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Tree-to-Table: A Full Circle

Updated: Nov 21, 2019

Written by: Certified Arborist August Hoppe WI-0477A

It can be a sad day when a large old tree needs to be come down.  Utilizing the logs from a tree removal for a higher purpose such as lumber or natural edge wood slabs is a way for the tree to live on in another fashion.  Making something creative and beautiful out of the wood can be inspiring and can help dull the pain from losing a large tree. One of the unique things about Hoppe Tree Service is our ability to go full circle with our care for trees.  This means that we plant, and maintain trees throughout their life and when a tree needs to be removed, we try to utilize the logs as much as possible.   It’s an interesting journey from tree to table, with many stops along the way.

During the tree removal process our tree crew will look to dismantle the tree in as large of pieces as possible.  Larger intact logs have more potential for being milled, than shorter chunkier sections.

Our crane truck really helps speed up the process during a removal operation and greatly enhances our ability to save large pieces of trunks.   For areas that are inaccessible for the crane truck we often will use loader machines to pick up the logs and put them in the truck.  This approach allows for a cleaner job site with less cutting and sawdust, and reducing the man power needed to spend on the jobsite hauling away the wood.

Logs that are destined to be milled are taken to our facility in Grafton WI.   From here our Hoppe Urban Wood Lab Store team takes charge.  Logs are stacked and sorted by species, size and client orders.  The Urban Wood staff will eye up the logs and determine the best use of the logs.  

Size, shape and demand will dictate our decisions on how to mill the logs.  Unfortunately, not all logs are destined to be milled.  A significant portion of our logs may be softer wood or have cracks and major imperfections such as codominant branch junctions that make them more suitable for firewood or mulch.

For high quality logs, milling comes next. Our Timberking saw mill can cut logs up to 33” diameter up to almost 18ft long, with precision of up to 32nd of an inch.   Milling is typically a two-man operation with one person handling the cutter saw head, while the other person stacks the freshly cut wood.  Proper stacking of the wood is a critical task.  Proper spacing allows air to circulate thru the stack, creating optimal air-drying conditions.  A properly stacked bundle of lumber or slabs typically sits for a couple of months to cure, then it’s time for the kiln. 

Kiln drying is an important aspect for creating wood products that are useable for intricate wood working projects.  Dry wood is stable, while greener, non-kiln dried wood has the tendency to warp move and check, which can often cause problems and frustrations when working on a project.  The Hoppe Urban Wood Lab uses a dehumidification kiln that is heated with a wood boiler.  (We have plenty of wood to keep our boiler heated to the optimal temperatures!)   With our kiln, we can drive the moisture content of the wood down to a level between 4-8%.  This is quite a bit lower than typical moisture contents of 10-12% that can be obtained thru only air drying.

After 3-6 weeks in the kiln the load of wood is fully dried, removed from the kiln and is ready for the processing stage.  Wood that comes out of the kiln is considered rough cut and usually needs to be flattened and smoothed out to showcase the grain pattern and the ultimate beauty of the piece.  Our processing equipment includes a large 20” width planning machine and a 37” width sander than can make short work of rough cut pieces of wood.

Once the wood is passed thru our processing stage and looking good, it is ready to be bundled and delivered.  On the truck it goes, to be transported to a variety of different places. Some products get delivered directly to custom wood clients, some goes to our showroom for sale, while other wood goes to one of the 3 Habitat for Humanity Restores that stock and sell our urban wood.

Our store is stocked with a large selection of natural edge wood slabs and lumber.  These pieces are great for making tables, benches, countertops, shelfs, etc.   Our staff can help the do-it-yourselfer find that perfect slab, or we can connect you with an artisan in our network to create that beautiful custom one of a kind project just for you.

It's quite a process going from tree to table, but the end result is worth the effort.  Our urban forest is a great asset that deserves appreciation.  

Our showroom is now relocating to 1813 S. 73rd Street in West Allis WI.  The Hoppe Urban Wood Lab Store will be at the same location as our main business, Hoppe Tree Service.  This move will allow us to expand our hours, have more display space and increase our inventory. 

Visit our website: to learn more about the exciting things going on at the Hoppe Urban Wood Lab Store.

- Originally Posted 8 Feb 2018

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