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Salvaging Campus Trees for Education

Joseph sawmilling at the university.

The Harvest-to-Use Initiative was started at Indiana University of Pennsylvania with an idea that was seemingly overlooked within fine arts academia. Growing up in Elk County, Pennsylvania, I was immersed in the forest. I was always cultured to comprehend the significance of a tree, no matter what type, it had a place in our day-to-day lives.

My name is Joseph Lovenduski, I am the Shop Technician for Indiana University of Pennsylvania's Art Department, primarily within The Center for Turning and Furniture Design. One of my most significant roles within our community is the operation and maintenance of our portable sawmill at our campus location.

It Started With a Wood-Mizer

The Wood-Mizer sawmill came to IUP in 2004 as a vital piece of the puzzle to get the Center for Turning and Furniture Design off and moving. Most importantly, it was an enormous part of the Harvest to Use Initiative. At that phase, Professor Chris Weiland had the key element to go into campus once a tree had come down and mill right on location.

This harvesting sequence brought a distinctive feature to IUP’s campus and was the first time a “collective” action was engaged to give downed trees a new life.

Loading a log onto the portable sawmill.

Thanks in part to the Allegheny Arboretum, a community of like-minded folks brought together with a vision to safeguard these “historic” trees among us, our local community was able to bring the tree through every step – from reason for the tree coming down, all the way to the finished piece of furniture.

Trees are brought down for a variety of reasons at IUP such as natural issues deeming it a hazard to public safety or disrupting the vision of growth and improvement, but a new tree is often times established in a nearby area for future growing.

Harvest to Use

When a tree must come down, faculty and staff at the Woodworking Facility meet with the Facilities Management Team to plan how the tree will be felled as well as how it will be cut into sections. From there, the sections are transported to our milling location on campus. Upon arrival at the site, we label each one with a detailed tag and date which allows us to preserve histories of the trees’ campus location as well as the period it was received or cut down.

We seal the ends and allow it to correctly season before sawing. After seasoning, we saw the trees into boards that vary in size and cut type depending on future plans and place them in our drying shed until they are ready for use.

Harvesting a campus tree

Based on the projects they are planning, students are able to choose from the wood we have in the drying shed. During that time, students learn about things such as grain pattern, board feet, species and how all that will relate to their detailed projects.

The boards are then brought to the basement of the Art Department where the Center for Turning and Furniture Design is located. In the Center we have a full arsenal of tools and machines, which means students have the potential to make just about anything they can think of.

Finding Purpose in Each Tree

From trees, to the finishing room, students partake in the entire cycle, thus the Harvest to Use and its full circle method to woodworking. Since the commencement of the Harvest to Use program, the Allegheny Arboretum has worked with us to approach areas of IUP with ideas to create.

An amazing example of that was a bench project for the Lively Arts at IUP. An oak tree had to come down due to the construction of a new campus building. The tree was then turned into benches for the lobby inside the new building.

A bench made from salvaged campus trees.

The bench project allowed the school to still have a connection with the oak tree that once stood there, one of the first great examples of the true meaning behind the program. It gives us, and the students, the ability to have a closer relationship with the cycle and see the tree being used artistically instead of taken away to the dump or turned into mulch.

The Harvest to Use Program is reusing the wood and understanding the historical value of the tree during the process. We aren’t recycling wood, we are finding purpose in each tree.

Integrating Campus Education

A great example came recently during BA Harrington’s advanced woodworking class in which students were asked as groups to design a bench that would endure within the Art Department. All of the benches were considered with the idea of using campus harvested oak trees.

With the Harvest to Use Program now becoming a full part of the curriculum, BA’s advanced class got to hand pick their rough lumber from our drying shed. They got a chance to see grain patterns and different sawing techniques, then select based on what was best for their benches. The completed benches can really show just what we are capable of at IUP in both the conceptual and technical aspects involved in the cycle of tree to finished creation.

Finger joint box made in a woodworking class by Heather Tabacchi.

It doesn’t stop there however, because even our introductory students benefit from the Harvest to Use Program. The intro classes conclude the semester by designing and creating a finger joint box out of rough sawn oak. Each student hand selects and processes a section of quarter sawn or unique grain patterned oak, depending on what wood characteristics they want in their projects.

The amazing thing about the culture here is the sense of community and how everyone benefits from it. We are able to teach students who come from different academic backgrounds. They come into the intro class knowing little or nothing about woodworking and leave with an incredible understanding of the process thanks to BA and the Harvest to Use Program.

BA Harrington and Chris Weiland discussing their next cuts

The projects created from introductory to graduate really prove a collective understanding of the creative features that wood can hold, while still referencing its traditional use.

BA puts it all in perspective by saying, "IUP's Harvest to Use Program provides a unique teaching opportunity, as we are one of only a few university wood programs in the country with the capability of harvesting local lumber in-house with a portable bandsaw mill. In addition to teaching the comprehensive cycle of tree-to-lumber, I see this as a crucial situation for incorporating ideas around the meaning of materials, renewable resources, community sustainability, and collaboration into the art curriculum."

Influencing the Community

Not only has Harvest to Use become a staple for the current curriculum, but it has been brought to the rest of the university and neighboring community’s attention. Prior to the program, no one really knew where the wood was taken, or why a tree had to come down. Shedding new light on the whole procedure gives IUP the unique opportunity to expand the founding principles of Harvest to Use to everyone.

We are creating a better community that can exchange ideas and form a more sustainable future for IUP and its upcoming projects. By raising mindfulness, we can show that any tree has a purpose and can be used.

The program also shows that trees are not just turned into construction lumber or mulch. They can be used to create something stunning and evocative of the tree’s initial beauty.

IUP Residential Revival

IUP is continually evolving, with that, the Harvest to Use will grow with it. More trees are being established for every one that comes down. The curriculum grows as well, educating students and the community about the importance of repurposing trees and planting new ones.

With these goals in mind, we are able to have a very positive future planned for IUP and its surrounding community. It also helps us to continually pay back by educating others and creating a better sense of our mutual surroundings.

By Joseph Lovenduski, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Photography by Heather Tabacchi and Steve Loar 

The Wood-Mizer Team includes a diverse group of woodworkers, farmers, homesteaders, arborists, entrepreneurs, and more who are excited to share their knowledge and experiences of working with wood from forest to final form. Since 1982, the team has brought portable, personal sawmills to people all over the world who want the freedom of sawing their own lumber. Find Wood-Mizer on their websiteFacebookInstagramYouTubePinterest andTwitter. Read all of the team’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here


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