Putting the "log" back in Blog

Urban Harvested Lumber: Friend or Foe?


Posted on November 29th, by Andy Brownell in Wood. 4 comments

I’ve spent my share of time dealing with the collection, drying and milling of plenty of urban harvested trees from the Cincinnati area. There’s plenty of sweet walnut, cherry and maple to go around, and probably more oak and ash than the entire furniture making community could use. You can either be very opportunistic like I was my first experience with a fallen maple tree that became my split-top Roubo bench three years later. Other times, it can simply fall into your lap, sawn and dried, as was the case with some cherry and walnut that came from a former co-worker, who oddly enough, isn’t even a woodworker.

Most people think about the challenges of the cutting and milling. Sure, it’s a pain, especially if you don’t have a big truck, not to mention a portable saw mill. Then you deal with the potential of coming across something other-than-wood as you cut into it. All of that is a pain. Then you have the drying and storage aspects to deal with. It takes some effort to do it right, and unless you do it at some scale, the yield at the end of the day, may not me all that it’s cracked up to be. The latest pile I came across did yield some nice material, but not the quality I was hoping it would be at any lengths greater than 6′. And the pieces of 16/4 that I thought were walnut? Yeah, those ended up being cherry with a nasty case of mildew stains. I may go the Chris Schwarz route and use some blue milk paint to cover them up.

I’d love to hear from some other woodworkers who have ventured down this path and what your experiences have been. Is it worth the time? I do like knowing where it came from and being able to say that it definitely came from a local source, rather than ending up in a fireplace somewhere. But is it really worth the time?





4 thoughts on “Urban Harvested Lumber: Friend or Foe?

    • have you cut and dried smaller pieces like under 24″ long from cut logs? I’m thinking of doing that on my bandsaw for smaller projects. I have a ton of Walnut and Osage I pulled from the side of the road. With smaller pieces, what should I expect for wood movement when it dries?

  1. Andy –
    I’ve gone through it a couple of different ways. I’ve had some clients that needed to take down a tree and wanted something built out of it. Those were fun. I had a whole tree to use for furniture, so I didn’t have to worry about color matching, or running out of lumber. The hard part was culling through all of the boards to find the best ones for each instance.

    I have also had a tree from my yard cut down and sawn. It’s air-drying as we speak (fingers-crossed). A neighbor gave me some hickory and holly logs that are in the sawyer’s kiln as we speak. I hope they come out.

    Is it “worth it”? I think so. From a project view, I think it’s extremely rewarding being a part of the project from start to finish. I get to make all of the decisions (how long, how wide, how is it cut) and reap the rewards after.

    Financially, it might not be the best decision, because if you factor in the cost of the arborist, it can get expensive. But if you can get the log for free, it is less expensive then buying the same quantity of lumber. If your projects are small, like turnings or joined furniture like Peter Follansbee (http://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/), I’m sure you can get all of the lumber you want for free.

    Jonathan
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  2. The grain patterns of wooden boards can affect the way that they expand and contract. In quartersawn wood, the grain patterns are relatively consistent, so the end product is stable, which makes it preferred by many woodworkers and furniture-makers. Quartersawn wood might include medullary rays and wavy grain patterns that some people prefer over the patterns that are revealed through the other sawing methods. Oak is the most common quartersawn wood, although builders might also be able to find quartersawn walnut, cherry and maple.

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