Bourbon and My Soap Box

In 1901 Gustav Stickley had the forward thinking and insight to state “In 100 years, good oak furniture will be worth many times its first cost. For the time is coming when it will be valuable on account of its permanent worth and its scarcity.” We have arrived but I don’t think ole Gustav would have guessed the particulars behind the scarcity.

I quoted a large commission today for a potential client giving them 5 options for different species and was blown back by the per board-foot cost, and in some cases the total lack of availability of White Oak.

Here in Georgia I can now buy Walnut for nearly the same price as White Oak, and I can buy African Mahogany for half of both the previously mentioned species.  I can’t figure out if that’s a good thing?  

Walnut is anywhere from 9.00-15.00 per board foot depending on quality.  But overall, the quality is rarely good in the South East part of the States.  

In case you are not aware, 1 board foot of lumber is 12″ X 12″ X 1″ thick.  Now if that same 12″ X 12″ board were 4″ thick, you would be buying 4 board feet and spending around $50-$60 with tax for either White Oak or Walnut.  Unless you make turned bowls or cheese platters $100 dollars will get you almost nowhere in furniture making.  

Every time I quote a project or people see the pricing of my work I’m sure they think what I used to think, it’s not worth the price.  

And that’s fair, you can certainly buy 8-10 Ikea dining tables or coffee tables for the price of one Eric McKenna made piece of furniture and then throw those away when they fall apart and keep the cycle going.  This is where my blood pressure kicks and it’s telling me to stop going, you get the point I hope.  

The last point I will make is that it takes 100-200 years for most hardwood trees to grow to maturity, if we were smart and thought about the math a little bit, in order to maintain a stable supply of this finite material we have to design, build, buy, and keep pieces of furniture that are built well enough to last at least that long.  This is easily possible.

Is bourbon consumption really worth the impact to the makers who use this finite material to build pieces of lasting value, and the cost impact to the smart consumers who cherish and own them for generations to come?

I am not saying that it’s a total waste for bourbon to be made from only new oak barrels (yes this is actually a Federal Law) because there are second and third and fourth stream uses for those one time only bourbon barrels.  

What I am definitely saying is that this Bourbon making law is about as smart and effective as building furniture from particle board. 

The next time I quote a potential Client, I will have to ask them to have a bourbon before we talk about price, or please go have one now (if you are not driving) before you look at the prices of my completed work.

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