Adventures in Urban Forestry

Back in October, I got a call from a nice fellow asking me if I would be interested in embarking on adventure to save a gorgeous black walnut tree that was in his yard. Perhaps 'save' isn't the right word; Patrick, the homeowner, had decided already that the tree needed to come down as it was growing into the side of his backyard deck. Also, the droppings from the tree -- the leaves that seem to fall as soon as they appear and the nuts that crash upon the roof and stain everything in site -- yeah, he was ready to be done with all that. So, the tree was coming down but he did want to save his walnut tree from the usual fate that meets urban trees like these: the wood chipper and the firewood pile. “Would I be interested in transforming this tree into some furniture?” he inquired in his British accent.

After a visit to the tree and some discussion, I couldn’t resist and we made a deal. Not long after that, a local tree service had been hired to bring the tree down and a guy in Virginia with a portable sawmill was secured as well. I took many photos of the whole process -- from the felling of the tree to the stickering of the wood for air drying -- and have put together the slideshow you see below. It’s also available here. (More below the video...)

I found the whole thing fascinating to watch, especially the tree trimming operation. The aptly-named Harry Sawyer (no joke!) was like a skilled athlete whose field in the sky kept shrinking with each tree branch removed. He, and two workers on the ground, used a carefully orchestrated system of ropes to catch and lower just-cut branches from the tree. Another rope was for safety, but it never seemed close to being needed. It somehow reminded me of an aerial dance troupe I remember seeing in Madison, WI several years ago (at the annual Orton Park festival, I believe). I’m in danger of waxing a bit too poetic here, but it seemed fitting that, if such a majestic tree must come down by the hand of man, that at least it would be done in such a skillful, almost artful, manner.

We ended up with three sections that went through the portable sawmill - two 8 footers and one 10 footer. The 10 ft butt log (the lowest, clearest section) was almost 3 ft wide at the base. The logs were cut into mostly 1-1/2" and 2" thick boards. It will take awhile to dry (about 1 year per inch of thickness) but it will have been worth the wait. The walnut is beautiful -- a lot of clear, knot-free heartwood with interesting figure -- and, of course, it will have a great story to go with it.

Sawyer's Tree Service in Cape St. Claire, MD 410-757-2440
Dave Martin, Yard Log Sawing, Leesburg, VA 703-727-7917

The music in the video is by the Knife and Fork Band


December 2009

Previous Notes from the Shop
June 2009 - Tapered Aprons
April 2009 - Coffee Table Bench
Fall 2008 - Cabinet -> Console