features
#062 / 2005

Toronto trees transformed

Every year chippers gobble up almost 9,000 trees in the in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and thousands more in insect quarantine zones around Ontario. Most are hardwoods, and about 1,000 are ash, chestnut, elm, oak and walnut - all prime furniture-grade species.

When Sean Gorhman - environmentalist, landscape designer, cabinetmaker - did the math, he saw that he could generate enough income from the prime species to save an additional 4,000 less valuable trees a year from the chip pile.

In 2004, Gorham established Urban Tree Salvage (UTS) in Scarborough, Ontario, after purchasing a band mill and dry kiln. He then set out to champion the environmental and economic benefits of recycling trees felled by the GTA for safety, disease, old age and other legitimate purposes. Gorham's environmental advocacy has already been lauded by Smartwood's recent certification of UTS under the "Rediscovered Wood" program.

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UTS Wood-Mizer band mill

A major challenge faced by Gorham in meeting his recycling target is how to make the best use of the less desirable species, lower grades and inevitable waste. Conversion into truck flooring, pallets, and related wood products, and selling "waste" as eco-friendly domestic firewood (kiln dry firewood burns hotter, so releases less toxic gasses into the atmosphere) are some of Gorham's solutions.

One abundant species in the GTA that is particularly difficult for designers and manufacturers to fully utilize is the Norway maple (bottom). Although a "hard" maple, the Norway doesn't grow to a large diameter, and often the difference in colour between the pale, even sapwood and the streaked dark heartwood requires careful attention to break-out and selection procedures.

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Drying their own

UTS uses a portable 5,000 board-foot-capacity Innovated Control Systems (ICS) propane-fired kiln (left). Most lumber is sawn to a nominal one inch thickness (4/4), which results in a typical drying schedule of nine days (including final conditioning) and a final moisture content of 6-8 percent. Gorham explains how he saves fuel and minimizes internal wood stresses. "We air dry down to 20-25 percent moisture content before kilning. With the oaks, in particular, it is really important to air dry carefully."

Gorhman knows that "for a person to go out and buy an environmentally friendly [wood] product in Toronto is impossible." He intends to change this through a number of initiatives such as establishing an on-site retail store, marketing his wood to home and office furniture manufacturers, selling to schools and colleges, meeting with designer groups and maybe exhibiting eco-furniture built with UTS wood species.

Grant Wyllychuk, owner of FSC certified Ornamentum Furniture in Vancouver, BC, recently became aware of UTS and sees a market for their wood on the West Coast. Wyllychuk told furniturelink, "I've been considering offering my line of solid wood contemporary furniture in walnut for some time, but until now I had no certified source for this species."

Gorham invites more designer/makers to join in the wood salvaging crusade. "Our goal is to create awareness of our diminishing forests and to prevent unnecessary waste by means of a new and unique recycling approach. With your help, we hope to create a greener environment for generations to come."

Selected UTS wood species

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Northern Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa)

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Norway Maple (Acer platanoides)

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Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)

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Elm (Ulnus spp.)

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Black Oak (Quercus velutina)

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Black Willow (Salix spp.)

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