By Christine Hill
The Urban Lumber Company is changing the destiny of dead and diseased urban trees. Instead of a trip to the landfill or chipper, trees are cut into usable lumber that woodworkers, architects and artists are repurposing into buildings, furniture and art.
The company’s story could begin in 1998 when Tim O’Neill read a book about how to harvest urban timber. After an ice storm took out a big tree in his back yard, he put that knowledge to use and cut the tree lumber for many woodworking projects. What started as a hobby, soon turned into a tree cutting business.
So in 2012, when Kevin Anderson, vice president of Missouri Organic Recycling, became concerned about what do with all of the large trees that would die from the emerald ash borer, he found O’Neill. Missouri Organic Recycling was already chipping trees into mulch, but Anderson thought the bigger trees could be used for better purposes.
Through a partnership with Anderson, his brother Jason Anderson and O’Neill, The Urban Lumber Company was born in May 2014.
The company collects, cuts and dries urban wood that would otherwise have been discarded or chipped.
“It keeps us from just grinding all the ash trees into mulch, and instead creates something more useable,” said Anderson.
Commercial lumber companies are not interested in the wood because of its irregular size and shape and because there could be metal items lodged in the tree that would damage processing equipment. Urban trees can have nails, screws, fencing and even bullets lodged in the tree trunk.
“Just because it’s a city tree, it’s almost instantly determined to be a waste tree,” said O’Neill. “Even though we do hit a lot of metal, it’s worth it for us to saw these trees and make awesome local lumber.”
By using the urban wood that commercial companies would usually discard, Urban Lumber Co. is encouraging a cycle of reuse that keeps local wood serving the community it grew in.
“We’re promoting urban wood utilization, offsetting landfill space, and making the most use of our natural resources,” said O’Neill.
The company has recycled more than 300,000 pounds of wood and created 45,000 square feet of usable lumber.
Common products made from Urban Lumber Co.’s wide variety of wood species range from architectural projects to entertainment centers, shelves, tables and chairs. At its facility showroom, customers can choose from numerous local wood species and see current woodwork projects displayed in the showroom. The lumber varies depending on the wood available, but customers can usually find hackberry, walnut, maple, mulberry, ailanthus, and of course, ash tree lumber.
“Because of commercial channels, people have gotten away from using the wood that’s in their backyard, so we’re bringing awareness to that,” said O’Neill.
The bulk of the wood comes from Missouri Organic, and large quantities of wood also come from commercial developments and private companies. The company will accept small quantities from homeowners of particularly valuable species, such as walnut.
“It’s great to have a semi-industrial facility for processing, but also a showroom to let people see what’s possible,” said O’Neill.
Urban Lumber Co. also started the Lumber Connection to help connect woodworkers, artisans and anyone who wants to create woodworking projects from locally harvested wood.
Urban Lumber Co. is open 1 – 6 p.m. Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on Saturday, or by appointment at 7200 E. Hwy 40, Kansas City, MO.
For more information, visit www.urbanlumberco.com.