From the Maker:
The Growing Economy of Salvaged Urban Wood


New York Heartwoods was established in 2010, in collaboration with Dave and Steve Washburn, Hugh Herrera, myself, and a portable sawmill with the plan to manage and harvest trees ourselves. This idea was scratched when we realized how many were falling over, dying and being removed by arborists. We learned by processing urban wood, we participate in creating solutions such as reducing wood disposal expenses, redirecting material from our waste stream, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, fueling the demand for local wood products, and growing an exciting new economy.

Several severe storms and invasive insect epidemics have led to unprecedented challenges to our forests and communities while budgets of municipalities and landowners are stretched with the reoccurring removals of downed or dying trees. Landfills across the country are struggling to keep up with the amount of wood waste that is being generated and at the same time, communities are evolving to become more resilient.

As most towns and cities are burdened with increasing costs for citywide services, decreasing revenues, rising landfill costs, and decreasing landfill space, redirecting logs creates waste management solutions and reduces storm clean up expenses. This can generate wood for park benches, picnic tables, fencing, flooring and cabinets for city buildings.

Urban trees generally have lower branches and contain metal or other foreign objects, creating dramatic knots, colors, and grain. These unique characteristics, along with the tree’s history, are desirable to artisans, fabricators, interior designers and architects for the creation of furniture, flooring and other custom products. Narrow band blades are inexpensive and easy to sharpen, and that value can be recouped with proper marketing of the tree’s story and the wood’s character.

Documenting the tree’s story and providing pictures of its transformation into finished products adds value by making it more meaningful to the buyer. Every industry uses wood in some capacity, which leads to a multitude of niche market possibilities. By reaching out to my previous networks to see how I could create solutions to their problems, I was able to build most of my business on personal contacts and word-of-mouth.

As my kinship to urban markets is one of New York Heartwood's strengths, I am increasingly brokering wood for other local sawyers with a similar ethos. I see that in the same way marketing and distribution hubs are being created to assist the success of small farmers, and local wood being the next “local food,” there is needed support for the growing number of independent sawyers.

As our population grows, so does the amount of urban land in the United States. With this, the production and sale of urban wood will also grow, and there will be more integration into municipal management systems. For now, innovation is happening on the ground - one mill at a time.

Megan Offner is the owner and co-founder of New York Heartwoods, a producer of fine and custom sustainable wood furniture based in Kingston, NY. Her mission is to regenerate forest vitality and local economies by creating products that maximize the value of “waste” trees.

Megan Offner