Several years ago we had to remove the largest, oldest tree in our backyard because it had started to die back, and was dropping branches on our neighbor’s yard. We called the tree service, had them cut it down, and haul it off to a landfill. We hated to see it go. It was a beautiful tree and I felt a little bit guilty about simply cutting it down and throwing it all away.
The loss of a treasured tree is heart-wrenching, to say the least, and this year’s drought has caused many people to suffer this same sense of loss. The Houston area alone has lost millions of these drought trees. The silver lining is that these trees don’t need to be landfilled. You can make furniture from trees lost to drought, storm damage, or other reasons.
Urban forest trees often yield incredibly beautiful wood: far more beautiful than the wood you’ll find from traditional lumber yards or what is found in store-bought furniture. The variation in grain patterns, color and character are wonderful. In addition to the beauty, there is the satisfaction of knowing the “story” of the wood, and of honoring the legacy of your beloved tree.
But how do you get from having your drought tree removed to having it turned into something like actual lumber – or even furniture? Well, it’s not as hard or mysterious as you might think. But it does take a little effort on your part along with a little patience: once you mill the tree into slabs, it will be a while before the wood is ready to go. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The first thing you need to do is to discuss it with your tree service. Make sure they know you want them to leave the main trunk and any large branches that are of interest to you. Next, locate someone with the equipment necessary to handle the logs that the tree service left behind, and who can transport them to be milled. You’ll want to locate an independent mill (sometimes called “mini mills”) that can cut your log into slabs and/or planks of wood. I like slabs because this leaves many more options as to what size to ultimate cut the wood once it is dry.
After the tree is cut into slabs, you’ll need to dry the wood. Opinions vary on this but count on months of drying time before your wood is dry enough to be used in furniture. Be sure you have a place where the wood can be stored properly during that time, and that it is properly stacked (“stickered”). Finally, you’ll want to find someone you trust with this precious wood who can work with you on designing and making a one-of-a-kind piece just for you.