God, Furniture and Guts: the Treecycling Story of the Old Black Walnut at Decatur Presbyterian Church

Chadwick writes in with this excellent report.

First off , thanks to DM for putting me in touch with Pastor Todd Speed. Having just went through a similar experience with an historic pecan ( http://www.decaturmetro.com/2012/03/16/tree-cycling-at-the-marlay-lumberjack-style/ ) I shared my experience with Pastor Todd and his team. They were eager to work toward a solution that would salvage as much of the tree as possible.

Due to the fact that the old tree was showing signs of insect infestation, and had portions of it’s filled with concrete, it was decided to have Frank ( the ” lumber jock ” ) present at the take down to determine the best way to recycle the most wood from the tree. Although it was a tough call for Todd, his team, and the City of Decatur’s arborist, it was agreed by all, that it was the right decision. The trunk and the huge main lead were hollow, and showing active signs of termite and black ant infestation – as well as fungal issues.

The largest logs of the tree were salvaged and transported to the lot next to The Marlay for processing ( kudos to King Tree Service for agreeing to this ). As you can see, it was quite a haul.

Not only did this project benefit from the expertise of Frank, but as luck would have it the Senior Engineer for the City of Decatur, John Madajewski, is an expert on wood turning. He lent his skill and passion to the cause – laying out the best way to process the drops and crotches for bowls and other wood lathe projects.

Due to John’s efforts dozens of blanks were able to be prepared for this highly skilled art. Black Walnut is prized by wood workers for turnings, especially the crotch pieces which produce “flames” of wood grain that appear 3 dimensional.

Commercial mills will not touch urban wood, period. Because this was a large black walnut, most tree services would – at most – have sold the main crotches of this tree to gun manufacturers for stocks. To utilize the wood for furniture, Frank called upon his associate and master sawyer, Drew, to process the salvaged wood into boards.

Using years of experience, Drew and Frank were able to yield hundreds of board feet of beautiful black walnut. The wood has been “stickered” and will be slowly air dried for premium quality. The wood should be ready to be used in about one year. Among the plans for the boards are: tables and cabinets as well as a cross and a kneeling bench for the church.

While all of the lumber has been spoken for through previous arrangement, there are plenty of drops and short and narrow pieces perfect for crafts and small wood working projects and turnings left. The community is invited to stop by the lot next to The Marlay and help themselves ( please keep it neat ).

Thanks again to everyone who helped make this project happen: from Todd’s community of faith , to the fearless efforts of the woodmen who did the heavy lifting.

Like the movements in agriculture and the culinary world that confront process and sustainability -the way we as a country go about consuming furniture and building materials needs to be reconsidered. While the economics of urban tree recycling do not yet work at all, it is projects like these that start the conversation.

15 thoughts on “God, Furniture and Guts: the Treecycling Story of the Old Black Walnut at Decatur Presbyterian Church”

  1. It is nice to see this happening. I was dismayed to learn that most trees when cut down go straight to the landfill. They aren’t even used for firewood!

  2. While it was very sad to see both on these guys pass on, the passion for saving the wood for something meaningful is one more reason I am in love with our community. Thank you Todd, Chadwick, Frank and others involved.

  3. I’ll dearly miss that old tree … but I’m very happy to see so much effort went into using the wood appropriately. Actually, I’m surprised the tree lasted as long as it did. Does anyone remember how its root system was reduced by about half a number of years ago? … During the street scape project, I believe.

  4. I, too, will miss the black walnut tree but am glad to see the community collaboration in salvaging the wood to be admired in a different way for future generations.

  5. Thanks. Interesting story line. Normally I think of “God, Guts, and Guns” as a conservative slogan, maybe even one that promotes our military but for Decatur, “God, Furniture, and Guts” has a nice sound. It could make a good postcard slogan in the future.
    The tree in front of Decatur Prez will be missed but too many in this town notice the tree but not the church. If you are all teary-eyed about the loss of the tree, do yourself a favor and attend a church service at Decatur Presbyterian this weekend. After listening to Dr. Speed’s sermon, you might just slap your knee and shout, “Hallelujah, now that’s sustainability!”
    One more thing. After reading this story, some readers might want to suggest to the Sustainability Know-It-Alls that ALL cut trees in Decatur should be evaluated for other uses, be it furniture, wood carving, whatever. If so, this would be just another another obstacle (tax) for some property owners that have to make difficult decisions concerning older trees. The property owners in the story did a nice thing by preserving some of the wood but that was their decision. All property owners need to decide for themselves what to do with their trees.

    1. Yea, Chris – I knew the post would be long, and I was trying to come up with a title that would make people take the jump and click through to the entire story. I was obviously making a play on the slogan ” God, guns and Guts”. With the tree coming from the church’s property, and that besides furniture ( our use ) black walnut is prized in gun-making . I hope it was not too provocative or disrespectful- my intent was playful.
      On the point of sustainability, having been in and around the furniture and construction industries for over 20 years I was really speaking as much to process and quality than simply recycling. Most of our furniture these days comes from clear-cut lumber manufactured overseas – where the primary design concern is how it will KD ( knock-down ) to fit in standardized shipping containers. As we have seen with this project, there are tons of woodworkers in our community, it would be great if people would consider commissioning a table from a local craftsperson from regional wood – instead of Rooms-to-Go.

    2. Chris says: ” Normally I think of “God, Guts, and Guns” as a conservative slogan, maybe even one that promotes our military…”

      I think I know where you are coming from Chris, but that comment makes me a little queasy. As a VietNam era draftee, I served with some of the finest men and women I have ever known. Decatur prides itself as being all inclusive… and that includes those that are proud of our civilian controlled military… and even understand that even “progressives” need conservatives for balance. In the middle we will find the right way..

      1. People who claim superior knowledge in regards to sustainability. I don’t personally know any such experts but I’m sure they are out there.

  6. So now what? Will the tree be replaced with another canopy tree or just another little flowering tree?

  7. Having grown up as a member of Dec. Pres. and always an avid woodworker I often
    marveled at the size of the tree – don’t know the age. As an adult teaching mathematics
    at Agnes Scott College, I continued to be amazed at the size and longevity of the now
    famous walnut. Having logged many walnuts in my lifetime (40 from a stand being
    cleared for pasture in North Carolina), air-dried and kiln-dried them all, I have a store
    of walnut which will last a lifetime. Still I’d like to have some of the Dec. Pres. walnut.
    Not sure where the wood is now drying, but maybe someone could give me a contact
    number. Wish I had a website of photos of walnut pieces I’ve made – do have photos
    of them all which I can make available. Bob Leslie

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