Archive for October, 2013

The Origins of Urban Wood

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The question of “where does it come from” has always fascinated me. In 6th grade, I made a video that tried to tell the story of where meat came from. Perhaps the video essays of other 5th graders would have ended at the grocery store, or even the butcher. Mine, however, went all the way back to the farm, including farmer interviews, cow milking, pasture examination, and haybale jumping.

It turns out that with age, my interest in the origin of materials and craftsmanship has not diminished, as I frequently find myself poking my head into doorways when I hear construction sounds, or touring landfills on my days off.

As part of an upcoming Parket that we are building for a client that requires several good sized slabs, I wanted to dig a little bit deeper and investigate the mysterious origins of urban lumber. Most of us are probably only familiar with in its sanitized, satinized, and refined state, visible at notable high end stores in San Francisco and many major cities. Slab wood furniture has gained great popularity lately. I would speculate that that’s a response to a hangover of a bad couple of decades of oversanitized, overpolished, overprocessed building materials, that have found their way into our most intimate of places: board rooms, desks, dining rooms, etc.

As more people become aware of the vast number of chemicals infused into the majority of synthetics that we are surrounded by, as well as their hazy origins in shadowy factories across the globe, there has been a collective head scratching and questioning of this type of normalcy. As a counterpoint to this, we are in the midst of a revolution of localization. This is particularly evident in our supply chain of food. The proliferation of microbreweries offers an insight.

The rise of Craft!  Source: brewersassociation.org

The rise of Craft! Source: brewersassociation.org

The Green Waste Recycle Yard in Richmond California is one the Bay Area’s largest processing facilities for urban trees. GWRY recovers and recycles trees that otherwise would have been hauled to the West Contra Costa County Sanitary Landfill.

Tree come from a variety of sources: Caltrans, the University of California, cemeteries, HOA’s (homeowners’ associations), public works departments, as well as landscape contractors

Green Waste Recycle Yard, Richmond, California.  Find them if you can!  Somewhere between the metal recycling facility and the auto salvage yard, tuck up against the San Pablo bay, this facility accepts, processes, and recycles some of the largest quantities of wood in the Bay Area.

Green Waste Recycle Yard, Richmond, California. Find them if you can! Somewhere between the metal recycling facility and the auto salvage yard, tuck up against the San Pablo bay, this facility accepts, processes, and recycles some of the largest quantities of wood in the Bay Area.

Berne, my host for the day, shows me around.  Everything is large - the saws, trees, slabs, equipment, piles...

Bernie, my host for the day, shows me around. Everything is large – the saws, trees, slabs, equipment, piles…

Curly redwood.  I definitely did not know that this existed.  Beautiful patterning on a flat surface.

Curly redwood. I definitely did not know that this existed. Beautiful patterning on a flat surface.

Cut, stickered, and stacked.  Wood, depending on the type, dries approximately 1" per year.  Of course, using a kiln brings that process down to just a couple of days.  Ideal moisture content varies, but is typically between 7-12%

Cut, stickered, and stacked. Wood, depending on the type, dries approximately 1″ per year. Of course, using a kiln brings that process down to just a couple of days. Ideal moisture content varies, but is typically between 7-12%

The giant "portable" saw mill can accept trees up to 30" diameter.

The giant “portable” saw mill can accept trees up to 30″ diameter.

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A log, rearranged and reconstituted.

A log, rearranged and reconstituted.