Sustainability ingrained at local woodworking business
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Farming out work
Initially the company was self-funded but just when the economy headed south in 2007, Morrison was looking to expand his facilities, including a larger barn to serve as the sawmill. A rural neighbor offered an existing barn, which was moved with the help of the same investors who had advised Morrison to quit his day job. In that restored farmstead, located on the south end of Fish Hatchery Road, the company runs its own sawmill, drying kiln, and a full custom woodworking shop and gallery.
The Wood Cycle staff from left: Scott Petranek, Alex Stehle, Mathew McCoy, Andy Lynch, and Paul Morrison (seated).
About 80% of its work is done for residential customers and 20% is done on behalf of commercial interests, including professions trying to shed their cold corporate images with warmer furnishings. “I’d say the commercial segment is probably held back more than anything by fact this whole urban wood concept still is a little bit too new,” Morrison says. “There are no good definitions or specifications that architects and designers are able to point to and define what we’re doing.”
As part of an urban wood organization, Morrison is working with architects and spec writers to better define urban wood. The concept is well aligned with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, and there are local-sourcing categories where urban wood can garner LEED points, but the organization still hasn’t established a way to rank or qualify it.
Meanwhile, Morrison has dabbled in blogging and social media platforms like Pinterest and Instagram. While they have yet to produce clients, he knows The Wood Cycle must stick with social media because when the next generation of customers, the millennials, invest more in homes and are ready to use The Wood Cycle’s services, they are likely to be very receptive to its sustainable business model.
The Wood Cycle has worked on wood from a variety of tree species, including wood provided by people who had no use for their trees. In those situations, the company didn’t necessarily have a use for the wood either but Morrison hates to decline good wood so he partnered with Habitat for Humanity restores to prepare and supply wood for Habitat’s home-construction projects.
“It’s another option for people with trees they have to remove,” he explains. “We found out all the other hobby woodworkers around here are interested in this local lumber. At this point, we’re probably milling 1,000 board-feet a month just for other woodworkers in the area and then supplying it through the restores.”
Although Madison could be considered the birthplace of urban wood recycling, the practice has since spread to other cities. Seven years ago, one of the editors of Fine Woodworking, a publication for woodworking hobbyists, was in the Madison area and stopped by for a look at the shop. The editor remarked to Morrison that he had never seen this type of business model before and the resulting publicity helped spread the word. Similar businesses now exist in a dozen U.S. cities, including New York, Seattle, and St. Louis.
A bicycle built with wood
Perhaps one day, these imitators will copy The Wood Cycle when it comes to making all-wood bicycles. One of Morrison’s unfulfilled ambitions is to construct a functional bicycle using nothing but wood (including the tires), a concept that originated with his grandfather. When asked if one of the impediments is consumer reluctance about getting splinters from the bicycle seat (in an area where removing the splinters would be somewhat embarrassing and require help), Morrison provided a product guarantee.
“When it’s built, it will be smooth enough where it can be safely ridden on,” he asserts with a chuckle. “I haven’t abandoned the idea but I think I’d have to really retire in order to do that.”
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