A few years ago I was talking a lot about the Ash trees that were dying all over Southern Ontario, and North Eastern North America in general. The Emerald Ash Borer is infesting trees and killing them by attacking their cambium layer of bark. Unfortunately, we have been unsuccessful in stopping the pest, but I was raising awareness that this wood could be used to make things. I spoke to the CBC about it in a little article that you can read here
As I learned more about this issue I realized that the best way to access the wood was to have a direct link to the person who owns the dying tree. This private connection sidestepped bureaucratic red tape and insurance problems (although of course i have business insurance to protect everyone involved)
The other stumbling block to this process was equipment and tools. It takes some heavy equipment to move giant logs to a mill, and if you want to mill on site, you need knowledge and training of dangerous tools. Although I am a woodworker, this work is outside my wheelhouse.
So I let the project fall, knowing full well that there was opportunity to be had.
Then, through social media I found Chong Wu of Ligno and Lux . Wu is that guy who mills up trees into planks in your backyard. He has developed a passion for the tools and process, and of course the wood! I met with Chong, and we chatted about the process. Then, when someone contacted me about a huge dead old ash tree, I called Chong.
I ended up joining him for an afternoon of milling to learn more about the process and see his job in action. It was great, lending a hand, and he even gave me a giant Ash slab for helping out a bit.
Here are a bunch of pics of that day, showing very basically his process.
Once the log is stabilized, the milling can begin. This ladder acts as a guide for the first cut. The plane of the ladder is aligned with the pith of the tree to get the straightest possible grain. The first cut will create a flat surface on the tree that the mill will run on for subsequent cuts. The ladder is screwed on, ensuring that the chainsaw will not collide with any screws! Chong has laid out a tarp to catch the sawdust because THERE WILL BE DUST!!!.
So that's the basic process. It isn't terribly complicated, but it does take time. And Time is Money! For this to even be a possibility, there are a few things that need to be there:
SIZE: the tree must be at least 24" wide at the bottom to make the work worth while
ACCESS: the log must be accessible to process with this technique
COST: must be FREE because with all the time invested, cash on top makes this process a no-go
TIME: There cannot be a rush on the process. It takes time and patience, and can't be forced into a morning.
This isn't the only way to mill urban wood, but its the most accessible to an individual person. But even if it is accessible, its still tough and dangerous work. One has to be passionate about the wood and the process, and excited to uncover natures raw materials.
I think for now I'll just buy my lumber from the supplier!
Thanks to Chong for the experience!