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B.C. duo turns wood into furniture instead of letting it go to the chipper

Danny Hagge, left, and Eric Savics are owners and founders of Vancouver Urban Timberworks, a timber business that harvests fallen urban trees from around the lower mainland and specializes in custom-cutting furniture and unique slabs of timber from the reclaimed wood.

For wood lovers like Eric Savics and Danny Hagge, there's nothing worse than seeing a giant fir or elm tree come down in the city – except when it gets hauled away and chopped into chunks of firewood.

"There's so much wood out there that could be saved," said Mr. Hagge, who partnered with Mr. Savics to found Vancouver Urban Timberworks, which turns reclaimed wood from the Vancouver area into furniture and unique slabs of timber to sell.

"A lot of these arborists, they just don't even have a place to dump this stuff off."

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There has been a lot of wood to reclaim in the Vancouver region lately, after the recent severe windstorm uprooted hundreds of trees, which crushed cars, punctured houses and took down power lines. More than 500 trees were knocked down in Vancouver alone. As municipal crews set to work on the cleanup, officials reminded the public that the wood was free for the taking and that any remaining trees would likely be sent through a a chipper.

"It's just such a shame to see this stuff go to waste," Mr. Hagge said.

After working in construction and seeing tree-removal companies recycle urban timber into kindling, Mr. Hagge realized the Lower Mainland was littered with trees downed by weather or removed because of disease or development that could be reclaimed and crafted into furniture or reintegrated into buildings.

Today, Mr. Savics and Mr. Hagge transform that wood into custom furniture, mainly tables, and unique slabs fit for timber-frame accents in new construction.

Better lumber than firewood: It's a philosophy the pair like, but it's also served as a successful business strategy.

Since the company's inception in 2010, Vancouver Urban Timberworks has grown from a weekend hobby – cutting up wood for fun in the backyard – to a studio in North Vancouver, a sawmill in Squamish and three employees. It also has working partnerships with about 40 tree services across the Lower Mainland, as well as a handful of municipalities, including North Vancouver, West Vancouver and Burnaby, that all know to call up the duo when large trees, otherwise discarded, are ready for pickup.

Vancouver's tree canopy covers 18 per cent of the city, an urban forest that's on par with Seattle and Victoria. The reality is many of those trees are chopped into firewood or chipped into mulch when they come down, usually because it's not worth the time of arborists to log a single tree. But as climate change is expected to bring increasing instances of severe weather events causing damage to tree canopies, the case for reclaimed timber is growing.

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"That's where we step in," said Mr. Hagge. "There's a use for almost every type [of tree]."

When the windstorm ripped through the region, Mr. Savics and Mr. Hagge immediately set to work.

"We were ready on Sunday morning," said Mr. Savics, though their truck broke down and there's still at least two loads of trees in various yards waiting for pickup.

Still, Mr. Savics noted that only a small percentage of Vancouver Urban Timberworks' inventory comes from harvesting trees downed in weather events. The company wants to work more closely with municipalities to create an accessible place for people to drop off and reclaim urban timber.

"If there was an actual green waste yard somewhere – that would be a huge goal for us," said Mr. Hagge. "Every municipality could have one, and we could be working with them, or they could be buying their own sawmills and making use of this lumber."

The partners added that the City of West Vancouver operates a municipal sawmill where it cuts timber from its parks to use in its benches and boardwalks.

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Mr. Savics said he's seeing people increasingly want to save their trees when they come down and reintegrate them back into the household – either in construction or as a piece of furniture.

"We have two or three contracts on the go right now in Vancouver where we've taken the trees away, we're milling the products … and we'll ship them back to the general contractor, carpenters, homeowners," he said.

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