Eco Wise

Woodworker's Goal: No Log Left Behind

Chris Holmgren makes chairs, flooring and other products from salvaged wood at Seneca Creek Joinery in Montgomery County.
Chris Holmgren makes chairs, flooring and other products from salvaged wood at Seneca Creek Joinery in Montgomery County. (By Pat Holmgren)
By Eviana Hartman
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, September 14, 2008

Most people don't think about what happens to trees and branches when they're trimmed, knocked down by storms or felled because of disease. But according to the U.S. Forest Service, 3.8 billion board feet of perfectly good lumber are discarded or burned every year, equivalent to one-third of the annual domestic timber harvest.

Chris Holmgren, 49, wants to change that. As the owner of Seneca Creek Joinery (, a custom wood shop, mill and processor in Dickerson, the master craftsman hand-hews Windsor chairs and products from firewood to flooring.

For years, Holmgren has used local and salvaged timber, and now, with help from a Forest Service grant, he is partnering with communities and companies to take in fallen trees. His business has added a wood kiln and sawmill to tackle every step of production. The goal? Inspiring other entrepreneurs in the D.C. area to follow his business model so that no local trees go to waste.

We spoke with the Montgomery County resident about turning what might otherwise be garbage into gold, and the importance of making the most of local resources.

What do you do at Seneca Creek Joinery?

We make almost anything in wood. We specialize in Windsor chairs using 18th-century tools, but I also do modern cabinetry. We do doors, windows, whatever our customer wants.

Have you always been interested in sustainably harvested wood?

My parents grew up during the Depression. I was taught "waste not, want not." I knew that long before I understood what it meant. I've worked with wood and carpentry and cabinetry for 30 years. I started as a hobbyist when I was a kid. I've got sawdust in my blood. There just wasn't anything else I was going to do.

When did you start your company? Was it always green?

I started in '94 or '95, and I was using local wood from farms. Folks would show up at the shop with a log, saying, "Well, here it is. We took it down, and we don't want to see it go to waste." People were always bringing me logs. I'd see somebody taking a tree down, and I'd talk to them and give them some nice logs out of it.

How did the Urban Wood Recovery Project, the program you're running with the Forest Service grant, come about?

Brian LeCouteur of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments gave a waste-wood workshop a couple years ago. I called to RSVP . . . and before I was done he talked me into making a presentation. . . .

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company