When John Evans looks at logging debris he sees more than lumps of wood. In fallen logs he finds retaining walls, in standing snags he visualizes garden art and in gnarled burls he sees tables.
For over a century, logging in the Pacific Northwest has been about board feet and right angles.
Now, landscapers and homeowners are seeing the beauty in untouched wood. They’re using it as garden focal points and to make rustic furniture. Call it the whole tree movement.
The company Evans works for, NDC Timber Inc. of Elma, makes the bulk of its revenue from contract logging and milling tongue and groove boards. Evans manages Carter Evans Wood Concepts, a division that sells what was once considered forest trash.
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“We’re not into throwing stuff away,” Evans said.
It hasn’t always been that way. Evans said it wasn’t until the early 2000s when his eyes were opened by a local furniture maker. The craftsman made tables with live edges — unmilled borders on boards that follow the natural shape of the original log or stump. He urged Evans to haul out the interesting but unloved forest remnants.
In the intervening years Evans and his crew have gathered the stumps, logs and various chunks of wood into several acres along Highway 12 west of Elma. Almost all of it is western red cedar.
“For centuries they were in the way. It takes a huge piece of machinery to pick it up and set it,” Evans said.
Not only was it big, but the leftover wood was mostly worthless to the logging industry. At best it was used for shakes and shingles.
“You can’t make a board out of it because the knots are too big. But you can make a table out of it,” Evans said looking at one spherical burl the size of a state fair pumpkin.
“I know, within a mile, where this wood came from,” Evans said in the boneyard that holds thousands of pieces of salvaged wood ranging from toaster to truck size.
Landscapers tour the yard choosing large pieces to become horizontal or vertical focal points of a garden. Sometimes homeowners arrive to get a more bite-sized remnant.
Evans bases his pricing on, “sizing and coolness.” An 8,000-pound, heavily fissured stump with a burl on one side and huckleberry and lichen growing on it is selling for $3,000.
Others go for much less. “If you can pick it up by yourself it’s probably going to be $25,” Evans said.
Evans has supplied wood for display gardens at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show for the past three years. But his most high profile garden to date is a pair of large logs that rest at the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit at Seattle Center. Artist Dale Chihuly surrounded them with lavender colored glass “reeds.”
A third of Carter Evans Wood Concepts’ sales come from a small workshop across the road from NDC’s headquarters. It’s there where Evans and business partner Jeremy Carter turn the salvaged wood into mirror frames, mantels, benches, bed frames and other pieces of furniture.
A table that will eventually have a glass top is a whirling tangle of roots with a smoothly cut top and bottom. A stump that has become an end table waits for pickup. Maple mantels and fir shelves with live edges fill the work space.
Almost all of the landscaping wood Evans and Carter work with and sell was gathered years ago. Because of changing environmental regulations and landowners’ preferences most non-millable wood now remains where it fell in the forest.
One of the stumps in Evans’ boneyard, priced at $5,000, dominates those around it. “Those are a super pain to get out of the ground and get here. We’ll probably never bring another one of those home. And they don’t grow them anymore.”
Not only did most of the wood fall in the World War I era or earlier, it’s mostly original old growth timber, he said.
“That’s why I’m not too worried about it degrading. This is going to last a long time,” Evans said.
The cedar has the silvered patina of driftwood.
“They’ve been on the ground since when the old-growth timber harvesters went through there. Then another stand of timber grew up and we harvested it and these were still around,” Evans said.
Some of Evans’ logs will become retaining walls or benches or both. But not all of it is destined for large-scale projects. Seattle condo developers use log rounds for tables. “They like to have something woodsy to contrast where they’re at,” Evans said.
Rock is still king for natural landscaping accent, Evans said. But he’s hoping natural wood will become more popular outside and inside homes.
“I need a bunch of eclectic carpenters to come down here and rummage through our piles,” Evans said.
And, he added, he delivers.