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Oct. 5 - Oct. 11, 2011

Red nose led Chelsea woodworker to go green By Lucy Scholey Ross Rooke made furniture for over 30 years before the wood made him feel ill. The Saskatchewan native had just moved into his Chelsea woodworking studio when his nose turned an irritating red colour. That had never happened to Rooke, who started making cabinets, doors and other furniture in 1972. Eventually, he determined his problem was caused by formaldehyde, a gas used in many preservatives, textile finishing and adhesives for wood products. In his 24-foot-high woodworking studio in Saskatchewan, there was room for the gas emanating from his furniture to escape. But Rooke noticed a difference when he moved to a smaller Chelsea studio in the winter of 2005. He kept his windows tightly closed to keep out the cold, but it kept the wood ingredients

trapped. “It was just kind of in my face,� the 60-year-old craftsman says. Since then, Rooke has cut out using formaldehyde-carrying woods like particleboard and medium-density fibreboard in favour of plywood. He’s made a vow to go green, replacing toxic varnishes with oil- and water-based finishes. Solid cherry-paneled kitchens, birch-framed doors and handcrafted armoires and tables are part of Rooke’s ever-growing woodworking repertoire. In his Burnett studio, he hones his crafting skills almost every day on projects that sometimes take up to three months. Although his eco-standards have changed, Rooke’s woodworking philosophy has not. “I’m drawn to the wood because it’s a beautiful material to work with,� he says. “It gives us another way to

look at trees.� Rooke began building at age seven, using bits of scrap metal rejuvenated from his family farm in Eston, a rural town in Saskatchewan. Eventually, he graduated to wood, teaching himself to construct crude, basic furniture from construction lumber. “Being self-employed, there’s nothing like failure to make you learn quickly,� he says. “The evolution of my work has primarily been by trial and error.� After moving to Gatineau in 2002, Rooke eventually made his way farther north when he found a studio for rent in Burnett. He travels to work there after he meets clients to carefully carve out furniture that will last. “I’m trying to give that tree just a little more life,� he says. For more information, visit

Ross Rooke works on one of his formaldehyde-free furniture pieces at his Burnett studio. Lucy Scholey photo



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The Beggar's Bench


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