Giving Salvaged Wood New Life

Giving Salvaged Wood New Life

From Logger to Lumber: The Unlikely Journey of Campus Trees

Have you ever walked across the University of Washington campus and admired the stately trees lining the pathways? I certainly have. Little did I know that those very trees could one day become the centerpiece of a brand new dining table or the perfect rustic bench for the campus quad.

It all started a few years back when the campus grounds crew had a problem on their hands. Trees were being removed for construction projects, and the wood was simply ending up in the compost pile or getting chipped for mulch. That’s when the idea for the Salvage Wood Program was born.

From Compost to Craftsmanship

I had the chance to chat with Steve Valentine, the carpenter leading the charge on this innovative project. As he showed me around the newly-minted lumber mill, I could see the passion in his eyes. “These trees have been part of this campus for decades,” he explained. “It just feels wrong to let them go to waste.”

With the help of funding from the Campus Sustainability Fund, Steve and the rest of the Facilities Services Grounds Management team got to work. Instead of turning those fallen giants into mulch, they would give them new life as benches, tables, and other custom woodworking pieces for the university.

A Campus Full of Character

As Steve led me through the process, I was amazed at the level of care and craftsmanship that went into each project. “A majority of the wood that gets funneled into the salvage wood program comes from construction projects, trees that pass from natural death, diseased trees, and potentially hazardous trees that need to be removed,” he explained.

But it’s not just any old wood – these are the same trees that have been shading students, hosting squirrels, and weathering countless storms over the years. Kristine Kenney, the university landscape architect, summed it up perfectly: “What I really like about the salvage wood program in particular is the furniture made from these trees tell a story. We know where the wood came from, the species of tree, and its former location on campus. That story and the legacy of the University is carried on for future generations to enjoy in a new way.”

From Tree to Table: The Transformation Process

So how exactly does a humble campus tree become a beautiful piece of furniture? It all starts with the sawmill. Steve and his team carefully assess each log, determining the best way to cut it to maximize the usable wood. “Before the salvage wood program began, trees that needed to be removed were just cut into chunks and put into a compost pile,” Steve told me. “Now, the wood is diverted and made into something with new life.”

Once the logs are milled, the real magic happens in the workshop. The Facilities Services carpenters use a variety of techniques to transform the raw wood into something truly special. From hand-planing the surfaces to carefully selecting the perfect stain, each step is crucial in bringing out the natural beauty of the material.

The North Campus Housing Project: A Treasure Trove of Timber

One of the biggest sources of salvaged wood for the program is the North Campus Student Housing project. As Kristine Kenney explained, “The north campus housing project will be a huge wood supplier for the salvage wood program. The project requires dozens of trees to be removed from the area surrounding McCarty Hall.”

But this isn’t just any old timber – these are the same trees that have been part of the campus landscape for decades. “Around McCarty Hall, there are 87 trees being cut down,” Kristine said. “Each tree will produce somewhere between one to four logs, depending on the height of the tree.”

The university has a one-to-one tree replacement policy, meaning that for every tree removed, a new one will be planted. But the salvage wood program takes it a step further, ensuring that the legacy of these campus icons lives on in the form of custom furniture and decor.

Bringing the Past into the Present

As I wandered through the workshop, I couldn’t help but be struck by the juxtaposition of old and new. Freshly milled Ponderosa Pine slabs sat alongside antique woodworking tools, each piece telling a story of its own.

And the final products? They’re nothing short of spectacular. From sleek conference tables to rustic benches, the salvaged wood pieces blend seamlessly into the campus environment, serving as a constant reminder of the rich history that lies beneath the surface.

Preserving the Past, Building the Future

The Salvage Wood Program isn’t just about creating beautiful furniture – it’s about honoring the legacy of the University of Washington campus. By giving new life to these fallen trees, the team is preserving a piece of the school’s history and sharing it with the community in a truly unique way.

As I headed back towards the main campus, I couldn’t help but look at the trees lining the pathways with a newfound appreciation. Who knows – the next time I’m sitting on a bench or enjoying a meal at a salvaged wood table, I might just be enjoying a piece of campus history.


Get the latest updates on timber construction trends, sustainable practices, and exclusive offers from Timber Building. Subscribe to our newsletter for insights delivered straight to your inbox.

Stay Informed with Timber Building

Contact Us


Copyright © 2023 All rights reserved.