The cross-cut slab of log no. 11 stands about as tall as an average-size man, a little skinnier than the back of a pickup truck. It waits in an industrial building off Highway 101 in Prunedale to meet its new owner. The rings and whorls of the slab almost hypnotize as Jennifer Alger, one of the owners of Far West Forest Products, explains how this piece of awe-inspiring natural beauty came into her hands – and where it might go from here.
Log No. 11 (so named because it was the 11th log cut) came from a giant sequoia that was felled in a storm in 2009. Based on the slab’s size as measured against the tree’s base, it’s estimated the tree was about 3,400 years old when it came to the end of its natural life. Far West Forest is milling the tree on site, on private land near Sequoia National Forest.
Now, Alger says, it will become something else that will highlight its beauty. Some homeowner or designer might buy it and use it as a table top, or some artisan might buy it and sculpt it into something abstract.
“People are so concerned with forests being decimated,” Alger says. “None of us want to see great wood going to waste.”
And that desire is what underpins Far West Forest Products, which specializes in salvaged, urban and reclaimed wood, 90 percent of which is taken from no more than 500 miles from Far West’s headquarters in Sheridan, Calif., near Yuba City.
It helps to know the terms.
Salvaged means the wood wasn’t harvested for timber – a fire swept through an area, a tree died, or it fell in a storm – but the wood still has value.
“Urban” means wood taken in an urban setting – for example, a tree that was damaged in a storm – and then milled so it would be diverted from landfills where it would otherwise give off carbon dioxide as it decayed.
And reclaimed is much like it sounds – lumber that had already been used by someone else, in a barn for example, or another building that’s being taken down.
Alger’s right: Nothing goes to waste. In one corner of the store, a rack holds longboard decks crafted by 20-year-old Placerville artisan Bryan Juvet.
Juvet not only uses salvaged, urban and reclaimed for his decks. He also salvages pieces left over from larger projects at his father Don’s furniture-making shop. Another slab of giant sequoia was purchased for about $600 by Slovenian artist Dusan Gerlica, the first person to visit Far West’s Prunedale location when it opened in 2013. Gerlica carved the piece into abstract sculpture, staged it all over the San Francisco Bay Area, photographed it for a book and then sold the piece. He recently spent a month in residency at Far West and made a variety of smaller carvings; he plans to return to the U.S. this fall and stage a showing of his work in Monterey County.
Far West has been around since the early 1980s. Its founder, Alger’s father Jim Evans, worked in traditional logging before changing directions to focus exclusively on the salvaged, urban and reclaimed markets. Alger opened the Prunedale location when her husband’s job was transferred to Monterey County.
Alger sells everything from blanks and turning blocks that artisans use for making bowls, boxes and sculptures to what are called live-edge slabs – from trees that has been milled to leave their edges, as they were in nature, intact. She also sells furniture, much of it crafted by her brother, Jason Evans.
A bumblebee-yellow Mulberry turning block, salvaged from a tree that was taken down in Yuba County to make way for a shopping-center parking lot, recently sold for $44. A 198-inch-long, 3-inch-thick live-edge slab, taken from a Bastogne walnut tree that had come to the end of its life outside of Lincoln, Calif., is selling for $8,526 on the Far West website.
“A lot of companies like us are doing this kind of work, but we were doing it – the whole concept of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ – before it became trendy in the ’90s,” Alger says. “There were people who reused boards all the time, but back then you didn’t call it ‘reclaimed,’ you called it ‘poor.’”
Far West gets its lumber in two ways. When a forest fire burns through an area or trees come down in a storm, either the landowner or the U.S. Forest Service will send out an option to bid on salvaging the timber. (“Yes,” Alger says, “we still have to pay for it.”)
The other way, which happens on a much smaller scale, has Far West removing urban trees that have to go, usually because they are hindering construction, their root systems are damaging property or they came down in a storm.
The last time anyone did an in-depth report on salvaged, reclaimed and urban wood, it was the late ’90s: Experts estimated 3.8 billion tons of solid-wood waste was going into landfills.
Reusing it instead of dumping it, Alger says, is good for the environment and the bottom line.
“My dad had this concept,” she says, “that if God took the time to grow it, he’s going to find a value for it.”