What to do with “Waste” Wood

By Kevin Hamman

When we talk about urban forestry, we often focus on the best-practices management of our existing community trees. In addition, we are aware that our urban forests bring many environmental and economic benefits to cities, including: reduced air-conditioning expense, sunlight absorption and ultraviolet light reduction, air cooling, rainwater absorption and improved stormwater management, and improved biodiversity.

In short: urban forests improve the microclimate and air quality of our towns and cities.

Economic benefits associated with properly managed trees include increased land, property, and rental value. Well-maintained trees also encourage increased residential, commercial and public investments. There are also many social and medical benefits to consider.
What we often, however, forget to talk about when discussing the urban forest is the value of the wood from trees that are removed during sound urban forest management. What do we do with this “waste” wood? Much of it does become mulch and compost. But what other options exist? Is there something we can do with this wood that adds to, or retains, the value and beauty of the tree after it is removed? Something that may continue to benefit the community as well?

Timber and the timber industry have long been recognized as vitally important to the Southeast. Historically, our pine trees provided naval stores and products like turpentine and the wood for tall ship masts. Live oak wood provided curved timbers for framing the massive hulls of large ships. And the Southeast continues to be an important source of wood, lumber and wood pulp. But we are less recognized for what wood can be when transformed with the eye of an artist and the hand of a skilled craftsperson.

Urban wood, because of unique characteristics as a result of growth habits, accessibility to city artisans and furniture makers, and the relationship of the artist to an individual tree or place, is helping to revive wood art in the Southeast. Urban wood is both “reclaimed” (re-purposed from old buildings and structures) and “upcycled” (created from newly cut urban trees).

Wood Works: A Regional Exhibition, is a show that will display the work of more than 35 wood artists and craftspersons, including furniture makers, fine artists and wood turners. The show will run between Jan. 20 and Feb. 17 at the Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation (OCAF).

Though these artists and craftspersons will not utilize only urban wood, it does have a significant place as a medium, and even as a theme, in the work of some of the artists. Some of the furniture makers, for instance, strongly emphasize the materials. Don Bundrick, for example, builds furniture directly from branches, twigs and bark. Other craftspersons feature natural edge slabs or reclaimed lumber. Still others mix wood and metal, such as the “industrial” furniture of Jeff Walker.

Urban wood, as a result of a renewed interest in wood art and furniture in the Southeast — as as demonstrated in the show — will continue to gain importance and recognition. And as it does so, it will, like the trees in our urban forest, add value back to the community.

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