Urban Hardwoods - Turning Trash Into Treasures
August 14, 2011 | 4:34 pm CDT
A Seattle company is helping others earn LEED credits by recycling wood waste into custom furniture and architectural millwork.

Seattle’s Urban Hardwoods transforms unwanted trees from trash into custom tables and other treasures.

The company collects hardwood trees from residential removals, street sides and parks, then mills them into slabs that eventually will become furniture for residential and commercial projects.

These products also can help larger commercial projects stay “green,” which is especially important in an area like Seattle, where the city government is mandating LEED certification for its projects.

In one instance, Urban Hardwoods’ flooring and a wall system contributed to the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification for a new commercial building. Likewise, a conference table, credenza and other furniture made from reclaimed lumber helped in obtaining LEED credits when it came to rebuilding the University of Washington’s Center for Urban Horticulture.

In addition to the environmental benefits, the natural characteristics found in the reclaimed lumber give Urban Hardwoods’ products character and add to the furnitures’ aesthetic appeal, says company founder Jim Newsom.

“A lot of our furniture is built in ‘response’ to the wood itself, and these checks and cracks can add to the natural beauty of the finished piece,” Newsom says.

“Urban trees are an unbelievable resource that have yet to be fully tapped. It’s amazing the amount of extremely high-quality trees that are growing in the city — you never know where you’re going to find that special tree,” he adds.

All of Urban Hardwoods’ lumber comes from local sources. While the western states have been the target market for much of the company’s custom work, showrooms in New York and Toronto also carry a selection of Urban Hardwoods’ furniture creations. Future plans include a greater push on retail sales, both online and through a network of well-placed retail outlets.

“We’ve been fortunate to be able to sell our furniture throughout the United States,” Newsom says.

Growing Business
Urban Hardwoods grew out of a one-man salvage lumber operation. Newsom crisscrossed local waters in a tugboat, pulling beached logs to his shop on the city’s industrial waterfront. Intending to sell his finds as lumber, he bought a Wood-Mizer portable sawmill, only to discover the wood’s hidden beauty.

A boom truck has since replaced the tugboat, and arborists and homeowners have become a steady source of business. Next year, the company plans to move into a combined factory/showroom building, which will include a retail source center open to the trade. According to Newsom, the retail source center, which will include a slab showroom, will provide an additional source of revenue to Urban Hardwoods’ custom and retail furniture projects.

Currently, much of the company’s business is from word of mouth and referrals. In addition, presentations to design and architectural firms have built up enthusiasm for Urban Hardwoods’ work, Newsom says.
Among its furniture, Urban Hardwoods’ dining tables are a specialty, with retail prices averaging between $3,000 and $20,000. The typical dining table incorporates two planks of book-matched wood. Smaller occasional pieces, such as coffee and end tables, start at approximately $650.

While the company does not produce built-in cabinetry, it still crafts plenty of mantelpieces. One long-term project used madrone and figured maple that was cleared from a 3-acre home site to furnish an English
cottage-style house and outbuilding.

In addition to the dining table, an office desk and other major furnishings, the company turned the site’s lumber into more than 4,000 square feet of flooring and approximately 50 interior doors.

“[A job like that] showcases the best of what this company can do. Homeowners who need to remove trees can incorporate them into the decor. There’s no better use for our skills than filling up a home with furniture made from trees that were on the site,” Newsom says.

However, he adds, “It’s rare that a client has the foresight to salvage the trees and has the time to allow us to properly dry and prepare the lumber.”

Similarly, another project called for 100 headboards for a hotel casino, along with communal tables for the reception area built from large firs salvaged from the site. Although Urban Hardwoods typically uses hardwoods, it will work with an architect on a specific project that involves softwood.

Both native and introduced hardwood species make up the shop’s inventory. Madrone and bigleaf maple are in demand, while disease brings down enough rock elm and red elm to maintain a steady stock. American chestnut, while rare, also shows up in inventory, as do walnut and sycamore.

Growing interest in furniture that incorporates live edges gives the company, and its mill operation, another advantage over suppliers that remove all live edges, Newsom says. And by milling the wood in-house, the company is able to keep tight control on both quality and waste.

Founder Jim Newsom stands near the top of these giant slabs of madrone, just a sample of some of the reclaimed lumber milled by Urban Hardwoods.
                                                           Photo by John Granen
Urban Hardwoods

Founded in 2002, Urban Hardwoods uses reclaimed urban trees to make residential and commercial furniture and architectural millwork.

Three Keys:

1.) The company has two sawmills to produce between 75,000 and 100,000 board-feet of wood. The lumber is air and kiln dried prior to milling.
2.) Products made from reclaimed lumber can be used to qualify larger commercial projects for “green” certification. More than 90 percent of the company’s supply comes from local sources.
3.) Urban Hardwoods relies on a portable sawmill along with small, dedicated machines in its shop. Finishing is performed on-site, using HAPS-free catalyzed lacquer, stains and oils.

Mining Opportunities

By the beginning of 2007, the 4,000-square-foot shop and 5,000-square-foot warehouse will operate from within a single 11,000-square-foot facility. The expanded area also will house a new showroom and material resource center, additional office space and will allow for increased space on the shop floor. Milling and kiln drying take place on a 2.5-acre site located near the facility.

“This will add enormously to our growth and ease of production,” Newsom says.

Two company sawmills will cut nearly 300 logs this summer, producing between 75,000 and 100,000 board-feet of wood that will be air and kiln dried, then stored for use with mates from the same log to simplify pattern

A Wood-Mizer portable sawmill, along with a custom-built mill that handles logs up to 7 feet wide, allows for flexibility when it comes to cutting wood to match a project’s needs. “We can make efficient use of the materials because each log that we salvage has an obvious purpose,” Newsom says. “Essentially, we have no waste.”

That’s where Newsom’s expertise comes into play. Sizing up a tree to determine whether it will suit future needs with minimal production difficulties takes a practiced eye.

“What I enjoy a lot about the job is getting a call from someone in the city who wants to get rid of a tree. There’s the excitement of the discovery, that this tree could be ‘it’ — the one for that special project,” Newsom says.

Inside the shop, employees handle as much of the production as possible, although some tasks are outsourced, including the metalwork for the steel bases, and architectural millwork, such as doors and flooring. Products are finished using HAPs-free catalyzed lacquer, stains and oils. Among the machines on the shop floor are a Powermatic table saw, an Altendorf sliding table saw, a Moak bandsaw, a vacuum bag for veneering, a large Max disc sander, a Newman jointer and a Boere sander.

“The Newman jointer and Boere sander are a winning combination for flattening and sanding the large slabs,” Newsom says.
“For the most part, it’s basic wood technology,” he adds. “There’s nothing really that different about working with urban woods.”
Hand work also is critical for completing the projects. “Our craftspeople are unbelievably talented. We consider them to be our greatest asset,” Newsom says.

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