Felling the alder (left) and the maple (right) at Valley View Forest in December 2021.
Last year, as part of a selective timber harvest at Valley View Forest, Jefferson Land Trust offered a harvested tree, free of charge, to 16 local nonprofit, education, community, and Tribal partners to use in support of their missions. One of these partners was the SplinterGroup, who have been putting on the popular Port Townsend Woodworkers Show each first full weekend in November since 2006. Another was the Port Townsend School of Woodworking.
Piece from a previous show: Door with a Tree Carving by Stan Rill
Our offer gave the SplinterGroup an opportunity to host a special exhibit that exclusively features local wood from Valley View at the November 2022 Woodworkers Show. The School of Woodworking donated their tree to the SplinterGroup’s cause. The exhibit will display pieces made from these two trees: a Western Alder and a Western Big Leaf Maple. The show will highlight the possibilities of creating a market for locally harvested community forest lumber for local craftspeople, and will challenge makers to conserve by using all parts of the trees that were harvested.
Last December, on a cloudy afternoon at Valley View Forest, sawdust swirled down like confetti. A small group of onlookers from Jefferson Land Trust and the SplinterGroup cheered as a long, exciting day came to a close with the dramatic felling of a mighty alder.
“Are you happy?” teased one of the expert tree fellers, grinning as he saw the woodworkers’ jubilant reactions to the newly exposed wood.
“This is easily the biggest alder I’ve ever seen,” said local miller Cody Wayland.
Cody Wayland loading maple wood at Valley View Forest.
“Stunning,” said Tim Lawson, a member of SplinterGroup (and a Jefferson Land Trust board member) who documented the process in a fascinating time-lapse.
In the following days, the wood was milled onsite at Valley View. Members of the Strait Turners Woodturning Club came to gather branches from both trees. They’ll use some of it as training wood in their classes, share more with members of the group, and display pieces made from the wood at the Woodworkers Show. The Seattle Spoon Club also fetched material from the two trees to carve into spoons and bowls for the exhibit, and a carver who uses traditional Native American carving tools to craft pieces in her own style will also contribute.
In addition, the milled and kiln-dried wood will be offered to local and regional makers with the understanding that it will be used to make a piece or pieces for the 2022 Port Townsend Woodworkers Show. (You can apply on their website.) The selling price, which will help the SplinterGroup recoup the costs of felling, hauling, and processing, will be discounted to reflect the Land Trust’s gift of the donated trees.
Slabbed alder ready for the kiln. Photo courtesy of Tim Lawson.
Branches and greenery not collected were left to enrich the soil and provide habitat in the forest.
“The wood is stunning, and we are able to treat it in a way that commercial production just can’t match,” Tim said. Commercial kilns, he explained, use dry heat to drive the moisture from the wood, making it harder and more difficult to work with compared to dehumidification kilns. They don’t require such high temperatures to remove humidity from the air, which helps maintain the wood’s flexibility and character and makes it easier to work with when using hand tools.
Cody Wayland of Wayland Constructive (a Land Trust Save the Land partner company) was entrusted with the task of completing the milling at his local sawmill, and some of the wood went into his dehumidification kiln this month. It will be ready by late April or early May for distribution to makers. It’s a rare opportunity — not only because of the wood’s local and sustainable sourcing, harvesting, and processing, but also because of its innate qualities.
Boards ready for Cody Wayland’s local dehumidification kiln. Photo courtesy of Tim Lawson.
“That alder was the biggest most of us had ever seen, and once we’d sawed into it, was some of the straightest, cleanest alder we’d ever seen,” Tim said.
“Alder trees tend to rot from the base up and the top down, right along the pith. The base rot on the alder came up about five feet, meaning that the tree was harvested at exactly the right time: at peak growth, before it began to die naturally.”
“An important thing to remember is that trees have a life span. There’s a point at which they start to die and if you leave it too late, the wood is no good. And this highlights another possibility of the community forest — the possibility of education. If you’re harvesting a tree in a community forest, the process can be a learning opportunity for members of the community: why might we harvest a particular tree, rather than leave it to die and become biomass in the forest? And if we remove a tree from a dense part of the forest and let more sunlight in, how does that change that part of the forest over time?”
The Land Trust is working to acquire an 853-acre working forest on Chimacum Ridge to manage for the benefit of people and wildlife. Photo by John Gussman.
A geologist and photographer as well as a seasoned woodworker, Tim has a special connection to Chimacum Ridge. During the early days of the pandemic he walked the land almost daily, and his time there has given him a deep appreciation for the forest and a keen sense of “what could be done” with the land. He envisions furniture, walking sticks, gardening material, fencing, weaving materials, art supplies — all made of locally sourced wood products, harvested and processed by local people, and balanced with the forest’s overall health.
“From both the point of view of those involved with wood and woodland products, and from the point of view of someone who loves nature,” Tim said, “I want to advocate for community forests.”
“Harvesting wood from a forest managed with the mission and foresight of a nonprofit like Jefferson Land Trust makes sense,” said Cody Wayland. “It’s on a much smaller scale and — without the clear-cutting, excessive and repetitive long-distance trucking, and use of plastic wrap — has less of an impact and a much smaller carbon footprint.”
The SplinterGroup hopes to continue the local wood exhibit in future years, and Tim shared his belief that this project presents a worthy and timely challenge to the woodworking community.
Western Big Leaf Maple Tree on Chimacum Ridge. Photo by Robert Tognoli.
“I deeply believe that, as woodworkers and furniture makers, we have to get away from the notion that we use the best 10 percent of the best 10 percent of lumber that comes out of a tree,” he said. “There’s this drive to work with beautifully figured wood, straight-grained wood, but what do you do with the gnarly wood around that? How do you celebrate, and be conscious of using, the entire tree?”
He became aware of a woodworking exhibit in the 1990s in the UK called “From One Tree,” where each piece was made from a single oak tree that was “felled with reverence.”
“They used as much of the tree as possible,” he said. “Not only the trunk, but the branches, the twigs and leaves, and even the acorns. They went beyond woodworking, too, reaching out to artists to use derived material. What we’re doing in the upcoming show is a first step in that direction.”
The 65-acre Valley View Forest is the gateway to what will eventually become the 918-acre Chimacum Ridge Community Forest when we purchase it in 2023. Nonprofit community forests like Valley View Forest prioritize ecological health while returning benefits to the local community and economy, such as recreation, education, locally sourced wood products, and other related non-timber forest products like cedar bark and cedar tips.
For future community forest harvests, we plan to develop a process for any Jefferson County nonprofit to apply to receive donated timber and/or other harvest products. This process will be led by a community forest board of managers, made up of Land Trust staff and community members who will make collaborative decisions on management and resource allocation for the community forest.
For more information on obtaining wood from the SplinterGroup for inclusion in the 2022 Port Townsend Woodworkers Show, click here.