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David Barmon Woodworking and Urban Lumber

 
A.J. Gentry
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David Barmon co-owns Fiddlehead LLC, a Portland Oregon based landscape construction and consulting company which promotes an integrated approach to food, forestry and water. Most of David's work involves digging earth with machines or by hand and he has the dirty fingernails and calluses to prove it. He has worked on several edible garden projects for Gerding Edlen, the largest green developer in the US. Last fall, he installed the landscape at the Full Plane House, one of the first Living Building Challenge projects in North America. The Living Building Challenge is the most stringent green building certification program in the world. In a former career, David spent almost a decade as a Japanese qualified flight attendant for United Airlines.

While most citizens of the 21st century are trying to figure out how to turn humans into high tech cyborgs that will live in the digital age, David is fascinated with the physical world and all of the amazing information our modern society is about to forget. He believes our religion, culture, cities, food, clothing, smart phones, yeah, basically everything, comes down to understanding plants and rocks.

Related Videos:

TEDx talk



Full Plane House Documentary (Living Building Challenge Project)


Related Websites:
Fiddlehead LLC
Facebook

Twitter
@DavidBarmon


 
Max Kennedy
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Great idea's. How would you address the "emergency" nature of a lot of urban lumber where tree's need to be dealt with after, say, storm damage and are just cut into small easily handled chunks? If they were cut into 8' sections or longer their conversion into lumber would be readily achieved but smaller pieces are not as versatile and have much reduced market value.
 
Luke Vaillancourt
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great stuff!
 
Morgan Bowen
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Very cool work David. I live in Logan, Utah. The landfill will shred the small branches for mulch and pile the timber in a very large yard. I've used the timber pile for hugel beds. I think the timber yard would be a great resource for people who want to use urban lumber for building and not just fire wood. The best thing is. It's free!
 
Brad Vietje
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Excellent solution to deforestation, sprawl, water retention, CO2 sequestration, adding cool shade, etc, etc, etc...!

There are some challenges that need to be addressed, too:

* Urban lumber is often peppered with metal objects, such as screws, bolts, cables, etc... While these can sometimes create beautiful changes to the wood, they also damage saw blades and can create a real safety issue for people sawing the trees or working with the wood. We would need a campaign to raise awareness about how we use these trees during their active growing years to avoid this problem;
* We'd need to develop a network of small businesses to handle small volume, scattered wood lots, and more awareness of urban forestry
* We'd need to develop a system for dealing with sudden windfalls -- literally -- from storm-damaged trees, especially as our warming climate causes more frequent and more violent storm events
* We could develop community/city/county connections to local wood crafters to encourage the use of urban lumber from both planned harvests as well as storm-damaged trees.
* We need to raise awareness that planting trees, maintaining them, and harvesting them does NOT have to follow the current big-business paradigm (large company with huge, very expensive equipment only deals with large tracts of land in non-sustainable ways), and encourage the use of even the smaller trees and trimmings -- mulch and piles of free material for hugelkulture are both good, too!
* Dead and damaged wood can be made available for hugelkulture (or allowed to compost in place), instead of an energy-intensive process to use stump grinders to turn everything into chips and mulch.
* Some wood lots can be managed to supply raw materials for district heating plants, biomass heating of public buildings, pain mounds, hugelkulture, landscaping, etc...
* Many communities are so worried about liability that access to logs is severely limited -- where it exists at all. These are very real concerns -- walking around and selecting logs from a large pile is intensely dangerous. We may need to change the status quo and develop a position for qualified persons (arborists, loggers, etc...) to assist in getting these resources to people who can use them. This could save lots of money as opposed to the stump grinder and/or burn pile methods currently used in many places.
* Education needed: Awareness seminars, as well as tree planting, pruning, and maintenance workshops are probably needed in small and large communities across the land, and I suspect these would be very popular events.
* Photo galleries, art shows in galleries and public works projects to showcase products made from local, "found" wood could be a powerful way to raise awareness!

Those are a few ideas off the top of my head, but as a person who gets almost all the wood I use for turning bowls, vases, hollow forms and other wooden objects from local "stump dumps" or from leftovers at logging sites -- for free -- I know these systems can be developed, and we can plant and harvest millions of trees if we decide it must be done.

Keep up the good work -- well done!
 
Brad Vietje
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OH, -- and a Question for David:

Q #1: What do you see as the best way to raise awareness of the need for more tree plantings and the development of avenues to make use of urban/suburban lumber?

Q #2: I hate parking in a lot with nothing but HOT pavement and no shade! How can we convince urban planners and developers to build shade into their plans instead of packing the highest # of spaces per acre?

Q #3: Seems to me, better use of public transportation => smaller lots and fewer cars to accommodate, which could lead to more space allotted to trees for shade and future lumber... any real hope there?
 
Ariel Leger
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Question for David:
How do you personally use small odd cuts of wood in your construction? How have you seen others put odd, gnarled and or small cuts to the best possible use?
I have used them for heating, hugelkulture, biochar and to build raised beds/terraces on the steep hillsides of the Okanagan but none of these could really be classified as construction.
What I am really trying to get as is if you have come across a way to upcycle the small cuts before they are put to the above mentioned uses (hugelkulture, biochar, etc).
Thank you!
 
Valerie Dawnstar
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I'm not David, but, I can offer some input on your questions.
Our small city has initiated a volunteer group to care for the urban forest. We call ourselves Tree Stewards and use a lot of the principles of the Arbor Day Foundation (which provides grants and other goodies - hint, hint). As part of this initiative, we have written ordinances that have been accepted by the city council to promote the planting and nurturing of trees. We are currently working on an ordinance which will specify how many trees will need to be planted whenever anyone puts in a parking lot since we have an issue with storm runoff. (Who doesn't?) Once you get started with this, you find more resources. We are also going to be putting in a city orchard this year. We'll be starting small and adding to it and, of course, since I'm involved, it will use permaculture principles.
 
David Barmon
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Hi everyone, thanks for such great questions! You are all very smart, thoughtful people. I will try to address everything but let me know if I miss something!

Max-yes hazard trees are an important issue, especially when they are blocking the road. In urban areas, arborists are going to be the point of contact for such trees. There needs to be a good relationship between the arborist and the sawyer to coordinate removing the logs. Currently, there are far more logs than sawyers so it creates a lot of hassle for the arborist if he can't get a reliable person over to remove the wood. It would be great to say that every lumber producing tree that comes down in a storm can be pushed off to the side of the road until a sawyer can come pick it up but that is not practical at this time. Logs cut into 8' lengths are good and if the log is of good quality, people should be able to come and pick them up. In short, hazard trees are more likely to go to the firewood pile but we can educate people and make sure this happens less often.

Morgan, that is really interesting about the timber yard in Utah. Do they have a website I can check out. I have been thinking a lot about how to create a system where a yard debris center (private or owned by a local municipality) can take saw logs and then sell/give them away to interested parties. There are a lot of logistics to making this work but I think it is a possibility.

Brad, I can tell you are a hard core urban lumber enthusiast! Here are my responses:

-Metal in urban trees is a problem that is not going away. More education about not sticking metal in trees is important but at the end of the day its part of the deal. I have spent several hundred dollars replacing teeth on a circle mill. In spite of that, I ended up with a lot of beautiful material that outweighed the costs of the damaged blade. I have noticed there is often black staining in logs at the butt when a lot of metal is present-not a given though.

-You have very succinctly explained how the current urban lumber situation is very unorganized. There is no streamlined process to take urban trees removed with prior notice or that come down in a storm, bring them to a mill (or milled on site), properly dry them, sell the lumber in decent volumes, and make furniture that can compete with mass produced furniture. I believe connecting all stakeholders along the urban lumber cycle will improve our success in saving a lot of beautiful wood from the chipper and fireplace. This will take citizen activists, non-profit organizations, local municipalities, and businesses working together to better streamline the process. Everywhere will be different and it really depends on the attitudes of people locally. The City of Portland (Oregon) where I live has been fairly uncooperative with a variety of people trying to save downed trees from becoming mulch. The City of Salem, an hour South sells saw logs to some urban lumber companies which generates money for the municipality. Of course this is just one piece of the puzzle. I do think local governments can really make an impact in basic education about urban lumber. There is a bit of a danger in ramping up excitement without actually having anyone to take or buy the logs from people. If this happens people will give up.

-Safety is so important. Dealing with trees, logs, and lumber is dangerous and one small mistake can seriously injure or kill a person. We should push for high safety standards in the urban lumber world so that people see us as professionals. I have seen people working around sawmills with no safety equipment and not wearing ear or eye protection. This is totally unacceptable.

-My business partner and I recently had a very high end craft furniture shop (www.therealmothergoose.com) take two of our pieces of furniture on consignment. I hope a lot more people can see more of these kinds of opportunities in the future.

-With more development on the way, I am not sure trees will win out over more parking spaces. But I think if landowners realize they can grow lumber that makes money, trees will not be considered such a nuisance. In Portland, increasing the tree canopy has been a big priority and we have seen an increase. I would imagine this is not the norm. I wish I had a better answer for you! More trees, less people maybe...lol.

Ariel, that is good question. Using odd cuts of wood could be fun but it will take a lot of time and you will need the perfect piece. More likely though, you will end up with a finished product that looks like well...an odd cut of wood. I totally get where you are coming from though. Be creative and you might come up with something. At the end of the day, some wood is best as firewood and that is not an all bad thing!

Valerie, Your city orchard sounds great! Starting small and building on success is super important. Even if that means planting 5-10 trees your first year. We have a nonprofit in Portland the Portland Fruit Tree Project which you might want to check out. (www.portlandfruit.org) What city do you live in?

Thanks again everyone! Hope to see some of you at the conference!

Dave

ps-Feel free to share my TEDx talk on your social media feeds and with anyone you think would be interested. I have slowly been getting the word out but any help is greatly appreciated!!!



 
David Barmon
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Here are a few photos of some recent urban lumber pieces my business partner and I made.
Rad_Tables-1.jpg
[Thumbnail for Rad_Tables-1.jpg]
Cherry bench made from urban lumber
Rad_Tables-6.jpg
[Thumbnail for Rad_Tables-6.jpg]
Cottonwood bench made with urban lumber
Rad_Tables-17.jpg
[Thumbnail for Rad_Tables-17.jpg]
Japanese Kotatsu with top made from deodar cedar urban lumber.
 
Valerie Dawnstar
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Hi Dave,
I was trying to locate the piece that described NewYork City's parking lot plan on which we are modeling our parking lot ordinance but I couldn't find it. Basically, it will state that for every 4 - 6 (we haven't settled on a number yet) parking places in a parking lot there will have to be one tree as well as tree "islands" and possibly permeable pavement and structured soils for the trees as well. I am in Oswego, NY. I appreciate your presence here and I have posted your TedX talk on our facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/OswegoTreeStewards
Portland has 3 community orchards! Wow!
Thanks!
 
David Barmon
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Thanks for the information Valerie!
 
Brad Vietje
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Thanks to David for bringing these issues to the public via his TedX talk.

David -- if you are still checking in -- I think making small, unique items from odd pieces is one very good way to go (was that Ariel's question?) Connecting the sawers and local crafts people might be a good strategy, and building connections to crafts and fine art galleries for the end products.

I am a woodturner, mostly making hollow forms and bowls like the Stephen Hatcher and Dale Larsen pieces in The Real Mother Goose gallery you linked (but no mother of pearl inserts like Stephen does -- those are amazing!). Turning, spoon carving, furniture and sculpture are great uses for small oddball pieces that occur to me, though turners usually want the wood green, while sawmills want to cut it and start drying it, so these needs need to be addresed.

Certainly where there's a will, there's a way. Just starting the conversations is step one.
 
David Barmon
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Hi Brad, that's a good point about turning odd pieces. I just remember also that some odds and ends are good for signs ect. My next door neighbor has a laser engraver. We are experimenting with using pieces for various items.
 
David Barmon
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Hello everyone! Hope you are having a great summer. A few months ago we had an urban lumber demo in Pioneer Square in downtown Portland. Here is a link to the video! I am thinking about sharing it in a new thread as well. If anyone has suggestions about doing that, let me know!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=piF1UYx4Xwg
 
Valerie Dawnstar
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Thanks for that great video, David! I am sharing that with my tribe here on the east coast.
 
Burra Maluca
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I've embedded the video below.

 
David Barmon
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Burra and Valerie, thanks for sharing the video! I really appreciate it!
 
Cassie Langstraat
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I seriously just love this idea. Those tables are so beautiful too. You can buy them here!!

Keep it up Dave.

 
David Barmon
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Thanks for the shout out Paul! I would love to hear feed back about our latest video.
 
Enrique Garcia
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Brilliant David !! Thank you ... I am interested in reversing desertification here the American Southwest & making it not just feasible but profitable to selling people on planting 1,000's of trees is what you just did !! I had never thought of urban lumber so thank you ... we have vast empty parking lots here in Las Vegas which could stand to have more trees planted ... dogs & children who are left in cars literally die .. friends of mine in the local permie group here talk about guerilla gardening with this in mind

Also, combining your idea with Brad Lancaster's methods of cutting out curbs to stop flooding, feed & beautify desert towns ... that could sell cities on implementing these ideas .. that they could budget in the future that for every tree in time they could sell the lumber ... brilliant .. Thanks !!
 
C.K. Williams
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This is inspiring! David Barmon is my newest hero right up there with Nick Offerman (in terms of woodworking). I'd like to learn more about "slab" tables and the pro's & con's of the various portable sawmill models. Recommendations for an upstart?

The video from the Portland square is just beautifully awesome! Well done. Obviously professional production. Keep 'em coming, please!
 
Julia Winter
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David, if you're still following this thread, the Side Yard farm has a new property and they took down some pretty massive trees getting it ready for veggie production. This is in Cully, north of Killingsworth and east of 42nd. Some of the wood was chopped into chunks but there are a couple of very impressive trunks that could maybe be converted into lumber. Sorry, I don't have the species right now but one could be walnut.
 
David Barmon
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Enrique and CK, thanks for the kind words! It really means a lot to me to hear you are interested in promoting the same concepts in different parts of the country.

So there are a variety of portable saw mill manufactures. The most well know is Woodmizer which makes bandsaws. They are basically a trailer that can be moved around by truck. Bandsaws have a 1/8" kerf so you don't loose to much material. They are also very fast and efficient. The small mills start around 7k and there are models that go up to 40K.

We own a Lucas mill which has a dedicated slabbing attachment. Most people buy a Lucas mill which as circle blade which cuts dimensional lumber. Lucas mills cost 9-12k. They can also be broken down easily and taken into a back yard if needed which is something not possible with a woodmizer.

The simplest set up is an Alaskan Mill which is a frame that you put a chainsaw into. You need a large chainsaw like a Stihl 880 or Husky 3120xp to really have the power to make the cuts. Chainsaw mills are affordable but stinky have tiring to operate. They are also hard on the chainsaw. Logosol and Granberg are the two manufatures I know of.

Other companies are Timber King, Peterson, Norwood. I am probably leaving out several companies but this should be a start.

Besides a mill, you will need a lot of other things to haul logs and move the lumber around. If you are milling large diameter slabs then you will need equipment as the slabs are often too heavy to lift green without a lot of people. Also, having land to store logs. It's hard to find folks with a kiln to dry wood for others so owning a kiln is helpful. Its easy to spend 50k getting started. Don't quite your day job basically. I would recommend first getting a few logs and hiring someone else who already has a mill to mill lumber for you. That's what I did. You can take the lumber and air dry. Hardwoods need 1" per year to dry as a general rule so it takes a while to get the lumber to market.

 
David Barmon
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Here is some video of me moving a truly massive Cedar of Lebanon log with an excavator last week.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxIsOHe9TNo
 
Judith Browning
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David, I've embedded your video.....I'm sending it to my son also, who has a norwood mill and has cut some pretty big stuff but nothing near this size amazing.......
 
David Barmon
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Julia Winter wrote:David, if you're still following this thread, the Side Yard farm has a new property and they took down some pretty massive trees getting it ready for veggie production. This is in Cully, north of Killingsworth and east of 42nd. Some of the wood was chopped into chunks but there are a couple of very impressive trunks that could maybe be converted into lumber. Sorry, I don't have the species right now but one could be walnut.


Julia, I stopped by the Side Yard farm site where the trees were cut down. There are several very nice cherry logs, really great black locust logs and a large cottonwood log. Yes this is good stuff. It looks like the farm is using it as a barrier for the edge of the property. I am going to contact them and see if I can save the wood from rotting away. Its sad to see well intentioned people making such poor land management decisions. I often wonder if clearing trees to grow vegetables is really as sustainable as we think. Especially when high quality lumber is going to waste.

Thanks for the heads up!
 
David Barmon
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Hello everyone! I started an urban lumber facebook page: www.facebook.com/urbanlumbercommunity. I have been connecting with folks from New York, Tampa, California and Michigan all doing cool things. I have almost 4,000 followers so far. I am working on getting some more followers before I get the word out about permies.com. The focus on the page is to build the urban lumber movement and the response has been pretty positive so far.

Have a great fall!

Dave
 
Enrique Garcia
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I'm following the page David & will be sure to let all my Permie friends know ... & share your video too
 
Cassie Langstraat
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Just embedding the link: https://www.facebook.com/urbanlumbercommunity
 
David Barmon
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Hello everyone, its been awhile since I checked in. I thought it would be interesting to talk a little bit about drying wood. Getting logs out of someone's yard and to the mill as well as milling the wood are important parts of the process but one of the most challenging and really important pieces of the urban lumber puzzle is the drying process, both air drying AND kiln drying. Especially with hardwoods like walnut and maple ect..

When lumber is air dried it needs to be stacked with stickers. Stickers are the wood spacers that go between each row of boards. They help with air flow and also evenly distribute weight. Its important to have stickers at least every two feet and to have them line up the entire height of the stack or the wood will have a lot of weight unevenly distributed which will cause boards to bend as they dry. It's also important to put down bunks (4x4) at the bottom of the stack to keep the wood off the ground. Ideally keeping the wood out of the elements is helpful but if not possible some plywood or metal roofing material can be placed over the top of the wood. Some woods like doug fir don't need much time to air dry while other species like oak might take a year or longer if they are 2" (8/4) thick. Air drying slabs takes a long time-possibly 2-3 years.

Investing in a good moisture meter is really important so you can monitor when it is time to put your boards in a kiln. It is totally possible to build with air dried lumber but it can move if it dries more once inside a house. Also, at the end of the kiln drying schedule, the kiln is heated up around 140-150 degrees for 24-48 hours to set the pitch and also kill any bugs such as powder post beetles. I recently heard about a high end kitchen remodel where 40,000 worth of work had to be redone when powder post beetles started eating their way out of myrtlewood used on the project.

There are several types of kilns but on the small scale, most people use solar dry kilns or dehumidifying kilns. Both set ups have their pros and cons. Solar kilns are great but only work at certain times of the year in temperate climates (not a problem in places like San Diego) when the temp. and weather are optimal. Dehumidifying kilns allow you to dry wood year around and have good control over the drying process but need a lot of electricity to run.

I am curious to hear about other people's thoughts/experiences with drying wood.
 
Cassie Langstraat
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this is a presentation david gave two years ago as the opening speaker for Paul Hawken which got the whole ball rolling for him.

15 minutes of Brilliance: Urban Lumber, The Future of Forestry

 
David Barmon
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Recently I came across a great TEDx talk by Damon Barron from Charlotte North Carolina that gave a great talk about Urban Lumber. It's awesome to see other people working towards the same goals! 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SvZwezPohKk
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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