What is Urban Wood Rescue?
October 21st, 2017
Urban trees need to be removed for 4 primary reasons: Standing or Fallen Dead, Dying or Diseased, Safety or Hazard Prone, and Construction needs. Historically, these trees have been cut down, chipped up, and left at the dump to decompose. Urban trees are generally trees located in a town or city with population of 2000 people or more. Urban Re-use programs typically are targeted to saves these trees from becoming trash by reusing the lumber and giving a second life to urban wood. What’s special about it? We believe that this history of these older trees (we refer to them as heritage trees) is meaningful and should be preserved for future generations to enjoy.
The Texas Urban Sawmill is working to partner with architectural firms, engineering firms, municipalities, private residents and landowners to salvage logs from trees that must be removed. These logs are then milled into usable lumber. A portion of the lumber can be turned into fine furniture or interior architectural lumber products while the lower grade lumber can be readily used for community projects like benches, fences, and playground equipment. The lumber from these trees not only offers highly differentiated wood grain patterns and unique colors (natural artistry) but the lumber also maintains a deep history of our cities and towns that can be touched, used, and enjoyed for future generations.
By salvaging trees and reusing the wood from these trees, our rescue mission is aimed to reduce the amount of tree biomass waste, allowing the lumber to continue storing carbon which helps reduce the effects of climate change, while producing beautiful and functional products for the entire community. We also feel strongly that using the readily available lumber in dead or fallen trees, is simply the right thing to do for our community versus traditional logging and lumber sales. Why cut down healthy trees, when we can salvage and re-use????
Re-thinking the purpose of business – How are we different from the Berdoll Sawmill?
June 7th, 2017
Having grown up on a pecan plantation, Brandon Berdoll observed that pecan trees were commonly going to waste and were often piled up and burnt. This started Brandon’s vision which eventually turned into his sawmill operation. We give him a ton of credit for this observation including his ability to successfully build and operate an extremely profitable, specialty sawmill in Texas. His business offers and sustains skill labor jobs which is only positively contributing to the economy of Cedar Creek and Texas as a whole. We will openly admit that the Berdoll Sawmill’s quality standards per the National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA) grading guidelines are difficult to beat. So we certainly have a lot of synergy with the Berdoll Sawmill with respect to our overall focus on our lumber processing & product quality standards, but this is where we also start to become highly differentiated.
Our strict quality guidelines do not come into immediate effect when considering what trees & logs we are willing to save and mill. Simply said, we do NOT cherry pick or strictly grade our logs. It is not uncommon for use to salvage 70-90% of storm damage trees during our large salvage efforts. The end result is that we have a much more diverse lumber offering from the finest or #1 graded lumber all the way down to the lower grades of #3 or even #4 lumber. This allows us to offer pricing that does NOT automatically filter out a large portion of the local consumer base including hobbyists and DIYers.
Wouldn’t it be more profitable to take only the finest quality logs? Absolutely! But then we would not be champions or advocates for tree re-use! We would be letting our operational efficiency, predictive yield rates, financial statements, etc of our business dictate our behavior, and the community aspect of business would be largely ignored. This is NOT why we started this business & not what we stand for as a company. Additionally, in our opinion very selective tree grading is contributing to the problem and not a behavior that is highly regarded within the network of modern urban wood champions. It is not a practice that we want people to be following as a much, much higher percentage of the biomass from these salvaged tress can be turned into extremely valuable, high character, historically significant lumber & lumber products.
Let us ask you this? If you select only the highest quality of all salvage candidates and leave the large variety as waste, are you really focused on salvaging & being a steward of the environment? We fell the easy answer is “No”. This is just another reason why we spend considerable time out in the field and work with landowners. It is the only way we can ensure that a much greater percentage of these trees are processed into lumber and not left to be burnt or chipped. This is honestly depressing to us as we know someone, somewhere would be excited to own the lumber.
So you are selling low quality lumber? No! We remain focused on quality; however, it is a balance between producing only the highest quality graded lumber per NHLA and doing what is right for the community & environment. But it always goes far beyond that paradigm. Due to the unique growing conditions and immense figure and character of both urban and rural salvaged tees, we feel the NHLA standards are not necessarily applicable. We’ve witnessed first-hand that amazing live edge lumber is often produced from pallet grade logs (“F3” logs per standards). These are logs with all sorts of USFS grading defects from knots, epicormic branches to cracks, stress fractures and even considerable decay. In our opinion, the urban and rural logs with knots, branches and bark distortions tend to offer much more character, color and figure than a veneer grade log. Admittedly, it can create more challenges for the end user (see below section). Don’t take this the wrong way, we ABSOLUTELY do have and are milling F1 and even prime veneer grade salvaged logs for the high-end consumers. It just isn’t our primary focus.
What is the downside to being less stringent which saving trees? One of the biggest downsides to milling logs with more defects is that it directly impacts the overall yield of the kiln dried lumber. A portion of the log may not be usable which greatly reduces the operational efficiency of a sawmill. These logs tend to have more chaotic grain patterns due to their growing conditions. This results in immense character and high figure wood, BUT this wood is much more difficult to dry properly. The lumber does have a higher probability of warpage or movement even once properly dried which brings us to another disadvantage. The end-user must be educated and understand how to address the potential movement when the lumber is dimensionally milled, releasing a lot of internal stresses within the wood. But this is more of an education issue to address with our customers. To sum up, we choose to prioritize character, the history of the tree, and our environment far before the quality of the log.
The scary reality is that, a large percentage of these trees remain perfectly good for milling and the lumber could benefit literally 10’s of thousand of communities members in Texas alone. This is one of the biggest driving factor behind the TX Urban Sawmill. While we cannot possibly salvage all the trees or take all the biomass from a tree, we try our absolute best to minimize what biomass is left as “waste”. A good example of this is our upcoming salvaging efforts near Victoria, TX. We are salvaging a total of over 25 large pecan trees. Over 80% of the main trucks have limbs
In fact, when we take log deliveries from folks salvaging storm trees or pecan plantation trees, we end up with great quality, high character logs that do not meet the Berdoll’s extremely strict log standards. There is nothing inherently wrong with this practice and this is good reason why many extremely talented woodworkers purchase their lumber. However, we feel this type of quality practice is not supportive of the urban wood movement, which has a primary focus on reducing tree waste & creating long-lasting urban forestry products. The general philosphy of genuine urban sawmills is that they mill a large variety of logs from pallet grade all the way up to veneer grade. Simply said, these modern urban sawmills do not highly discriminate between trees and are not following NHLA grading standards as those standards are counterproductive to the movement as a whole. If all mills followed the Berdoll Sawmill’s approach to log & lumber grading, ~90% of the logs would be left for the landfills, burn piles or send to be chipped. We follow the modern thinking of the Urban Wood Network and this non-profit entity is working with thought leaders on developing new standards specific to “urban lumber”. So at the Texas Urban Sawmill, we like to say that “we do not discriminate” across trees species or the quality of the logs. While it is an impossible task in reality, we try to salvage and re-purpose all grades, shapes and dimensions of logs so we can allow as many people as possible the option to afford this very special & sometimes historical lumber. Not all our lumber is appropriate for furniture making but it still does not means that it has lower value or is less significant. A big reason why we became a corporate sponsor of the Habitat for Humanity and will consider to donations to any good cause, is because we want to minimize tree/log waste, so why not save them, mill them & offer them as donations for others to enjoy? Makes sense to us!
Now maybe this is not the best practice, especially if you are strictly focused on your bottom line & maximizing every penny. We do NOT believe this is how to operate a successful business in the long-term and there are dozens on corporate case studies to support this view. The paradign of more more economicsmore modern thiWe feel strongly that business owners and executives should direct their companies to benefit society by improving the communities they live in and the world they operate in! re working to challenge that business is NOT about maximizing shareholder value. get people to re-think But once again, we do not believe that or leave logs to go to waste and This is only a rough estimate based on only accept the finest quality logs found in Texas. There is an immense difference in business practices and overall philosophies. We are genuine urban sawmill & urban lumber producer while the Berdoll sawmill is more of a hybrid following some urban lumber practices but the overall thinking is greatly driven by traditional sawmill industry practices. We also focus heavily on education and tree re-use advocacy. We believe in co-operative development of the sawmill industry in Texas and believe in “open sourcing” or the free flow of information and idea sharing, so ideally more & more boutique sawmills can successfully operate in Texas. We also happen to have founded and help provide leadership to the TX Chapter of the Urban Wood Network (stay tuned). and At the TX Urban Sawmill, we view the lumber world in a much broader sense which encapsulates and takes into careful consider the aspect of being good stewards to both our environment and communities. We are less focused on maximizing profits and demanding premium pricing for our products. Why the heck would we do this? Isn’t the purpose of business to maximize profits for its “shareholders” or owners? NO! We do not believe this is the primary and #1 purpose of a business, especially for a business that is focused on making an impact and changing people’s lives.