Steamboat woodworkers rescue beetle-killed pine
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – The abundance of beetle-killed pine in the area is stirring the creativity of local woodworkers, who are finding a wide variety of uses for the low-cost, distinctive lumber.Outhouses. Garden sheds. Compost bins. Meditative altars. Benches, coffee tables and picture frames. Display containers for SmartWool and Rocky Mountain Peddler.These and more are among the products coming out of Routt County wood shops and sawmills lately, as logging projects in North Routt County, on Mount Werner and across Steamboat Springs produce large quantities of beetle-killed wood. Some Front Range communities reported difficulties finding Colorado-sourced beetle-kill earlier this year, partly because of competition from areas including other Western states – and Canada – that have more established logging operations. But that difficulty doesn’t seem to exist in northwest Colorado.Of the 1.16 million acres in Colorado affected by bark beetles in recent years, 245,000 acres were in Routt County – more than any other part of the state, according to aerial research conducted by the U.S. and Colorado State forest services in 2008. That means plenty of opportunity for local supply.”It’s the most inexpensive wood you can get right now,” said Jimmy Morton, who has been a woodworker in the county for 22 years and now runs his Frontier Finishes business out of a wood shop just east of Milner. Morton recently completed a bench made of multicolored beetle-killed pine that will be displayed at a Torian Plum Plaza business this summer. He hopes to sell the bench for $600.On the same property as Morton, and often in conjunction with Frontier Finishes, Ed Watson’s Wood Wise Productions offers sawmill services, custom furniture and more.Watson gets his supply from several local loggers and so far has found no shortage of interest from taxidermists; ranchers; homeowners looking for decking, siding or fencing; and more.”It’s crazy,” Watson said, talking about plans for increased marketing efforts across the West. “There’s a lot of people kicking the tires. Stuff’s starting to come in.”Recently, Watson said he was cutting beetle-killed lumber for siding on a home in Steamboat II. Last month, he sold a beetle-killed outhouse through Home ReSource near the Milner Landfill. He’s making more of that product and said he’s open to all custom requests.Besides ongoing logging near Steamboat Lake in North Routt, the local beetle-kill supply also is fueled by logging operations from a $1 million grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Colorado State Forest Service. The city of Steamboat Springs received the grant in the fall for removal of trees that present a wildfire risk in the Steamboat area. Rogue Resources is conducting the work.On Copper Ridge Drive in Steamboat Springs, Chris Bradley is building and selling beetle-killed compost bins through his Sacred Resource business, which is grounded in a conservation ethic. Bradley said he plans to sell the bins at the Mainstreet Farmers Market this summer, at the Deep Roots booth.”It’s a good use of the material,” Bradley said about the bins. “It’s local, it’s biodegradable. Between recycling and composting, my trash is probably 25 percent of what it used to be.”He noted that while beetle-kill is abundant, there are other reasons for its low cost: Beetle-killed pine often is not kiln-dried, he said, and if it’s been standing, dead timber for too long, it can be prone to splits.”It’s perfect for compost bins,” he said.The cost difference can be significant. Bradley said that while mahogany, for example, can cost about $8 per board-foot, beetle-killed pine can go for 75 cents a board-foot.Morton, Watson and other local beetle-killed furniture makers are banking that the finished product outshines the challenges. Morton said it’s a misconception that beetle-killed wood is of a lower quality.”When I build furniture with it, I just work around the splits,” he said.Every piece of beetle-killed pine has unique, colorful characteristics – known as blue stain – created by fungus that beetles introduce into the wood. Watson said in his experience, beetle-killed pine from the Sanctuary area is predominantly blue, and beetle-kill from near Steamboat Lake often is streaked with red and orange.”Once you plane that down for furniture, it just pops,” Watson said. “It’s beautiful stuff.”
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