Custom Furniture Company Builds with Salvaged Wood

Bootstrap business Baldwin Custom Woodworking transforms diseased trees into handmade heirloom woodworks.

| June/July 2017

Peel back the bark on millions of trees throughout the Western United States, and you’ll find the telltale signs of beetle infestation: a criss-crossing network of narrow channels that emboss otherwise smooth wood. Since the late 1990s, more than 60 million acres of forest in the West have experienced tree die-offs resulting from an unprecedented mountain pine beetle epidemic. Although mountain pine beetles are native to the region, two decades of warming temperatures and drought have weakened trees, giving the insects a foothold.

While entire mountainsides turn from green to rusty red and then to gray — the characteristic palette progression of a forest in beetle-borne decline — elm, ash, and walnut trees are also being attacked by pests and removed at increasing rates in communities such as Denver, Boulder, and Fort Collins. One Colorado woodworker has been working to give new life to the pest-pocked trees removed from urban forests in northern Colorado.

Ryan Baldwin owns and operates Baldwin Custom Woodworking, a small sawmill and woodworking shop on the outskirts of Fort Collins. Since 2008, he and his wife, Cara, have built the custom furniture company by salvaging the area’s damaged trees and transforming that salvaged wood into milled lumber for building projects and elegant custom furniture, cabinetry, and other products.

“Nine times out of 10, wood is coming to us because the tree is diseased or dying,” explains Ryan, adding that despite the havoc beetles wreak on the local ecology, the color and texture of the trees’ interior wood can remain largely unharmed. The human impact tends to be more noticeable: Because 90 percent of the wood coming into Ryan’s shop is from the immediate Fort Collins area — much of it from within city limits — interesting items, such as nails, barbedwire, and even bullets, can be found inside. And unlike farmed lumber, the rough-cut slabs Baldwin and his four-person crew work with are rarely straight with uniform grain.

“We have local student groups come out [for tours], and when you ask where wood comes from, the students respond with ‘Home Depot’ or ‘Lowe’s,’” Ryan says. “What we’re doing is sort of this throwback to half a century ago when there was a small sawmill in nearly every community. We’ve seen that disappear during the past 50 years, causing people to become disconnected from their lumber, their trees.”

LEED-ing on Green Building

This disconnect may be allaying somewhat. In recent years, Ryan has seen resurgent demand for locally sourced materials, thanks in part to the construction community’s growing aspiration to meet LEED building standards.

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