Scavenging dead city trees

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Forum topic by DerekV posted 07-24-2013 09:00 PM 1924 views 0 times favorited 20 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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6 posts in 2035 days

07-24-2013 09:00 PM

Due to extreme drought conditions a couple of years ago, thousands of trees across my city are dead and are waiting to be ripped up and (presumably) sent to the landfill. It seems that there is a lot of lumber there waiting to be processed. These are just a few of the questions I’ve been thinking about lately:

How long can dead trees stay in the ground before they are no longer useful for lumber?
If someone were to have access to a portable mill, how would one go about getting permission from the city to remove these trees?
How would the money change hands here? Does the city pay the sawyer or does the sawyer “pay for the privilege”?

Has anyone here done anything like this?

20 replies so far

View richardwootton's profile


1701 posts in 2132 days

#1 posted 07-24-2013 11:32 PM

I have wanted to know about this too. I hope some one will chime in.

-- Richard, Hot Springs, Ar -- Galoot In Training

View Dallas's profile


3599 posts in 2664 days

#2 posted 07-24-2013 11:43 PM

Check with City planning department, or whoever is in charge of that stuff.
They may be happy to give you the trees, or may pay you or may want you to pay them. Each municipality is different.

If you do get them to make lumber out of be prepared to buy a lot of blades. Yard trees WILL have metal in them somewhere.

-- Improvise.... Adapt...... Overcome!

View mporter's profile


253 posts in 2755 days

#3 posted 07-24-2013 11:58 PM

Yard trees make horrible lumber because of insect damage. Most of the trees you are talking about are dead not because of the drought, they are dead because the drought stressed the trees out and made them susceptible to insect damage. There may be some trees you can use, but be prepared for lots of wholes in your lumber. Be sure to check the bole of the tree for entrance/exit holes before you pay someone to mill the tree up for you.

View DerekV's profile


6 posts in 2035 days

#4 posted 07-25-2013 12:48 AM

Appreciate the feedback so far. Any thoughts on how long dead trees can stay in the ground and still be made into viable lumber?

View Dallas's profile


3599 posts in 2664 days

#5 posted 07-25-2013 01:01 AM

It really depends on your location and what evilness is near the trees. Critters, insects, disease, drought, all have an effect.
You don’t tell us what conditions you have in your area such as temps, humidity or storms.

Trying to make a declaration without information is futile.

-- Improvise.... Adapt...... Overcome!

View DerekV's profile


6 posts in 2035 days

#6 posted 07-25-2013 01:08 AM

Well it’s Houston so….oppressive heat, high humidity, not sure about the bug situation. Seriously hot though.

View birdsandboards's profile


7 posts in 1944 days

#7 posted 07-25-2013 01:36 AM

In a city the size i Houston I might guess that they have contracts with at least a couple of tree services. You could find out who they are and inquire. I checked into it where I live and this was the case. Decided against it for the reasons already mentioned.

View Richard 's profile


394 posts in 3298 days

#8 posted 07-25-2013 06:04 AM

I have made quite a few projects using city trees. My favorites are the maples, honeylocust oaks and walnut. I found a person on craigslist who was selling rough lumber and I found out he was using some trees which were removed by the city. His lot had several green logs and some dried out dead logs from years ago. He never knows what will work out as lumber but I been happy with the lumber The logs which don’t work out usually end as firewood.

I dont know how one would work with the city, there is somebody out there who is probably working with the city and they might be on craigslist or by word of mouth at your wood working store.,

-- Richard Boise, Idaho

View watermark's profile


483 posts in 2120 days

#9 posted 07-25-2013 06:13 AM

I am very new to woodworking and milling so for what it’s worth here is my opinion.

These guys are back on the west coast but if you look at there site they turn there trees into use full stuff from lumber to mulch any big city probably has a business or two they work with already. Google arborists in your local area.

As far as how long a tree can be dead and standing and still have useful lumber depends on what you consider useful. But like the others have mentioned city and yard trees are often hiding metal and if you are paying someone to harvest, transport and mill it I think you would be taking a pretty big gamble.

That wood was salvaged from a tree that was dead and standing for at least 2 years. I consider it to still be very useful for woodworking but a lot of people would say it was firewood.

-- "He who has no dog, hunts with a cat" Portuguese proverb

View Monte Pittman's profile

Monte Pittman

29975 posts in 2515 days

#10 posted 07-25-2013 08:03 AM

In my area when they go to the landfill it’s over. They will not allow anyone to get them. Sad. I do my best to intercept them before they get there.

-- Nature created it, I just assemble it.

View Nomad62's profile


726 posts in 3135 days

#11 posted 07-26-2013 03:32 PM

Lots of variables, but the first thing to do is find out if the local gov is doing the job or if they contracted it out; if contracted, they can tell you to whom it is and you can contact them to make a deal. Trees standing dead are ok so long as they are not rotted all out. I’ve sawn many, walnut is great but maple rots fast. You’ll get good wood from 1 and garbage from another. Good luck with it.

-- Power tools put us ahead of the monkeys

View joeyinsouthaustin's profile


1294 posts in 2250 days

#12 posted 07-26-2013 03:48 PM

In our TX area, most of the people with these contracts have two options. If oak wilt is present, the trees are covered by some special policies, but for the most part they are sold as mulch or firewood, the rest, especially oaks, goes to firewood. They make money off of this, so you may have to get a contract your self. Species not good for firewood are generally sold as mulch. So to salvage these trees, you would likely need to get a contract, or you will be tapping into someone’s revenue stream. However, if you identify trees on private property you can likely be paid to remove the tree, and keep the lumber.

-- Who is John Galt?

View fredj's profile


186 posts in 1995 days

#13 posted 07-26-2013 03:56 PM

“Lots of variables” on all parts of your question. Bugs love dead trees, standing or laying on the ground. The best walnut I’ve ever had came from a tree that had been dead so long the bark and sapwood had rotted away. Most of the heartwood was in fine shape.

-- Fredj

View DerekV's profile


6 posts in 2035 days

#14 posted 07-26-2013 04:07 PM

In case anyone was curious, I actually tried contacting the urban forestry division of Houston. Turns out these folks don’t even take calls. I had to pose my questions to a city switchboard operator, who told me that dead trees on public property can’t be turned over to a private citizen because of liability reasons. I should have expected as much. I guess I’ll just keep my eyes open for dead trees on private property.

View Woodendeavor's profile


276 posts in 2784 days

#15 posted 07-26-2013 04:21 PM

One thing to keep in mind when dealing with urban trees is metal. People out up signs with nails, old clothes lines, metal hooks. Can be full of interesting stuff that will destroy a saw blade

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