The RIC Good Wood Guide

Salvaged Timber - from Urban & Rural Sources

- from the RIC Good Wood Project

Salvaging provides a good source of ethically-acceptable timber, as it utilizes wood that would otherwise go to waste. Salvaged timbers come from unwanted, dead or live trees in urban or farm areas. Salvaging is an excellent way to gain access to varieties of wood that are generally unavailable or ethically-unacceptable when taken from our country's old growth forests. Timbers from urban sources are often attractive and useful for construction, wood-turning, furniture or craft work.

Salvaged timber should not come from natural forests, or from State Forests logging operations, as rotting logs are an important part of the forest ecosystem.

Using salvaged timber for which the salvager has offered a large amount of money is also not an environmentally ethical choice, as it encourages landowners to fell live trees or remove important habitat trees for sale to salvagers.

Pasture, urban or rural gardens and odd corners of private land are often good sources of salvageable timber.

Environmentally-acceptable codes of practice for salvaging need to be further developed.

Salvage Timber Species

Camphor Laurel

A Weed with a future: Camphor Laurel 1 (Cinnamonum camphora), is an introduced species2 from Southeast Asia (China and Japan) where it has been cultivated commercially for its timber and essential oils since the 1600s.

Camphor now grows wild throughout eastern Australia, chiefly in previously rainforested areas of northern NSW, but also in the Sydney region. It has been a part of the Australian landscape since the mid 1800's, when it was first featured in nurseries and botanical gardens.

When the Big Scrub rainforest of the Northern Rivers was cleared and farms were established, camphor laurel was viewed as ideal for garden and street trees and windbreaks. This is why prime examples of the species exist in schoolyards, parks and public places. Camphors were the tree of choice up until the late 1960's.

Nowadays, camphor's black berry-fruits have become an important food-source to many species of birds which have lost their native habitat (currawongs, flock pigeons, magpies, figbirds, orioles, honeyeaters, cuckoo shrikes, etc).The extremely viable seeds contained within camphor laurel fruit are readily distributed by the birds in cleared areas, along fence-lines, old dairy pasture, etc, thus allowing the camphors to progressively 'invade the countryside'. Camphors have therefore come to be regarded as troublesome, woody weeds.

Dairy farmers have a particular dislike for camphor laurel's tendency to taint the taste of the milk from cows which browse on the leaves. Felling and burning or application of poisons such as Roundup and Tordon (Picloram3) are used by farmers and landowners to 'fight' their proliferation.

In Australia, we kill and dispose of camphor trees like they are valueless weeds4, but we actually import Chinese camphor oil5 rather than processing our own. In China, Japan, Taiwan and other countries, camphor laurel is of great cultural and economic importance. It has for many centuries been used to create scents, oil, crystallised blocks for religious ceremonies, and medicines. It is considered a valuable timber for furniture and carving particularly of icons.

Australian-grown camphor laurel has a strikingly appealing colour and grain often honey-coloured. On occasion, it has been exported to Asia and then re-imported in the form of crafted items. Slowly but surely, local craftspeople are realising how valuable it is as a high quality furniture timber, and more locally produced camphor-crafted pieces are appearing in shops and open-air markets.

From the environmental point of view, most of the camphor laurel trees growing on Australian roadsides, riverbanks, degraded pastures and abandoned properties, etc, are not ideal 'citizens of the ecosystem'. Dense stands of mature specimens tend to 'camphorate' the surrounding soil through their roots in order to inhibit competition from trees of their own or other species. Where understorey species are unable to establish, soil erosion can become a problem, especially on steeply sloping areas.

Camphor has been described as an 'endemic' species - ie, belonging to the locality - because of the early extensive plantings and because the ideal climate and soils have helped it 'go feral'. However, attitudes to camphor are slowly changing from intolerance and revulsion to something approaching respect for its hardiness in areas where native species have been removed and there has been little or no other natural regeneration.

It has been suggested that the way to use camphor infested areas to assist wild forest regeneration is to thin the stands to the point where native (rainforest) species can be replanted around mature but isolated camphors, which can help protect the young seedlings. The remnant old camphor trees can then be progressively removed as the regenerating rainforest matures and forms its own protective canopy. At both stages of thinning and final removal of the camphors, as much useful timber as possible should be harvested and utilised. To kill the camphor completely, some people have had success with the use of an otherwise harmless saline solution painted on the freshly cut stumps.

Whenever camphor laurel trees are removed, they should be replaced with a native species. If camphors were properly managed silviculturally, they could be developed as a plantation source of quality timber and camphor products. (Much of the problem of camphor's proliferation is due to the abandonment and/or neglect of once farmed or grazed areas.)

Camphor Laurel from salvaged trees is recommended for use as slabs in kitchen benchtops, tables, shelves and other furniture as well as internal lining boards and turned and handcarved bowls. It has a beautiful, strong, dark grain against a yellow wood.

 

Wattle

Silver Wattle, Blackwood, Sally Wattle, etc, are fast growing pioneer species. This may be why they were included in the first ever plantations of the then Forestry Commission, back in 1882. They represent a real opportunity for the farm forester who capitalises on their growth rates and timber quality.

Tragically, every year wattles are cut down and burned in wasteful land-clearing operations. Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata), for example, can be salvaged and put to good use as furniture timber. It was used in the 40's and 50's for furniture and cabinetmaking, but was subsequently neglected and is now discarded after clearfelling operations. Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) is considered one of the best cabinet timbers in the world. While all wattles are vigorous post-bushfire regenerators, Blackwood is one the few rainforest trees which can grow back after fire. Because wattles are such useful and valuable species, they make ideal candidates for mixed-species plantations6.

 

Driftwood

Driftwood consists of bits of wood which has washed off ships, and wood which has washed off the land. Wood from the land may consist of either natural tree prunings (eg, branches removed by dieback or wind action), and/or building, demolition, domestic and industrial waste.

 

Timber from Land Clearing Operations

Land-cleared timber should be used only where it would otherwise go to waste and even then this will only be an interim measure because of new legislation preventing land clearing, and while new timber plantations come on-line.

The number of species knocked down for the sake of clearing is vast. The government-gazetted 'woody weed' list includes many excellent timber species. For example: Sandalwood (Santalum) - which is exceedingly valuable as bush food and timber; fetches up to $6,000 per tonne for export), Brigalow (Acacia), Beefwood (Grevillea), Belah (Casuarina), Australian Teak (Flindersia australis), Leopard Ash (Flindersia collina), Lancewood (Acacia), Gidgee (Acacia) - and many others.

A sawmill in Bourke has for some time specialised in the milling of Brigalow for high quality timber. The Guide is adamant that caution must prevail when accessing any native species. Please don't clear your land to get-rich-quick on its most valuable asset: the trees. From the end of 1995, it will be illegal to clear land without a permit. Clearing forest types such as Brigalow scrub, etc, is highly inappropriate anyway; nor is the salvaging of any timber taken from land (illegally) cleared after 1995 7.


1. For sources of Camphor Laurel and other salvaged timbers, see Salvaged Timber/Camphor Laurel, Timber Recyclers and Secondhand Building Materials Suppliers in the Alternative Directory. (Thanks to camphor specialist, Rob Latham for much of the background info on camphor laurels.)

2. Note: Australia has native species related to camphor laurel such as Olivers Sassafras (Cinnamonum oliveri), which is found in rainforest remnants along the eastern seaboard.

3. See also Toxic Herbicides.

4. Early in 1996, several container loads of camphor were exported to China from the NSW Northern Rivers - the Chinese buyers apparently think highly of Australian-grown camphor because of its high oil content. (A similar situation exists for Australian tea tree oil, whose high oil content is superior to overseas-grown specimens, making it a much sought after export product. Perhaps value-added camphor laurel products are another export industry waiting to happen...)

5. Commercial production of camphor oil in Southeast Asia slowed to a trickle in the 1920s, when cheaper synthetic substitutes were developed. These days, camphor oil has largely been replaced on the world market by eucalyptus oil, but is staging a comeback.

6. Refer to the Good Wood Guide, Victoria.

7. See also Timber Recommendations - no. 7: Land Clearing Residue.



Go to TOP of PAGE

Return to CONTENTS PAGE