Green

Carpenters convert cut trees into useful things

Monday, July 04, 2011

There was a time when a tree that had to be taken down in your yard wasn't good for much more than firewood, but now green carpenters are coveting this urban wood and finding more useful purposes for it.

An Oakland tree had to be cut down because it was undermining a retaining wall. Tree trimmers will take it apart and chip the branches to be used for mulch. However, the biggest parts of the tree will be saved from the firewood pile and will end up at an Oakland lumber yard.

"A tree is like opening up a novel, there's stuff inside that you don't expect and that you learn about," said Paul Discoe, a master carpenter from Joinery Structures.

Discoe see's the beauty in the urban wood and he owns Joinery Structures. The company takes trees from urban settings, ages the wood, and then mills it. The resulting timber will be turned into homes, furniture, and restaurants like Ippuku in Berkeley.

"All this wood that grows in the urban forest has a story because it grows up around people, and people do things to it. They climb it, the drive nails into it, they bang their car into it, they hang their hammock on it, they cut off the limbs, and it makes the wood have a lot of character," said Discoe.

It's part of a growing movement in the Bay Area and across the nation. In May, the Friends Of the Urban Forest hosted the first California Urban Wood Conference in the Presidio. It brought together forestry experts, cities, and woodworkers to educate them about the urban forest and alternative uses for wood gathered from city landscaping and local yards.

"We see urban wood coming out of our cities in a way that it shouldn't be. It's been chipped right away and turned right away into mulches and things, which are used, but that value is not as strong as a table," said Doug Wildman from Friends Of the Urban Forest.

Urban forestry allows woodworkers access to timber they usually can't get their hands on.

"Sometimes the biggest trees can be found in the urban areas. They are often treated like garden plants and they're well taken care of," said Sam Sherrill from Harvestingurbantimber.com.

Sherrill came to the conference from Ohio. He wrote the book on harvesting urban timber.

"Things have taken off. I think things are coming together, they are coalescing, we're now moving to a point where we are going to have, I believe, an urban forest products industry," said Sherrill.

Urban Hardwoods on Pacific Street in San Francisco may be one of the beneficiaries of that new industry. It opened its first store in Seattle in 2001 and has now expanded to three stores on the West Coast, specializing in wood from local communities.

"People are becoming a little more conscience about the product that they buy and they want something well made, they want something that's handmade, and they also want something that's green," said Nick Christianson from Urban Hardwoods.

Furniture from an urban tree doesn't come cheap; a table can sometimes cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel

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recycling, green, dan ashley
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