Q & A: Jason Boone
The designer and woodworker discusses how local trees live on in the furniture at the Center for Sustainable Landscapes.
Jason Boone resides in Pittsburgh, where he owns and manages Urban Tree – a business that allows him to provide hand-crafted products made from the "trees next door." Using responsibly and locally harvested materials, Jason strives to see and acknowledge the energies embodied by an object, from growth and production to refinement and manipulation. We took a few minutes with Jason to discuss the process and technique behind his hand-crafted products.
How did you first become interested in woodworking?
I have no formal training in woodworking; everything I know is from curiously watching people around me. I grew up on a small working farm in northwest Missouri, so I have been around people who build and fix things my whole life. My major influences came from my uncle and older cousin who I was always trying to keep up with. I started building sheds for my toy tractors at a very young age and in my preteen years I made many hobby crafts. It wasn't until after college that I ventured into sculpture and furniture making.
What is the process like for reclaiming trees and how long does it take?
It's dirty, hard work, but being the first person to get to see a fresh cut slab is very rewarding. We start by working with an arborist to take a tree down in a way that leaves us usable material. We then mill the tree into slabs using an Alaskan (chainsaw) Mill to plane-saw the log. This often leaves us with large table top sized "wet" material. We then start the drying process by sticker stacking the material to let air and time dry out the wood. Often, we finish the drying process by putting the slabs in a kiln. This whole process can take 2-4 years.
What is the most difficult part of the process?
Material handling. A fresh cut wet oak slab that is 3” thick, 36" wide and 12’ long could weigh 900 pounds. Most of this weight is water which will later dry out, but fresh cut off of the log it can be a bear. We typically never pick the slabs up at this point; rather we use pry-bars and rollers to transfer the slabs to a truck.
What inspired you to work with reclaimed materials?
The trees themselves. Pittsburgh has a large amount of mature trees and it is heartbreaking to think that many of them never get a chance at a second life.
Where did the trees come from that are now the tables and benches in the CSL?
One of the conference room tables is made of silver maple from Allegheny Cemetery. The boardroom table is made of pin oak from White Hall. This one was a lesson in material handling. We had to have a crane truck come in to move the fresh cut slabs; they were too heavy to remove by man power. The other smaller pieces are made of beech, ash and white oak from Shadyside, Regent Square, North Point Breeze and Brookline.
What impact do you hope your pieces have on CSL visitors?
We hope to raise awareness about the fact that there are great resources all around us that are worth the effort to reuse and to educate people that there are products available made from these resources.
Other than Phipps’ CSL, where else are your pieces featured?
Many private residences, Waldorf School, Legume, Butcher and the Rye, Union Pig and Chicken and Wild Purveyors, to name a few.
Photos © Joey Kennedy, Natalia Gomez
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