What is Urban Lumber?

May 10, 2019 tim mcguire

Stack of timber and lumber logs with end grain showing

If you’ve read our story online or stopped into our store in downtown Rock Island, you might already know that Wild Cherry Spoon products are hand carved from locally sourced urban lumber. But you may wonder what exactly that means, and why we are so proud to sell products crafted from this material. So today we’ve prepared a little post on what urban lumber is, and why we think it’s so great!

Unlike traditional lumber, urban lumber is harvested from trees that grow in back yards, parks, and other metropolitan settings. According to the Urban Wood Network, tens of thousands of these trees are lost each year to weather damage, insects, disease, and even construction. That’s a lot of wood: the US Forest Service estimates reclaimed dead and diseased community trees could satisfy around 30% of annual hardwood consumption in this country! However, because these trees grow in unpredictable environments and have sometimes suffered damage, the size and appearance of the boards they produce can vary greatly.

So, urban lumber may not be a great resource for, say, creating hardwood flooring with a uniform appearance. But for smaller products, like art and home goods, wood from urban trees conveys a sense of uniqueness. No two Wild Cherry spoons are alike—partly because they are made by hand, but also because each board of urban lumber from which they are carved has its own special character. As you browse the selections in our store, you’ll notice unique details such as spalting, flecks from insect damage, or interesting stripes and swirls.

A handmade cherry charcuterie paddle against a maple and walnut tabletop

Still, our interest in urban wood as a medium goes way beyond aesthetics. After coming down, many urban trees are buried in construction sites or dumped in landfills. And while top branches make excellent mulch and lower branches are great for firewood, it seems a waste to use up the trunks in this way when they could be processed into lumber. Not only does ethically harvested urban wood reduce waste, it is also a renewable resource. Many more trees are planted in urban areas each year than are removed.

We also love that through this material our products reflect and celebrate our local environment and economy. Every purchase obviously supports us, as well as local mill Native Woods, and jobs in tree removal. Each of our products represents a little piece of Quad Cities history, crafted from trees that shaded our homes, cleaned our air, or stood sentinel in our favorite parks for years. This is especially poignant to us this spring, as the Mississippi continues to rise and flood our landscape. While countless homes, and the trees that shade them, suffer considerable damage, we take some comfort in the knowledge that the water will eventually retreat, new trees will be planted, and perhaps those that must be removed can still find use—a second life, of sorts—as urban lumber.

Sources: Urban Wood Network, Wood-Mizer

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