Community Community Community News Rancho Santa Fe San Marcos

Conference covers tree life from landscape to milled lumber

SAN MARCOS — Ever wonder what happens to a landscape tree after it’s cut down? The California Urban Woods’ “From Urban Woods to Final Form” conference shares information on the life of landscape trees from best types to plant for later lumber, to milling and woodworking practices.

The conference, set for April 2 through April 4, is organized by the California Urban Forests Council, which promotes maintaining a healthy urban tree canopy and encourages urban wood reuse.

“It’s more than trees,” Nancy Hughs, executive director of the California Urban Forests Council, said. “It’s green infrastructure with trees as the focus.”

Hughs said there has been a loss of overall tree canopy in California due to the drought and recent recession. On the upside, cities are increasingly learning the value of trees and investing in them for benefits that include shade, soil retention and filtering greenhouse gases from the air.

The goal of the council is to educate folks on the benefits of living trees, and usefulness of the wood they hold when they need to be taken down.

“Trees do have a limited life,” Hughs said. “We want to educate people on the best use for them rather than sending them to the landfill.”

Specialists will be speaking about trees, milling and woodworking throughout the three-day conference, with a heavy concentration of speakers on Friday. The featured keynote speaker is Ron Daniels of “Redwood Kings,” a television series broadcast on Animal Planet.

The conference will be held at Palomar College. Saturday includes talks and tours of the college’s lumber mill and tooled woodworking machinery. There will also be a display of furniture and instruments made from urban woods.

The urban woods fair and art show on Saturday is free to the public and includes artists, manufacturers and additional demonstrations including chainsaw woodcarving.

Palomar College has been milling lumber on campus for about 15 years. Through the years staff and students have been involved in milling and building products from some significant local trees, including the large Monterey cyprus that formerly grew at La Jolla Cove Children’s Pool.

The college’s cabinet and furniture technology department works with the city of San Diego and property owners to collect fresh cut trees that can be milled into usable lumber.

Torrey pine, California pepper and sycamore trees are among the most desirable woods. If cut correctly sycamore wood reveals lacey grains. Black acacia is a common tree. Its wood is excellent for making instruments.

It is also important the trunk of a tree is eight feet tall with no low branches, and a minimum of one foot in diameter to mill properly. College staff goes straight to a landscape site to determine if a soon-to-be-cut tree would make suitable wood. If the tree is desirable, care is taken to ensure it is taken down with a large portion of the trunk intact.

Usual practices are to cut down a tree in small sections to ensure safety, but this also makes the wood too small to mill, and it ends up in the landfill.

Once the cut tree is loaded up and brought back to the college, a sawyer and student volunteers run it through the school mill. Students learn techniques to get the best cuts from wood to show off its optimal beauty. Then students use the fresh lumber for their woodworking projects.

“We’re on the tail end of using material to make products,” Jack Stone, Palomar College cabinet and furniture technology professor, said. “The process is much more important. When we plan and plant sustainable forests within communities, look at what we can make.”

Stone said urban forests tree chopping and milling practices are more widely used in densely forested parts of the United States. California is just reawakening to the benefits of urban forests, which begin with planting the right types of trees for future lumber.

The “From Urban Woods to Final Form” conference will be held at Palomar College T building near lot 12. For more information, go to