Treasure Valley Urban Wood Network encourages recycling of unwanted trees for Idaho artisans

Local wood workers can turn recycling unwanted trees bound for the landfill into valuable end products, writes guest columnist Steve Stuebner.

July 3, 2023 4:20 am
Jennifer Green at the Maker Shop

Jennifer Green caught the wood-working bug a couple of years ago. She’s pictured here at the Maker Shop Boise, near Overland and Cole roads, which provides work space for people who want to learn the art of wood working or for experienced wood workers who might not have all of the tools they need under one roof. (Courtesy of Steve Stuebner)

On a ThinkWood! walking tour with members of the Society of Environmental Journalists in downtown Boise recently, our group stopped at the Warehouse Food Hall and Mother Earth Brewing to learn about the benefits of using local Idaho wood for building products at a large and small scale. 

At The Warehouse Food Hall, tour members marveled at a magnificent 77-foot circular bar at the Camp Cocktail Bar inside – hand-crafted by local artisan Tom Charters from a tall, silver maple tree that was being removed from a residential property on Warm Springs Avenue. Charters had saved the tree from the wood-chipper by driving around town, eyeing the skyline for tree service cranes. 

Tom Charters
Local artisan Tom Charters started a wood-working business called Urban Forestry Products and makes tables, bar tops and furniture out of recycled wood. (Courtesy of Tom Charters)

“When I started my wood-working business, Urban Forestry Products, I’d look for cranes that might be taking down valuable trees with character that I could turn into a marketable product,” Charters says. 

He invested in a portable chainsaw mill that can cut 3-inch-thick slabs of wood from a mature tree up to 86 inches in diameter. He set up a wood kiln at his Boise Bench home to dry the wood for three years before he makes beautiful tables, bar tops, furniture or other items from the slabs. 

Charters also has made bar tops and river tables for Mother Earth Brewing in downtown Boise. Chris Florence, another local professional wood-worker with the handle of “Live Edge Slabworks,” fashioned table tops for Prost German Pub in Boise. He just finished fashioning four “barn doors” out of recycled walnut wood slabs for a penthouse apartment in Sun Valley. 

Charters and Florence are part of a community of wood artisans who affiliate with the Treasure Valley Canopy Network and the burgeoning Treasure Valley Urban Wood Network. The Urban Wood Network is focused on recycling unwanted trees that normally would be bound for the chipper and landfill so local wood workers can turn them into valuable end products. The Urban Wood Network was just started in 2020, and it’s been growing and gaining momentum ever since, recently joining up with an Idaho Chapter of the national Urban Wood Network

“We always knew it was important to build a more robust circular urban wood economy in Idaho, but it took the right people to come together and begin developing solutions through an urban wood network, and we’re still working on building awareness and partnerships,” said Lance Davisson, executive director of Treasure Valley Canopy Network, a Boise-based nonprofit.

Treasure Valley Urban Wood Network encourages participation in tree planting challenge

The Treasure Valley Urban Wood Network is an outgrowth of the Treasure Valley Canopy Network, Davisson explains. Founded in 2013, the Canopy Network focuses on building sustainable solutions to issues facing the region’s urban trees. One of the network’s most successful initiatives to-date is tied to a goal of planting of 100,000 trees in Boise by 2030 to provide more tree cover and shade for the City of Trees along with other benefits such as clean air, clean water, reduced energy use, increased livability, quality of life, and economic development. The initiative has been led and championed by former Boise City Council Member Elaine Clegg. 

The “Elaine Clegg City of Trees Challenge” has led to the planting of 15,293 trees in the city of Boise so far. Boise city foresters estimate that those trees will sequester about 40 million pounds of carbon, remove 312,000 pounds of air pollutants and conserve 50 million kilowatt-hours of energy by 2050. 

The Treasure Valley Urban Wood Network has environmental benefits as well. The notion of recycling trees otherwise destined for the chipper and landfill is something that resonated with local wood workers.

“We have a responsibility to take this resource and do something valuable with it,” Florence says. “It’s a resource we should take seriously and make the best use of it.” 

Local wood artisans estimate that approximately 12 professionals in the local area are engaged in making furniture, wall art, tables and more from local wood that’s been saved from the landfill. Boise businesses that have purchased some of those items says they add value for customers. 

Charters was installing the wood floor (made out of 18,000 square feet of reclaimed wood from turn-of the-century buildings) for The Warehouse Food Hall when he learned that the owners were looking for a unique horseshoe-shaped bar top. Because of its size and scope, he built the bar top in sections on site. 

“It turned out awesome,” said Michael Braatz, construction manager at Hendricks Commercial Properties who was a part of The Warehouse Food Hall project. “We wanted a showpiece for the center of the food hall, and we were really lucky to find Tom.”

Braatz had seen Charters’ river tables and bar top at Mother Earth Brewing, and Hendricks had wanted to do something local and authentic, but with a different twist, working with a local craftsman.

“We appreciate the natural characteristics the wood grain presents and with the black epoxy filling the voids, it gives the bar top a really unique look,” he said. “Patrons ask frequently, what’s it made out of? How’d you find the wood, is this all from one tree!?, etc.”

“The best part is everyone  appreciates the uniqueness and how it turned out. It adds value in the form of conversation at the bar as people come together and the impact we provide in Boise.” 

“That was a real fun build,” Charters adds. “I had to make a smaller-scale model to show them how I’d do it. We had to work at night between 6 p.m. and 4 a.m. to make the bar.”

Idaho wood for Idaho craftsmen for Idaho neighborhoods

Artisans like Charters and Florence sell their custom tables for upwards of $5,000 each and other pieces for more than that. The appeal of these pieces resonates with homeowners and business owners as unique storied pieces of art that are sourced from Idaho neighborhoods and made with care from Idaho craftsmen. 

Alex Jangard recently opened the Maker Shop Boise, near Overland and Cole roads, to create a work space for people who wanted to learn the art of wood-working or experienced wood workers who might not have all of the tools they need under one roof. 

“It’s like a gym for wood-workers,” Jangard says. “If you want to make something, we can show you how and how to use the tools for free” – with a membership (starting at $150/month). 

Jennifer Green caught the wood-working bug a couple of years ago. She went to get a sandwich at Cobby’s, next door to the Maker Shop, and walked in to check it out. Her garage was full of wood at home, and her husband wasn’t happy about that. So now she’s a Maker Shop member, and she has a place to store things and make things. 

“I make river tables, cutting boards, stuff like that,” Green says. “I think it’s great for women in the community. It’s kind of intimidating to get into wood-working because it’s a field dominated by men. But the guys here are really nice, and they help me out all the time.”

Jangard agrees. “Our staff is really talented; they know their stuff. They pour their knowledge into our members.” 

The number of people getting involved in wood-working in Boise is growing fast, he says. To be able to source local wood for end products is a bonus. “People like to know the backstory of the wood – that’s a real value-add,” Green says.  

“It’s so powerful to create something special from wood that’s been sustainably sourced,” Jangard says. “I like working with wood because of the character that’s in every single piece. There’s something about taking a product from nature and turning into a quality product that you’ve made by hand.”

Business-wise, adding a “side hustle” for blooming wood-workers is a plus, adding a new stream of income for them, he notes.  

One of key initiatives for the Canopy Network in the future is find a place to store locally sourced and recycled wood, knowing it often takes 2-3 years of drying time to progress from “tree to table.” 

“That’s something we’ve been working on for the last couple of years,” Davisson says. “There are a lot of smaller millers and people with small wood workshops in Boise, and we’re trying to facilitate scaling-up of local urban wood processing and storage to allow for larger-scale operations. Together we will reduce waste to the landfill and meet the rising demand for locally sourced wood products. We anticipate it will take another year or two, but I’m confident we’ll get there.”

Steve Stuebner is a local writer who specializes in natural resources and conservation topics.

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Steve Stuebner
Steve Stuebner

Steve Stuebner is well-known Idaho outdoor and conservation writer. He’s the author of "Paddling the Payette: 24 Whitewater and Flatwater Day Trips on the Payette River." He is also the writer and producer of Life on the Range, a public education project sponsored by the Idaho Rangeland Resources Commission.