certification standards. You’ll know that anything with their label is ethically sourced in a way that won’t reduce biodiversity or strip the land of its resources.2

Altogether, the FSC label can be found in more than 80 countries and has certified more than 160 million acres of wood in the U.S. and Canada alone.3

If you’re not looking for wood with an FSC label, you’ll still want to consider the species of the wood, as some species are more sustainable than others.

This is because:

Some are rare, and logging rare species reduces biodiversity. That’s why it’s better to use common wood species or those that grow quickly and are a more renewable resource.

Some are fragile. While it’s a good idea to use wood species that grow quickly, you should consider how long that wood will actually last you. Trees have to be harvested, processed, and transported which requires a lot of energy and contributes to a greater carbon footprint. If you buy a fragile species that ends up damaged quickly, you’ll be contributing to that cycle.

The most sustainable wood comes from species that are commonplace and durable, like:

  • Douglas fir
  • Black cherry
  • Pine
  • Black ash
  • Acacia
  • Aspen
  • Oak
  • Tulip
  • Willow
  • Elm
  • Soft maple
  • Cottonwood
  • Bamboo

If you want to be more sustainable, you can also buy local wood that won’t have to be transported as far. The less transportation needed, the less carbon emissions released. This means buying local wood can increase energy efficiency and reduce your carbon footprint.

Another way to lessen wood waste is by using wood that has already undergone the logging process or been removed from its environment.

You can use recycled wood or repurpose reclaimed wood from your old bookshelf to make a nightstand, for example. This way, you increase the life cycle of the wood you already have instead of buying new wood to replace it. You can even salvage wood you find in nature by taking fallen branches and logs from forests, riverbanks, and beaches.

If you’re looking to drastically reduce the amount of wood you use, you might want to look into using engineered wood products.

Engineered wood products

A man installing brown laminate flooring in his houseThough it’s typically used as wood flooring, engineered wood can also serve as a building material for woodworking projects.

Engineered wood is sustainable because it isn’t made of solid hardwood.4 Instead, engineered wood, like plywood and particle board, is made of wood, glue, and other materials so it saves the use of trees.5

The one drawback is that it contains adhesive to hold itself together. These adhesives can give off harmful fumes called volatile organic compounds (VOCs).6 Products with high VOC emission rates can harm the environment by releasing toxic or carcinogenic chemicals like formaldehyde.7

Fortunately, engineered wood has a comparatively low rate of VOC emissions.8 This makes it a more eco-friendly option than other wooden materials, especially compared to wood saturated with toxic wood treatments.

Non-toxic wood treatments

Wood is sometimes given wood treatments that keep it from getting damaged. For example, wood might be treated with special preservatives to protect it from rot and insects.9
While these treatments are instrumental in maintaining the wood’s quality, most of them contain high VOC levels that can have negative environmental impacts and jeopardize your health.10
Fortunately, there are more natural and non-toxic wood treatments available.

These include11:

You can even use simple products like linseed oil, tung oil, or beeswax.12

Eco-friendly finishes

Four boards being painted a rich chocolatey brown with a paint rollerWood finishes protect wood from damage caused by moisture or grime. Unfortunately, like a lot of wood treatments, they can contain harmful chemicals.13

The good news is there are natural alternatives to choose from. Some of the most popular types of eco-friendly finishes include 14:

  • Water-based finishes
  • Natural oils like linseed, walnut, sunflower, or jojoba
  • Beeswax or soy wax
  • Shellac

When in doubt, look for finishes with the Green Seal-11 label, which is found on products with low VOC levels.15

Low-VOC adhesives

Wood adhesives tend to contain large amounts of VOCs.16 Unfortunately, unlike wood treatments and finishes, there aren’t a lot of eco-friendly options for wood glue.

The best you can do is find wood adhesives with lower VOCs like17:

Hand tools

Different woodworking tools, including planers and chisels, sitting on a tableHand tools don’t require electricity so they help you reduce your carbon footprint. And because they don’t require any batteries either, you won’t have to worry about harming the environment with the chemicals in battery fluid.

Using them has other benefits too. They tend to be cheaper, and they’re excellent for greater control when creating fine details.

If you want to use more hand tools, consider replacing your sander with sandpaper or your electric drill with a hand drill. You can even look into buying used hand tools to reduce waste and keep perfectly good tools from being thrown away.

To determine which electric tools to switch for hand tools first, think about which tasks can be easily and quickly done by hand.

For example, it might be more labor intensive to try to saw something by hand; meanwhile, it’s much easier to use a hammer. For this reason, you might want to stick to an electric saw for the time being and focus on switching out your nail gun for a hammer instead.

This is especially true if you work in a larger workshop that requires you to produce more projects at a faster rate.

Wood moisture meters

Bessemeter's three moisture meters standing togetherWood moisture meters support sustainability because they help you buy the right piece of wood the first time. With these meters, you’re able to check the moisture content of the wood and make sure it’s at a level that won’t ruin your project down the road. This way, you’ll reduce moisture problems and the resulting wood waste.

A wood moisture meter can tell you if the wood has a high moisture content, notifying you of planks that might be susceptible to moisture damage like warping, swelling, and shrinking if not properly acclimated.

In addition to identifying boards with high moisture levels, moisture meters can help you narrow down which planks have more stable moisture levels, so you know which boards are less susceptible to moisture damage.

In the end, using a wood moisture meter will not only save you time and money, it will also help you conserve resources in the name of sustainability.

Go green

Eco-friendly products are products you can feel good about using. When you choose them, you can rest easy knowing that your wood has been ethically sourced and that the materials won’t harm you or the environment.

Now that you know what products you need, why not begin your journey to go green? We’d love to help you get started with one tool on the list—a moisture meter!

Head on over to our store to look at our selection of quality wood moisture meters.

  1. Trigg, Candy, “What is sustainable wood and why is it important?” Modish Living. ()
  2. “What It Means When You See the FSC Labels on a Product,” Forest Stewardship Council. ()
  3. “What Does It Mean to be FSC Certified?” Ram Board, March 17, 2023. ()
  4. Brinkmann, Davis, “Why Engineered Wood Flooring Is a Sustainable Choice,” From the Forest, Sep. 8, 2021. ()
  5. Ibid. ()
  6. “What are volatile organic compounds (VOCs)?” United States Environmental Protection Agency.()
  7. “Volatile Organic Compounds,” American Lung Association. ()
  8. “The Eco-Friendly Choice: Why Engineered Wood Flooring is Sustainable,” The Wood Flooring Co. ()
  9. “Overview of Wood Preservative Chemicals,” United States Environmental Protection Agency. ()
  10. “Volatile Organic Compounds’ Impact on Indoor Air Quality,” United States Environmental Protection Agency. ()
  11. Hardman, Ben, “5 Best Eco Wood Preservatives & Natural Timber Treatments,” Eco Life Media, Ltd. ()
  12. Ibid. ()
  13. “Volatile Organic Compounds,” American Lung Association. ()
  14. “Wood Stains & Finishes,” Environmental Working Group; Maslowski, Debra, “Natural Finishes For Your Woodworking Projects.” DIY Natural. ()
  15. “Wood Stains & Finishes,” Environmental Working Group. ()
  16. “Volatile Organic Compounds,” American Lung Association. ()
  17. “Wood Glue,” ECOS Paints; Segurra, Corinne, “Non-Toxic Wood Glues & White Glues (0-VOC & Natural),” My Chemical-Free House. ()