Wood has, historically, been used, and still is, to make a great variety of things. Indeed, this material has many qualities, the most relevant being:

  • Commonplace: in most places in your typical fantasy setting, you never have to go very far to find trees.

  • Easy to harvest and work with: chopping a tree down only requires simple tools and relatively little time and labor. It's also rather easy to cut, shape and assemble.

  • Strong and light: it's neither brittle nor malleable, and a relatively thin plank or pole is able to hold its own weight and then some.

  • Comes in long, slender pieces: this make it especially great for building free-standing structures.

Now, consider dwarves. A material with such qualities would be very useful to them. But dwarves live underground, and trees don't grow underground.

So what materials, that are readily available underground, could dwarves use in place of wood? There are obvious candidates, but they are either too heavy and hard to work with (stone), to fragile for most uses (clay), or require lots of infrastructure and labor to make (metal)...

So would a dwarven kingdom need to regularly send lumberjacks out on the surface, or be reliant on wood imports? Or are there alternatives?

For reference, here are some things I think dwarves would need wood for:

  • Scaffolding to temporarily support construction or provide access to elevated areas.

  • Crude fortifications (palisades) that can be erected quickly and with minimal dwarfpower.

  • Crates to store goods and materials, and carts to transport them.

  • Doors and (movable) furniture such as tables, chairs, benches, etc.

  • $\begingroup$ Woods other major use is as fuel, which is arguably more important. $\endgroup$ – John Feb 7 at 22:10
  • $\begingroup$ @John dwarves, arguably, have easy access to coal. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Feb 7 at 22:24
  • $\begingroup$ @John crude oil is also available underground. Though 'wood as fuel' was my first though as well. Though now that I think about it, I wonder about other plant life, especially cotton, for clothing ... cave-sheep? $\endgroup$ – Dalila Feb 7 at 22:27
  • $\begingroup$ You should search for underground questions a lot of this has already been covered. Dwarves might also work. $\endgroup$ – John Feb 7 at 22:30
  • $\begingroup$ Cooking with coal requires wood coal needs another fire before it will light. cooking with crude oil is a great way to poison your dwarves. $\endgroup$ – John Feb 8 at 15:23

There are always alternatives, and there are certainly places where not much wood grows so I'll use those (compounded with a cave environment) as an example.

Adding: Fuel (cannot make a forge work without fuel and need it to cook)

  • Use Dry Animal Dung as Fuel which is a common practice in various parts of the world (and presumably would include Dwarf dung if not enough animals are available). Now normal animal dung would only work for cooking or as a "starter log" for the forges but as this is fantasy - it is conceivable that a monster that eats rock or magic might exist whose dung would provide a higher energy output.
  • Coal: I didn't put this at first because I thought it was too obvious but Dwarves will have access to deep coal mines which would help them in finding Anthracite coal for their forges. (if they can make charcoal even better, I know it can be made from items such as sugar, petroleum, and coal itself, but someone with more biochem knowledge would have to add more beyond that).

Scaffolding to temporarily support construction or provide access to elevated areas.

  • Once again: dried animal dung was used as a fairly sturdy building material since at least the Iron Age in Britain and is still used today in some areas (and modern wattle and daub construction can use chicken wire and plaster/dry wall so using metal wire & dung would avoid needing wood).

  • For access to elevated areas - make dung or mud bricks and stack them to make stairs. Straw replacement for brick making could use moss or ferns or animal hair (which could also be braided into rope and used to make rope ladders).

Crude fortifications (palisades) that can be erected quickly and with minimal dwarf power.

  • This one I'm going to take directly from the military: make Hesco barriers using metal wire, cloth (which could be made using some Sphagnum moss or certain ferns like Horsetail which the dwarves cultivate from cave entrances and twilight zones), and then filled with rocks/gravel, mud, or sand as available.
    • rocks would be best as they would get stuck in wire making enemies have to take time cutting the wire itself(....and hopefully end up with it falling on them).
    • I can personally attest to these being quick to put up but a pain to get around/take down.

Crates to store goods and materials, and carts to transport them.

  • Use metal? Think A-frame carts, dollies, wheelbarrels (one of the first wheeled carts actually), a little red wagon - all of these are mostly made of metal. And the first wheels were actually made of stone (granted they were potters wheels but the point stands)
  • Also, since talking fantasy, animal bones have been used to make containers (bone china cups) and shells to make boxes (turtle shells and snuff boxes) so if you have a suitable monster you could use its bones, shell, or carapace.

Doors and (movable) furniture such as tables, chairs, benches, etc

  • Mudbricks (or Dung ones) could be molded and shaped around metal frames to build these but I would not use that for much more than stools or small tables.
    • However, making clay or mudbrick sliding doors might be an option.
  • Another option for the furniture would be to make more cloth (moss/ferns again) or leather (assuming animals) and then wrapping and drying that around a metal frame - think cloth patio furniture.
  • A third option could be to use fibers to weave furniture.
    • My Grandmother used to weave dollhouse furniture for my sisters from grapevines so a solid, strong vine could be used.
    • Currently hemp or animal rope can be used to make items like hammocks so I see no reason this couldn't be taken further to make rope furniture.
      • This makes me think of men making a "chair" using their treated and braided beard hair which would really be "dad's chair" :)
  • An animal/monster's bones - there is one artist who made a table out of marbel and animal bones so its certainly possible.
    • Could just use the Marble itself too (I've moved marble slabs they are certainly not light-weight but are movable)
  • Glass - this would depend on if they could generate enough heat to melt sand (1700°C or 3090°F - which is a few hundred degrees higher than needed to melt iron). Then its just glass tabletop with wire or bone legs.

If your interested, I have used this page on minerals and material available through mining from The Tao of D&D for a few campaigns I've built

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    $\begingroup$ Your Dwarves can also create some kind of root farms. Consider that, if they live underground below a forest then they can create some kind of root farms for those type of trees that have deep thick roots, and harvest them methodically. Then use these roots to create wire-frames, and cover these frames with animal dung. This can give them solid and light weight frames. Use these for Scaffoldings, furniture, crates and so on. $\endgroup$ – V.Aggarwal Feb 8 at 6:43
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    $\begingroup$ It's a good answer, but consider adding coal as fuel, it seems quite obvious as you can dig it out of the rocks, which seems like a very dwarven thing to do $\endgroup$ – bytepusher Feb 8 at 8:38
  • $\begingroup$ Animal dung will work for cooking it will not work in a forge, coal would work in a forge but it does not work as well as charcoal. $\endgroup$ – John Feb 8 at 15:25
  • $\begingroup$ Dwarves would have the same problems obtaining dried animal dung as they would with obtaining wood. (Or food, FTM.) Animals don't produce food unless they eat, and they eat plants (or other animals that ultimately eat plants). Plants require sunlight, so must come from the surface. (Likewise fungi: their food is ultimately derived from plants.) $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 8 at 17:38
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf presumably the dwarves themselves poop so there is at least that (and there are always monsters which subside on non-biological material - due to "fantasy races" tag). Also most of the plant (and other organic) material in deep caves is washed down from the twilight and entrances. And the "un-natural" presence of the dwarves can help algae to grow (lights, different food sources) and animals to eat the algae and animals to eat the animals and ... $\endgroup$ – JGreenwell Feb 8 at 17:55

The dwarves as a hardly and skilled race capable of carving stone as humans can carve wood. Dwarves live underground and this means that a lot of the reasons for wood would actually be pointless.

Dwarves do not need scaffolding. They carve their homes into stone. If they carve up, they first carve a staircase or ladder up. Otherwise, whats the point? they wouldn't be able to reach it anyway. For the majority of their constructions, dwarves are going to be carving downwards. Why? because its much easier to start at the top of a solid mountain of stone and go down, than build ladders all the way up. Digging up is risky. You have falling debris which could destroy your scaffolding or injure others, you require lots of scaffolding to get to everywhere. Much easier to plan and design the building, build a staircase up to the top and debris shaft along the side and dig down from the top.

Fortifications are also better made out of stone. Dwarves are skills workmen and can quickly assemble giant walls from simply rock scraps. If you haven't seen the hobbit, it has a good example of the dwarves handiwork. They have no need for something as soft and hard to obtain as wood. Plus, its good for their waste rock. Got to do something with all that debris.

Crates and carts can also be carved out of stone. Big stone containers with big stone lids. No reason to go find something that will rot away over time. This also includes furniture like doors, beds, tables and chairs. The dwarves don't need some weak flimsy wood. They want firm and hard stone.

You have to remember that traditional dwarves lived in mountains. This implies that they had the ability to work stone with their own hands. Otherwise, it would of been much easier for them to develop above ground like humans did.

As an alternative... from dwarf fortress... they can user tower caps, a subterrain tree that grows in a mushroom shape? Or maybe its a mushroom that grows like a tree?


Less-than-'traditional' metals

There are metals that don't need to be heated in order to be shaped, and are found in their "native" form (not in an ore mixed with other minerals). How abundant are they? not very, unfortunately, at least in the real world, but then again, more abundant than the dwarven race.

Gold, Cadmium, and Indium might make good candidates. With skill, it should be possible to work them in to shapes thick enough to be strong, and thin enough to not be absurdly heavy. Though some applications would still make them significantly heavier than wood, it should still be light enough to be useful and effective, especially if these dwarves follow the trope of higher strength to size ratios.

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    $\begingroup$ Upvoted just for the thought of haphazardly-erected golden scaffolding. $\endgroup$ – Philip Rowlands Feb 8 at 14:06

Even more important than wood is food, which must ultimately come from the surface. Therefore, your underground-living dwarves have three options:

1) Low-status dwarves go above ground to do farming, woodcutting, &c, just as low-caste humans do things like garbage collection.

2) Dwarves keep human* slaves/serfs to do the above ground work.

3) Dwarves trade what they mine, and their skilled metal & stone work, for what they need from above.

Of course the three aren't mutually exclusive. A dwarf community might use a mix of them.

*Or other races.


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