Editor’s note: The following article is an excerpt of a lengthier piece posted by Jennifer Alger of Urban Salvaged Woods, a member of the Urban Wood Network: Western Region.
One strength of the Urban Wood Network is the inclusion of every aspect of the supply chain. Typically businesses network within their own direct niches, but that can limit the scope of collaboration, something the Urban Wood Network aims to overcome.
One stunning example of this shows in the collaboration between three Urban Wood Network members West Coast Arborists (WCA), Wood-Mizer, and Tree San Diego, and how these three directly and indirectly connected with end-user guitar manufacturer Taylor Guitars. Ultimately even though these companies represent different aspects of the supply chain, there is a shared goal in caring for our urban trees, increasing our tree canopy, and making urban wood available in the volume, consistency, and quality needed for small, medium, and large manufacturers.
WCA is a family-owned tree maintenance and management company that provides services to over 330 municipalities and public agencies. While they do tree care and tree removals as expected, they also focus on tree planting and the upcycling and salvaging of urban wood that they sell through their program, Street Tree Revival.
Currently, this team is upcycling over 36 different species, and salvages over one thousand urban logs annually for lumber. They also supply wood and logs to makers, sawyers, and others further in the supply chain. One of these species happens to be ash wood from Southern California, signature to the urban ash guitar from Taylor Guitars!
Two years after WCA came to be, Taylor guitars was founded. Taylor has had a reputation for its innovation, quality, and consistency for decades. Taylor is the best-selling acoustic brand in the world, finishing close to 900 guitars per day. Part of their innovation has always included the consideration of sustainability. Guitar makers typically source tropical wood from all over the world. They seek species such as mahogany, spruce, maple, ebony, and rosewood, and those have been used by luthiers for hundreds of years. Although Taylor always had a focus on sustainability, refusing to waste what traditionally had been wasted in their industry, founder Bob Taylor was constantly seeking even more sustainable materials and processes for his company.
So now, we have the supplier (WCA) and the maker and retailer (Taylor Guitars), but the bridge between these two links is the equipment manufacturer. WCA uses a Wood-Mizer LT40 super hydraulic, a WM1000, and a Super 70, and they have another Super 70 on the way. Using low energy thin kerf bandsaws allows WCA to process wood efficiently with a low carbon footprint, rescuing even more urban wood. One of the beautiful things about Wood-Mizer is that they too have been engaged in replanting efforts. They frequently have sent out new trees for replanting with the purchase of their mills.
The Urban Salvaged Ash Guitar: The Network in Action
Bob Taylor and Andy Powers, (founder and master designer for Taylor Guitars respectively) had previously visited WCA’s yard looking for wood for Taylor Guitars, they were able to find seven different species that were of interest, but their prize find was finding the shamel ash, an urban wood double for 30+-year-old mahogany featured in the urban wood guitar series.
Scott Paul, Taylor Guitar’s sustainability manager, notes that he suspects these other species will bleed into their existing lines over time as long as suppliers are able to guarantee that same quality, volume, and consistency that were so crucial to the ash decision. Those three points coupled with the presence of tonewood in the WCA yard meant that Urban Wood Network member West Coast Arborists was definitely able to meet the needs of Taylor. The next step was to cut the logs on the Wood-Mizer, dry the lumber, and make the prototype to ensure proof of concept.
Paul explains that an acoustic guitar is typically made up of five to six different species of wood, each selected as a specific part and chosen for different physical properties that are required for each part.
Once they decided on the ash, it quickly earned the nickname “the golden retriever of tonewoods” because of how eager it was to please. Being compared to 30-year-old mahogany, is the best compliment a guitar builder can give to a species of wood.
By the next ADF Partners In Community Forestry Conference where Scott and I both spoke on a panel about urban wood, he had an urban wood guitar prototype in hand. A few short months later, Taylor Guitars was releasing it at NAMM.
The Future of the Urban Wood Industry
While Taylor is a high-profile company, they don’t use enough volume alone to move the needle on urban wood use. In an ideal world, more wood product manufacturers would look to try and forge relationships with local mills and wood sources and when nationally branded companies can get behind this concept, we stand to be able to create a circular economy.
The surface is just being scratched on this industry and there is so much more potential. For urban wood producers, this movement is just becoming somewhat mainstream and the idea of a tree on the street or in a yard needing to be removed for disease or other reasons and then being used for lumber is still a foreign concept. But who knows, with the rising prices of lumber that we have seen over the last year, perhaps more companies interested in sustainability will take a serious look at urban wood.
Through working with groups like the UWN and collaborating there is the potential to provide even large manufacturers with the consistency, volume, and quality they need, but it’s going to require a group effort. One key component that will help is the introduction of the new USRW Certified Urban Wood Standards that will provide consistency and standardization for wood produced by Urban Wood Network members to ensure it meets the needs of the users. Creating an industry around trees that need to be removed can boost local economies, provide more opportunities for small business and produce high-end products, all while improving our environment and reducing strain on our landfills.
Also see related article: Taylor Guitar Uses Urban Ash for Tonewood