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Vancouver company EcoTimber uses trees logged from Panama Canal to make furniture
Vancouver company EcoTimber uses trees logged from Panama Canal to make furniture

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Company logs wood from Panama Canal Add to ...

Vancouver's Rocky Mountaineer Station was treated to a temporary makeover last week, when it was filled with “live-edge” pieces of custom-built furniture: a mitred-edge cedar coffee table, “the waterfall table,” a hanging lazy daybed made of solid cedar, and the “love me, love me knot” table, a huge, heart-shaped piece with a break down the middle.

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What made the 40-piece collection special wasn't just the designs or the workmanship, but the materials themselves.

The company behind the exhibit, Coast EcoTimber, uses reclaimed, rescued and rediscovered wood from B.C.'s own backyard, salvaging pieces from the Sunshine Coast and the Fraser River Debris Trap. But it has recently expanded its reach, importing exotic tropical hardwoods from a submerged jungle in Panama.

Alana Husby, the self-described “lumberjill” turned furniture designer who founded Coast EcoTimber, is a fifth-generation B.C. logger, raised in the Haida Gwaii on the north end of the Queen Charlotte Islands, at a logging camp with her family and about 50 loggers. Ms. Husby decided that she, too, wanted to get into the family business – logging – and completed BCIT's one-year Forest Technician program. Then she went out into the field to learn, working at a dry-land sort, where logs are graded, sorted and cut. She was the only woman there, learning to run chainsaws, excavators and more heavy equipment to “manicure” the logs.

“The whole time I was at the dry land, I’d been obsessed with the waste pile,” Ms. Husby recalls. “Like, there’s a big pile of waste, and I would literally see a couch or a table or a desk when they’d see a big pulp log. I just got thinking, ‘That’s the direction I want to take this.’”

So five years ago, she set out to create a logging business that was unlike any other, founding Coast EcoTimber to source scrap wood from old buildings and materials from beachcombers and river salvagers.

“I think it was to make honey out of horsepoop, as my dad says: just take these scraps and remill them and sell them to architects, designers, developers. Really take wood from sources nobody’s ever heard about, because the story is the amazing part.”

The company started out by offering hand-selected, rare and unique timber that has been rescued, dried and custom-cut to clients who wanted unique floors, tabletops and furniture made from the raw material. They'd either sell the pieces as-is, or help find a company to cut and finish the project.

“I think when we first started, the green thing on a big level was just starting, so it was a bit of a hassle trying to convince people that this wood was great and the story was fabulous and everything else. But we definitely came in at the right time, because it was right when all of that started.”

Coast EcoTimber has recently decided to expand its reach – all the way to the Panama Canal. In 1913, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt dammed the Chagres River in Panama, flooding an old-growth jungle the size of Montreal in the process. Now, almost 100 years later, Coast EcoTimber is harvesting these perfectly preserved hardwoods – Canal Cumaru (teak), Canal IPE (walnut), Canal Espave, Canal Zapatero and Canal Cedro Espino – from the underwater jungle.

While one might think that wood left in water would simply rot, Ms. Husby explains that these trees have been completely submerged and preserved in fresh water.

“So there’s no chorido (rot), there’s no shipworm, and if its completely covered the whole time, no bugs can get in it, no insects, no disease, no lightning bolts, nothing to kind of open up the outside cambium of the log and let disease in.

“In the old days, say you wanted a ship mast, they’d actually bury the wood in mud to starve it of oxygen and almost cure it.”

Wood left under water for long enough will actually petrify, and these logs have been submerged for about 100 years, becoming so hard they have a burn rating of concrete, and they are almost entirely resistant to weather and termites.

“It’s so cool; termites would rather eat themselves than eat this wood. It’s amazing,” Ms. Husby says.

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