Urban Wood Showcase: Specialty Items

ILWUT_LogoFascinating and fun things can be made using urban wood salvaged from community trees.

The items featured here are among an eclectic assortment of “Specialty Items” featured at the Urban Wood Products Showcase during the Bringing the Urban Forest Full Circle Conference, March 18 at Hamburger University in Oak Brook, IL. The event was organized by the Illinois Wood Utilization Team.

Paul Pettigrew, architect and associate professor of architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology of Chicago, was the People’s Choice for first place in the Specialty Items category for his Electric Acoustic Ukelele and Amp. Second place went to Eric Beachamp, owner of Beau Bois Custom Creations of Evanston, IL, for his Fractal Elm Trays.

Read more about each of these Magnificent 7 projects.

Electric Acoustic Ukelele and Ukelele Amplifier
Paul Pettigrew, Architect and Associate Professor, Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago

Materials Used: Spalted soft maple, hard maple, rosewood, chrome-plated ukulele tuners, miscellaneous metal components and miscellaneous electronics

Urban Wood Source: Jack Meyer Wood Supply of Sawyer, MI, told me that this soft maple tree came down in a storm in Buchanan, MI, a number of years ago. It was sawn into lumber onsite with a portable saw mill, dried in a converted metal container kiln and stored for a number of years in a garage on his property.

Theme/purpose: The idea for this project came from the old story of being able to pick up a sea shell, place it over your ear and hear the sounds of the ocean. I liked the idea of being able to “hear the sounds” of Buchanan Michigan, the source of wood for the ukulele and amplifier. The player and audience can hear the sound of Buchanan’s spalted soft maple either in its acoustic form or electric form depending on the performance.

Fractal Elm Trays
Eric Beauchamp, Beau Bois Custom Creations of Evanston, IL

Material Used: American Elm

Urban Wood Source: Homeowner’s felled tree processed by Horigan Urban Forest Products. It was a mature American Elm estimated at over 130 years old that was cared for as the centerpiece of a garden in Evanston for more than 100 years. It had been regularly inoculated against disease but had to be removed as a safety precaution. The tree was felled by the arborist who had cared for it.

Some of the wood is being used to grow shitake mushrooms. Large limbs and the main trunk 14.5’ in length and 4.5’ in average diameter were taken to Horrigan Urban Forest Products where is was milled to preserve its unique character. Lumber from this tree is still available.  More information can be found at http://www.arborigin.com

Theme/purpose: This project was created to explore the uses of urban-sourced American Elm in art and furniture projects. These trays were shaped from American Elm. High-voltage electricity was introduced to the surface of the wood to burn fractal designs into the surface of the wood.

Assorted Wooden Boxes
John Lough, Senior City Forester, City of Chicago

Materials Used: Black walnut, red elm, ash and Spanish cedar

Urban Wood Source: Various tree removal projects on private property in the Chicago area

Various woods were reclaimed from tree removal projects. These boxes were made from smaller pieces of wood which otherwise would have been used for firewood or ground into mulch.

Theme/purpose: Use of reclaimed wood to make decorative and functional gifts.

“Furnerector Set” Lamp
Paul Pettigrew, Architect and Associate Professor, Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago

Materials Used: Walnut from the urban forest, laser cut perforated acrylic, perforated anodized aluminum, stainless steel fasteners, colorcord.com braided lamp chord, lifex.com wi-fi enabled light bulb

Urban Wood Sources: Horigan Urban Forest Products & Meyers Woodworking and Lumber

Theme/purpose: While driving I thought about my new Apple watch, iPhone, the life wi-fi enabled lightbulb, the lightbulbs socket switch and chord and the structure that houses the bulb, socket, switch and chord. There are components that are analog and digital. There are components that have not changed much in the last 100+ years since light bulb sockets, chords and switches were invented and there are new components that have arrived on the design scene as part of a digital revolution and concern for the environment.

There are components that can be considered hardware, i.e. support components, socket, chord, switch, bulb, iPhone, Apple watch and there are components that can be considered software IOS 9.2 (phone) & OS 2.1 (watch). The idea for this piece is that just as the software can be updated, improved and given additional/different functionality, so too can the physical components that support all of this. I wanted to design a “lamp” that behaved less like hardware and more like software. I wanted the “lamp” to be as infinitely upgradeable as software and operating systems. All of the components for this lamp can be taken apart, re-arranged, re-placed, added or subtracted over time by a single owner or multiple owners.

Something like the lamp has been with us for quite some time. Artificial light used for ambient, task, decorative and perhaps even protective purposes has been with us for as long as man has known how to control and eventually make fire. Camp-fire, torch, candle, lightbulb/lamp is a familiar sequence and our relationship to these sources of light have been practical at one end of the spectrum and romantic at another end. To be able to control the intensity and color of light using a phone and/or watch is a unique situation if ever-changing possibilities and potential.

Soccer Ball
Ron Meyers, Meyers Woodworking & Lumber of Batavia, IL

Material Used: Oak and walnut

Urban Wood Source: Meyers Woodworking and Lumber. The logs were acquired from tree care companies and municipalities in the western suburbs of Chicago. I dried and milled the lumber.

Theme/ purpose: I was intrigued with the shape of the soccer ball and challenged myself to make one using urban wood. Piecing the wood required precision cutting and gluing. There are two different pieces required to make a soccer ball – a pentagon and a hexagon.  The soccer ball was donated to the Illinois Wood Utilization Team for education and demonstration purposes.

Walnut Wall Hanging
John Lough, Senior City Forester, City of Chicago

Material Used: Natural edge black walnut

Urban Wood Source: Tree from private yard

A homeowner contacted a local wood trim miller and asked if he wanted a black walnut tree the owner wanted removed from his property. The tree was leaning and the owner feared it was going to fall on the neighbor’s house. The mill owner called me knowing I was interested in using salvaged wood, and I worked out a deal with the homeowner to remove the tree in exchange for the wood. I sawed one of the smaller limbs with a band saw and book matched it to create this decorative wall hanging.

Theme/purpose: The purpose was to display the color of sap and heart wood of black walnut using a small branch normally discarded in the removal process. The walnut branch was book matched and the bark preserved to give the illusion of a single symmetrical piece of wood.

Stacking Storage Boxes
Paul Pettigrew, Architect and Associate Professor, Illinois Institute of Technology of Chicago

Materials Used: Urban wood (and a couple of non urban) scraps, acrylic, aluminum, stainless steel and rubber fasteners

Urban Wood Source: Horigan Urban Forest Products and Meyers Woodworking and Lumber. These are leftovers from previous projects that I had been collecting since 2008 when I first started working with urban wood. The urban wood sources are probably the Chicago area and Buchanan, MI.

Theme/ purpose: This is a project I made working alongside my IIT Architecture & Furniture students. It is a stack of five storage boxes inspired by a workbench full of material scraps made over a weekend; the final design/outcome unknown or at risk. The five  boxes can be rearranged and rotated into a near infinite number of configurations. (My daughter helped me with the math on this one…5! (factorial) to the 4th possible configurations). Rearranging the boxes allows for 120 possible configurations. If rotating each box four different ways is factored into the equation the number of possible arrangements is 120 to the 4th.

The assignment is inspired by excerpts from The Nature and Art of Workmanship by David Pye: “If I must ascribe a meaning to the word craftsmanship, I shall say as a first approximation that it means simply workmanship using any kind of technique or apparatus, in which the quality of the result is not predetermined, but depends on judgment, dexterity and care which the maker exercises as he works. The essential idea is that the quality of the result is continually at risk during the process of making; and so I shall call this kind of workmanship ‘The workmanship of risk’: an uncouth phrase, but at least descriptive.”