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Okay so my story takes place on a desert planet, and the plot revolves around nomadic people who get from place to place with the help of wooden wagons (think Oregon trail). Well, I need some way for wooden wagons to be accessible to the public even if there's barely any trees. I'm planning on an ancient forest existing later on, but I need a way that wood can be available and usable, if only for the sole purpose of making wagons.

I've considered insects that generate wood inside their bodies, but so far most of the species I've introduced are real species, and although it's supposed to be a high fantasy I'd prefer to keep it that way mostly.

Ideas or criticism of my current ideas are both appreciated, feel free to weigh in :)

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding.SE! You seem to be asking two different questions here - "How do you find wood in a desert" and "Is a wagon made of chitin feasible". I'd recommend breaking this up and asking the second one as a separate question, otherwise this risks being closed as too broad. $\endgroup$
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 16:51
  • $\begingroup$ Is your planet strictly a desert, like Arrakis, or, like in Earth's deserts, there are oases here and there? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 17:07
  • $\begingroup$ strictly a desert, very similar to Arrakis, but yes oases do exist for other reasons, and will play a huge part in the story. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 18:02
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    $\begingroup$ Wagons in a desert... Drawn by horses or oxen which eat the plentiful grass... And drink from the large rivers... Which for some strange reason don't have trees growing on their banks. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 18:13
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    $\begingroup$ Haha sorry about the multiple questions. It's my first time posting, so I'll make sure to separate the questions next time. So I guess it was misleading when I said the entire planet is a desert, the real answer is kinda complicated, but basically the desert is the only habitable part of the planet and it shifts over time, forcing the people to move with it. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 20:09

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Cactus wood.

cactus wood table

If you want wood and you don't want groves of trees, use the wood from dry-adapted plants. Cactus wood is a thing; depicted is a table made from saguaro wood. You could have something like Joshua Trees, or welwtschia with long woody taproots, or some other sort of woody drylands plant that your people use to build their wagons.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is exactly what I was looking for, thank you! $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 20:11
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Humans living in a desert will require a source of water. In the real world, before the modern age and piping from long distances, a common source were oases. People tended to be on the driest part of deserts when traveling between two more habitable places, not as their usual dwelling place.

Around oases trees can grow, so that's a source of wood. Otherwise trading with other non-desert areas may do for a source of wood.

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  • $\begingroup$ It's 'oases' when plural. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 19:31
  • $\begingroup$ @MatthewWells thanks, I fixed that. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 19:52
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One explanation could be ancient forests, hidden beneath the dunes. Their composition along with environmental factors, in your magic world, would refine and preserve them. During sand storms and other natural phenomenon they would be revealed, and a mining rush would ensue. If the trunks were hollow, ground water could rise inside them, acting as natural wells as well.

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If you have people traveling through the desert, then there's probably a number of oases that each group knows of and visits. After all, any source of fresh water would be an invaluable resource when under constant threat of heat exhaustion and dehydration.

With water often comes plant life, and it's not hard to imagine that trees would grow at some of these oases. Your nomads would then just have to be careful not to use all of the available trees at each oasis so that they don't go extinct from a location, and now you have a renewable, though still severely limited, supply of wood.

That said, when you say desert, I think of endless sand dunes as far as the eye can see. If that's what you have in mind, then a wagon probably won't be what you want to travel with anyway. I would recommend more of a sled type thing for traveling through the sand, or forgo the wagon altogether and just use pack animals (camels have been a frequent choice for this throughout Earth's history).

If you do insist on wagons or an equivalent structure, I would suggest something other than wood. Since you mention that "almost everything else" would be made of chitin from the giant insects, it only makes sense to me that the wagons would as well. After all, these insects are likely a far more abundant resource than wood, and these nomads probably have far more experience in shaping and refining chitin than wood.

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  • $\begingroup$ Sleds are a very interesting idea, I'll look into something like that, since I agree that wheels would probably be less effective on dunes. You're also right that crafting in chitin would be very sophisticated, I'll flesh that out more, thanks! $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 20:14
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The chitin of the alien insects is not exactly like that of their earth counterparts. It can be melted to form a strong resin which upon cooling bonds to whatever it touches. The nomads gather tumbleweed like plants and grind them into a powder which when mixed with molten alien chitin dries into a usable particle-board style lumber.

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    $\begingroup$ Or don't grind them quite so finely and make OSB. $\endgroup$
    – Spencer
    Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 17:05

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