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We are often urged to buy local, but when people say that, we're usually thinking about food. Now it seems you can aim for local furniture and local building materials. Matt Sepic of Minnesota Public Radio reports on the Minneapolis business that makes everything from hardwood flooring to picture frames from trees cut just down the block.
MATT SEPIC, BYLINE: Chances are, if you take down a tree in your yard, it'll wind up in a wood chipper or maybe your fireplace. But here in Minneapolis one company is taking those logs and finding new uses for the wood.
RICK SIEWERT: We've got white oak here. We've got ash, we've got hard maple, sugar maple back here. We've got walnut...
SEPIC: That's Rick Siewert, who owns Wood from the Hood - a company he and his wife Cindy started five years ago alongside their commercial cabinet business. They have dozens of logs stacked up behind their shop. Some are more than three feet thick. Siewert says all were cut down within just a few miles of here.
SIEWERT: We have a big variety, and it's all local, and it's tracked by, actually, the zip code that it comes from. So, on a lot of these logs you'll see tags on the end of them designating where it came from.
SEPIC: But getting a rough log to finished product takes a long time. After he cuts the wood on a portable sawmill, he has to dry it: first outdoors for several months, then another four to five weeks in a kiln. Here inside the shop, workers rip the lumber down to smaller pieces and turn it into tabletops, cabinet doors, and other items.
There are custom jobs too. Maple trees cut down at a St. Paul college returned to campus as wall paneling in a conference room. But salvaging urban trees is not without its challenges. Siewert dumps out a steel coffee can filled with rusty nails, hooks and other junk he found buried deep inside salvaged logs.
Just one of these can ruin an expensive saw blade, so Siewert first scans the logs with a metal detector. While this would be a money-losing hassle for a big lumber company, Siewert says it's worth his time because urban timber has qualities you won't find elsewhere, including eye-catching grain patterns and a wide variety of colors and species.
Designer Michael Anschel agrees. He runs a green remodeling company, and says Wood from the Hood flooring is a clear favorite among his clients.
MICHAEL ANSCHEL: There is something that feels good about knowing that, in your house, there's stuff that was made out of other people's stuff. That something that would have gone to the landfill or would have been chipped finds a second life.
SEPIC: Reclaimed urban timber can also win certification points on green building projects, and Anschel says demand for it is growing. But outside of the Pacific Northwest, it's difficult to find a ready supply. However, Wood from the Hood does far more than just make flooring.
Minneapolis gift shop owner Sarah Sweet says the small products, such as bottle openers, picture frames and limited edition items are also big sellers.
SARAH SWEET: They ran a Christmas tree ornament a couple years ago from one of the oldest trees that was cut down here in the Twin Cities. And, you know, people still ask for that ornament. What a way to mark a little moment in time.
SEPIC: Sweet says her customers really want to know the source of the products' material, so each has tag showing the tree's zip code of origin. The items are sold at many co-op grocery stores too, right down the aisle from the locally produced cheese and vegetables. For NPR news, I'm Matt Sepic in Minneapolis.
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