A library of "books" containing tree specimens, each made from the wood of the tree it describes.

We’re continuing our materials-themed 2012 Skill Builder coverage this month by highlighting materials that come more or less directly from the natural world. Most of us live surrounded by stuff that is separated from its raw ingredients by quite a bit of heavy industrial processing, and we may forget how rich a variety of ready-to-use materials nature really does present to us. In fact, when we were brainstorming materials themes for 2012, the initial reaction to “natural materials month” tended to be along the lines of, “well, we already do a lot of woodworking coverage.”

But when you really think about it, that reaction starts to seem kind of, well, sad, really: There are lots of natural materials besides wood: stone, leather, animal and plant fiber, horn, bone, shell, mother-of-pearl, vegetable ivory, ambergris, gemstone, chitin, various plant resins and latexes, and those metals that do not require refining. Just to name a few. And we rarely talk about any of them. This month we plan to correct that oversight.

So, enjoy!  And, as always, if you have suggestions for unusual natural materials or other particular topics you’d like to see covered under this theme, please let us know, below.