Building with Urban Trees

Harvesting and utilizing wood which would otherwise end up in the landfill. February 28, 2004

(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From Steve Bratkovich, Value Added Wood Processing Forum Technical Advisor:
I just received a message from a woodworker in Kansas who is building furniture and related products from urban trees. In most cases he is pulling trees from landfills and converting them into finished products - a real value added enterprise.

Almost all of the trees I receive are urban trees. I have a few tree cutters who keep me supplied. The only drawback to these trees is that there might be metal in them. Losing a blade once in a while is certainly worth the wood you get back.

From Steve Bratkovich:
Yes, there is a lot of good wood in urban trees. My recommendation to beginners is to invest in a hand-held metal detector so the logs can be scanned before sawing. I have seen a lot of beautiful furniture crafted from urban trees that were diverted from the landfill or the firewood pile.

A new book is available on utilizing urban trees. The title is "Harvesting Urban Timber: A Complete Guide" by Dr. Sam Sherrill.

I find harvesting urban trees to be both rewarding and potentially lucrative. I really believe that by converting these trees to usable lumber we are extending the sustainability of our non-urban forests and raising awareness of the importance of urban forestry.

I just went to my local landfill. They said they accept logs there, but not branches. I asked what they do with the logs, and she told me they bury them with the rest of the trash. I asked if I can have them, and she said "Sorry, but nothing is allowed out of the landfill." How are you guys getting logs out of landfills?

From Steve Bratkovich:
Some landfills are very happy to give logs away; others will permit a portable mill to be set up on-site. Don't give up just because one person said no. Check with local recycling centers or other groups that would support what you would like to do; I'm sure you can find lots of support for rescuing good wood from the landfill.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor S:
Even if the landfill stands firm on their nothing-comes-back-out policy, you can probably divert a sufficient supply of lumber from going in, in the first place. My guess is that a good percentage of the wood that goes in comes from just a few sources such as landscaping companies and the power and phone companies. They might be willing to negotiate a mutually beneficial arrangement with you.