Category: Blogs

Video: Fabled 600-Year-Old Oak Stars in Documentary

By Rich Christianson

Not many trees have a feature-length documentary made about their life. Nor do many trees have a website dedicated to them. But the massive white oak that once stood guard over the cemetery next to the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church was no ordinary tree. It died in 2017 at the ripe old age of 619. At the time of its demise it was the oldest known white oak in America.

I first became aware of the landmark tree from a March 12 article clipped from the Star Ledger newspaper, a souvenir from my wife’s trip to Basking Ridge, NJ, to visit her sister. The headline immediately caught my urban wood eye: “Everyone wants a piece of the oak.” 

The lead sentence put an exclamation point on my interest, “Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church officials will wait to see the quality of wood remaining from the iconic 600-year-old white oak tree that will be cut down during the week of April 24 before deciding how to preserve portions of the tree for its historic significance, said John Kippel, a member of the church’s planning council.”

The article further noted that a number of local artists, woodworkers, schools and other groups interested in getting pieces of the tree.

Milling the tree, however, would be anything but easy because of the extraordinary efforts that were taken to save the it from literally rotting to death in 1924.

According to information compiled by Forged In Wood, at the time the tree was 93 feet tall, with a 126-foot spread and 23-foot-diameter trunk. Tons of concrete were painstakingly poured into 72 cavities, 165 feet of threaded rod  was installed to brace the tree and concrete and 1,150 feet of steel cable were anchored to support the weight of the tree’s branches. The total price of this unique tree surgery performed under the auspices of Davey Tree Company was $2,393.08.

Having recently unearthed the article from in my files, I  searched the web to see what became of the tree and its wood. Plenty as it turns out, including:

-^- Frank Pollaro of Pollaro Custom Furniture reportedly went through 120 blades, including three diamond blades, ti create boards from the tree, some of which he used to make communion tables for the church. Pollaro and other researchers used a magnifying lens to count the tree’s rings. They arrived at an estimated birth year of 1398 – 319 years before the original Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church was built.

^-^ A 5-foot tall, 8,400-pound chunk from the trunk was donated as a memorial to Rose Farms of Basking Ridge for public viewing.

-^- Last year, singer-songwriter Alan Grant performed at the site of the removed tree playing an electric guitar made from the legendary oak. More than 30 people who fought in the revolutionary war are buried there. 

Example of “merch” made from the legendary Basking Ridge white oak.

^-^ A variety of wood gifts and novelties including serving boards, blocks of decorative wood, pens, ornaments, candle centerpieces and pendant necklaces.

-^- Forgedinwood.net is a website that memorialized the tree’s long history and bonds with the community.

^-^ “Under the Great Oak,” is a feature-length documentary produced by local screenwriter Michael Reynolds. 

-^- A 16-year-old oak that grew from an acorn of the landmark oak tree at Union County College has been transplanted to where its famous “father” once stood.

Stay tuned for my 2620 update!



Craft Beer with Just a Hint of Urban Sawdust

Not every sawyer who makes his living converting urban trees into lumber, and in the process diverting them from the waste stream, can claim to have a craft beer named in his or her honor. But Sid Gendron, a.k.a. Sawmill Sid, can.

Sawmill Sid is a portable sawmilling business repurposing trees removed in the greater Toronto area. In 2016, Gendron’s company was presented the Ontario Wood Award for making “outstanding contributions to the support and promotion of local wood.”

More recently, Stonehooker Brewing Company of Port Credit, Ontario, created Sawmill Sid Logger’d Ale. The craft brewery describes Sawmill Sid Logger’d Ale thusly: “Refreshing, crisp and clean Kolsch-style beer, full of flavor and designed to cut through a dusty thirst. Inspired by our friend Sid, who slices, logs, mills wood and eats sawdust like no one else.”

While the coronavirus pandemic has forced the shuttering of its taproom, Stonehooker is serving via drive through pick up. On this date, the brewery’s website noted that Sawmill Sid Logger’d is presently out of stock but will be available soon.



Pilot Program in Rome Uses Urban Wood to Curb Kids’ Digital Addiction

By Franco Paolinelli
Silvicultura Agrocultura Paesaggio, Rome, Italy

A school asked the Silvicultura Agrocultura Paesaggio (SAP) (Forestry Agriculture Landscape) association to conduct three laboratory activities for the manipulation of the “Wood of the Trees of Rome,” with primary school students during the 2019-2020 school year.

Project assumptions:

  • To a greater or lesser extent, children 6 to 10 years of age have ready access to electronic devices including computers, video gaming devices, smart phones, etc. They spend much of their free time with these digital tools playing games individually or in digital communication with other players. In many cases these activities are becoming the “focus” of their recreational and social life. Moreover, these kids, in their homes, have plenty of toys, but have limited opportunities for free manipulation and discovery of their potential manual abilities.
  • Consequently, a sort of “digital addiction” is going to afflict millions of kids in developed nations.
  • Having mainly adults with great skills in the virtual world but poor skills in the real world is risky for these communities.
  • Therefore, providing children opportunities to develop manual and creative abilities assumes social and cultural relevance.
  • Workshops may help to open kids’ minds to manual skills acquisition to be, eventually, added to digital ones.
  • Schools can contribute to this perspective, also considering that, as claimed by eminent pedagogical scholars, doing with the hands is an excellent way to “incorporate” knowledge. In fact, all manual activities can offer learning opportunities, in different disciplines.
  • Urban trees and forests may provide huge amounts of wood, in their original form of branch or trunk segments, and other materials such as pine cones and other fruit, berries, leaves … suitable to carry out manual manipulation activities.
  • Furthermore, using these materials leads to positive environmental and economic collateral effects: reduction of materials to be sent to landfills, creation of carbon stocks, jobs, etc.
  • On these assumptions, shared by the school, the described project was born: Rome trees’ wood workshop.

Participants:

1st group: 10 children of both sexes considered “hyperactive,” from various classes;

2nd group: 1 class of the 2nd year, about 20 children of both sexes; and

3rd group: 1 class of the 2nd year, about 20 children of both sexes.

Activities:

  • Handling segments and sections of branches of various shapes and sizes, weighing never more than 400g (14 ounces);
  • Transformation with manual tools such as saw, rasp, gimlet, chisel, cutter with blade length of 1 cm, clamps, wheel brace hand drill.
  • The activity has so far been directed towards the creation of collective objects.
  • Before Christmas: Creation of a Christmas tree with segments and branch sections.
  • In progress: Creation of a train with branch segments 20cm long and 4cm diameter on average.

Origin of the materials
Branches of various sizes coming from urban trees’ pruning and removal. Often, in Rome, companies doing maintenance contracts for public green areas leave debris at the base of the pruned trees for many days. So, up to now, it wasn’t difficult to collect branches and produce laboratory segments.

We added these with segments of boards produced with a chainsaw frame and a small portable sawmill, both available in SAP’s synergy network.

Conducting the workshops
At least three teachers were always involved, but, so far, observers came as well, bringing to a minimum of four adults present each time.

The basic training of these teachers is different, ranging from architecture, agricultural and forestry studies, to artisan experience. The common focus is the willingness to follow the kids in their discovery, each with his own pace and possibility.

Purpose of the activity:

  • Stimulate children to discover their manual skills;
  • Stimulate command / action coordination;
  • Reduce physical world fear;
  • Stimulate group work;
  • Convey to the school community messages, on the importance of trees, including their role in counteracting the greenhouse effect and the possible future development of an “urban timber” economy.

Current results of the project
In educational terms, in line with previous similar experiences, with kindergarten children and scout groups, the activity seems to arouse kids’ enthusiasm. They are fully involved and each tool; each new piece of wood is a discovery. Actual results are encouraging.

The use of wood done so far allows us to estimate that at the end of the course at least 1.5 quintals) (about 150 pounds) of wood will have been given a symbolic value, then removed from the landfill destiny.

We can only begin to guess how many quintals of urban wood could be salvaged on a city scale.



Oh No! Coronavirus!

The unsettling uncertainty gripping the world, alternatively known as the coronavirus pandemic or COVID-19 crisis, has paused life as we know it.

On a personal level, my wife and I have – sadly – gotten use to taking “no” for an answer, as plans we eagerly looked forward to have been cancelled or at the very least postponed indefinitely. Just a short list:

  • No commencement for our daughter finishing her senior year at the University of Illinois.
  • No annual progressive dinner party with neighbors.
  • No birthday celebrations with family, In fact, no family get-togethers at all as we collectively practice social distancing to stall the spread of COVID-19.
  • Rescheduling of our oldest daughter’s wedding from June 27 of this year to July 10 of next.
One “no” that we were happy to accept was when our middle daughter tested negative for COVID-19.

I know that each of you reading this post can rattle off a personal list of inconveniences created by the crisis, including possibly graver life and death matters. (I hope not.)

Just as major sporting events like March Madness and Major League Baseball have been cancelled or delayed, so have events tied to urban forestry, including, for example, Wisconsin Urban Wood’s March 25 membership meeting, the April 4 volunteer tree planting in Atlanta and April 30 Vermont Arbor Day Conference. 

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I don’t know when, but I know we will get through this and be stronger for it. The optimist in me says I will keep my date to walk my daughter down the aisle. It’s with that same resolve of moving forward that I am working with the Urban Wood Network to organize the third urban wood seminar on August 26 at the International Woodworking Fair in Atlanta. 

As I hunker down with my family to ride out the COVID-19 chaos, I see that the sun is shining and the birds are chirping. Better days lie ahead.

Stay safe! Stay strong!
Rich Christianson

 



UWN Presents Urban Lumber Standards in April 8 Webinar

The Urban Wood Network (UWN) continues its 2020 webinar series on April 8 with Urban Lumber Standards. UWN invites municipalities, arborists, sawyers, woodworkers, advocates and all others interested in advancing the urban wood movement to participate in one or all of these 75-minute webinars.

Each of the webinars is scheduled for the second Wednesday of each month at 10 a.m. Pacific, 11 a.m. Mountain, 12 p.m. Central, and 1 p.m. Eastern. In addition, the recorded webinars will be archived on UWN’s website.

Webinar #2: Urban Lumber Standards – April 8, 2020
One of the things that keeps coming to light in order to take our industry to the next level and rescue more trees is to get urban woods specified by more architects and designers, and therefore sell more product, is the need for industry Standards and Chain-of-Custody. These standards and chain-of-custody certification will build confidence in architects and designers to spec locally grown urban wood products. After a peer review process and input from urban wood stakeholders from various backgrounds and experiences located coast to coast and Canada we now have Urban Wood Industry Standards and chain of custody certification. This webinar will highlight the new pathways for urban woods to be certified.

Join Webinar

UWN’s 2020 Future Visioning Webinar Series schedule:

  • The Urban Wood Network: Future Visioning – March 11, 2020
    Watch on demand.
  • Urban Lumber Standards – April 8, 2020
  • Urban Lumber Business – May 13, 2020
  • What to do with the rest of the Tree(s) – June 10, 2020


Grinnell College’s felled walnut trees graduate into benches

  • Small walnut bench displayed during 2019 alumni weekend at Grinnell College.
(Note: Slide captions at end of post.)
 
By Kevin Field
 
A while back, I received a very intriguing email. Grinnell College of Grinnell, IA, – my alma mater – was planning a major expansion of one of its oldest instructional buildings, and several very large, black walnut trees stood within the new-construction footprint.
 
Chris Bair, the college’s environmental and safety coordinator, contacted me and several other alum woodworkers to solicit proposals for using the urban (campus) harvest to create commissioned benches for the new and newly renovated buildings. A full circle. How cool was that?!
 
Luckily, I was able to meet with Chris onsite – before the trees were felled – to advise on sectioning, milling and air drying.
 
Howard McDonough and Mick Goebel slabbed the 70- to 80-year-old trees. Two years later, I transported a number of air-dried, 2” x 24” x 8’ black walnut slabs from Iowa to my shop in Westmont, IL. I air-dried them to 7% moisture content (MC) in my dining room over the winter. (I had to kick the wife out first – proceed with caution.) In the spring, I constructed two commissioned benches I designed for the college to display within the new building.
 
The ball-shaped defect in the close-up photo of the back rail of the longer of the two benches is a lead bullet! I found a number of bullets embedded in the tree, and was able to incorporate a visible example into the bench design under a clear epoxy filler. The presence of the bullets is an intriguing mystery as the walnut trees were located right in the middle of campus – not a location where guns would be expected to be fired.
 
Having strolled in the shade of those very walnut trees on my way to many a lecture class over the four years I attended Grinnell, it gives me great pleasure to know that the legacy of those majestic trees has been conserved and transformed into heirloom pieces of beautiful furniture that Grinnell students can continue to use and admire into the future. 
 
Kevin Field is owner of Field Joinery & Design Studio of Westmont, IL. Learn more at customwoodwerker.com.
 
Slide Captions
Slide 1: Shorter walnut bench on display in campus gallery during Grinnell College’s 2019 Alumni Reunion Weekend.

Slide 2: Wind motif flows into the natural grain pattern in back-rest panels.

Slide 3: One of the Grinnell College walnut logs is milled into lumber.

Slide 4: Walnut trees 1, 3, & 4 in the plan view were the source of the lumber used for the benches.

Slide 5: Some of Grinnell College’s walnut trees prior to removal.

Slide 6: Lead bullets shown in the position they were found encased in the walnut lumber, including two wedged against each other. They were incorporated into bench back-rail – visible under clear epoxy.

Slide 7: Carving book-matched back-rest panels achieved using rotary tool with burrs and reciprocating chisel handset.
 
Editor’s Note: We’re always on the prowl for interesting tales of urban wood use. Learn how to get your business featured.
 


UWN Slates ‘Future Visioning’ Webinar Series

The Urban Wood Network (UWN) kicks off its 2020 webinar series on March 11 with “The Urban Wood Network: Future Visioning.”  UWN invites municipalities, arborists, sawyers, woodworkers, advocates and all others interested in advancing the urban wood movement to participate in one or all of these 75-minute webinars.

Each of the webinars is scheduled for the second Wednesday of each month at 10 a.m. Pacific, 11 a.m. Mountain, 12 p.m. Central, and 1 p.m. Eastern.

Webinar #1: The Urban Wood Network: Future Visioning – March 11
The Urban Wood Network will present its vision to bring together urban wood industry members to inform, collaborate and connect to build community, business, and consumer confidence in the industry. 

  • Don Peterson, executive director of UWN, will share recently established local, regional and national partnerships, membership benefits, and upcoming educational opportunities for both members and non-members.
  •  Jennifer Alger will provide a brief update on the new partnership between the Urban Wood Network and Urban Salvaged and Reclaimed Woods.
  •  Paul Morrison of Wisconsin Urban Wood will share how the urban wood industry has evolved over the past 20 years; staring with the slow growth of scattered individuals to the current and rapidly growing trajectory that we are now witnessing. Morrison believes that these individual businesses must each define what makes them unique while also recognizing that the partnerships and potential of networking within an organization of like-minded businesses benefits each individual business and further insures our collective future.

Upcoming UWN Future Visioning Webinars
April 8: Urban Lumber Standards
May 13: Urban Lumber Business
June 10: What to Do with the Rest of the Tree(s)

Learn More | Register


Sculptor Adds Urban Wood to Her Palette

Chicago-area artist Margot McMahon’s works have been exhibited far and wide. Her sculptures can be found among private collections around the globe as well as the Smithsonian, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago Historical Society, Chicago Botanical Gardens, and Yale University to name a few.

According to her website, McMahon typically models in clay then casts in metal or concrete, welds in steel and carves in stone. But she also has had opportunity to use urban wood as her medium. Indeed, the carvings adorning this post utilized a 300-year-old maple tree that was downed in a 2011 wind storm.

Responding to an email seeking more information about the tree, McMahon replied, “The maple was in our backyard and on Lake Michigan a sailboat measured 103 mph wind (gusts). The wind came across Wisconsin and traveled along the bird flyway. It hit The Garfield Park Conservatory and broke every rooftop window. I was at an environmental meeting at the Oak Park Library when I saw the sky go dark and suggested we leave our meeting early. I texted the family to stay where they were and wait out the storm.”

McMahon said she had the tree cut into carvable sizes. Some of the log sections were 3 to 4 feet in diameter. “I found carving a 300-year-old tree meaningful,” she said.

McMahon’s local urban wood connections include serving on the Outdoor Committee of Chicago Sculpture International. CSI collaborates with the Chicago Park District on the The Chicago Tree Project to give “sick and dying trees a second life as a work of vibrant public art.” Her contributions to the Tree Project includes Perch – Preen, a dying ash tree turned artwork in Hale Park.

Learn more about Margot McMahon.

See related article about 2019 Chicago Tree Project.

 



Paul Simon Concert Benefits SF Urban Forest

Legendary singer/songwriter Paul Simon may have stopped touring, but it doesn’t stop him from putting on occasional shows to benefit environmental causes he supports.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Simon performed in San Francisco in August to raise funds for Friends of the Urban Forest and San Francisco Parks Alliance. The alliance claims to have planted more than 60,000 trees since 1981, totaling almost half of the San Francisco’s street canopy.

Simon was joined on stage by Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead in the video clip.

Simon followed up his San Francisco appearance by staging a pair of concerts in Maui to support the Auwahi Forest Restoration Project on Maui. Combined, the shows reportedly raised $1.1 million for these causes.

Read the Chronicle’s full report.

 



EAB’s Path of Destruction Continues to Widen

Click to expand.

By Rich Christianson

The Emerald ash borer (EAB), the shiny green beetle with an insatiable appetite for ash trees that jump-started the urban wood movement, continues its deadly march across North America.

According to the Emerald Ash Borer Information Network, a website maintained by the U.S. Forest Service, EAB is now found in 35 states and five Canadian provinces. When we last checked in March 2018 – see map below – EAB had been detected in 31 states and two provinces.

Added to the list of state’s with EAB detections within the last 18 months are Maine, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Vermont. The provinces of Manitoba, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are also new to the map that is periodically updated by the Forest Service.

Florida and Mississippi are the only states east of the Mississippi that have yet to have any reports of EAB infestations. However, Florida, along with Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, and Wyoming have state EAB information available, according to the EAB Information Network.

According to the EAB Information Network, EAB “was originally discovered in southeastern Michigan near Detroit in the summer of 2002. The adult beetles nibble on ash foliage but cause little damage. The larvae (the immature stage) feed on the inner bark of ash trees, disrupting the tree’s ability to transport water and nutrients. Emerald ash borer probably arrived in the United States on solid wood packing material carried in cargo ships or airplanes originating in its native Asia.”

The network also notes that EAB is blamed for killing hundreds of millions of ash trees in U.S., private and urban forests. The USDA has attempted to enforce quarantines of infested areas to halt or at the very least slow the spread of EAB.

The Associated Press published an article on Oct. 7 noting that removal of trees felled by the EAB will cost Nebraskans more than $1 billion over the next few decades. “(B)ut local governments probably won’t be able to afford the cost and it’s not clear how much help they’ll get from the state.”

Missouri is another state grappling with EAB infestation. According to a Nov. 6 report in the Springfield News-Leader, the exotic beetle has been found in 16 new counties, bringing the total to 75 counties throughout the state. The article notes that the city of Springfield budgeted $75,000 for its EAB response. That money was used for insecticides to protect some ash trees and to remove others either in poor condition or poor location.