How to repurpose my childhood tree?
June 1, 2009 1:25 PM   Subscribe

A tree that I was sentimentally attached to has died. What long-lasting thing can make out of its wood?

When I was in second grade, we planted locust seeds in Dixie cups as a class project. I planted mine just outside by bedroom window, and against all odds, it thrived for fifteen years before dying this past spring.

I am inexplicably broken up about losing this tree, which I'd watched grow from a seed with interest and pride. Because this tree was important to me as a child, I'd like to make something from its wood after we remove the tree from the yard. But what should I make?

I'm unsure how to estimate the amount of wood: though roughly two stories tall, the tree is fairly skinny --- perhaps a foot wide at its base. I have family members who are woodworkers, so skill level and tool availability are not a hurdle. Any suggestions you have would be welcome.
posted by sciapod to Science & Nature (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Make a bunch of smaller items that are useful and pleasant (drink coasters, book-ends, etc.) and give them to friends and family as gifts -- that's as "Giving Tree" as you can get.
posted by Damn That Television at 1:30 PM on June 1, 2009

When we had a big storm in my area that killed a large number of trees many of them were cut down fairly high up, so the stumps could be turned into sculptures. bears, leaping fish, buffalos, and totem poles were common themes.
posted by Kellydamnit at 1:31 PM on June 1, 2009

Some friends hired a sculptor who worked in wood to make a beautiful tall sculpture out of a beloved tree in their back yard. He did a symbolic sort of totem pole of their family. It's gorgeous.
posted by Elsie at 1:34 PM on June 1, 2009

small boxes for jewelry, etc
carve some good walking sticks if you hike
a witch
posted by sanko at 1:37 PM on June 1, 2009

My wife makes rustic furniture out of branches and other tree parts. Depending on how much wood there is, you could make a bench or a chair. This way you wouldn't need to mill the wood, or even shave the bark. The end product would remind you of your tree.

Some other friends of ours have a rustic newell post at the bottom of their stairs.
posted by bondcliff at 1:52 PM on June 1, 2009

Locust wood is perfect for xylophone keys!
posted by trip and a half at 1:53 PM on June 1, 2009

A tenor ukulele would be nice.
posted by bonobothegreat at 1:56 PM on June 1, 2009

Fetch some of its leaves and press them. Then you could make a small box with a glass inset under which the pressed leaves are displayed.

Locust wood is very hard, so it should make good hammer handles or wooden mallets. It will be difficult to carve.

Locust wood that hasn't been affected by insects is very resistant to degradation from the elements, including being buried (e.g., fence posts). You could use it to make raised planting beds if you have enough long pieces or planting boxes if you don't.
posted by jedicus at 1:59 PM on June 1, 2009

If you have a picture of the tree, make a frame for the picture out of the wood.
posted by jet_silver at 2:03 PM on June 1, 2009

... a planter... for another tree.
posted by eatdonuts at 2:09 PM on June 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

My friends family used to make beautiful wooden puzzleboxes. I can't find any good pics besides this site that's selling one. Link.
posted by anti social order at 2:09 PM on June 1, 2009

When the 300+ year old Cottonwood in my grandparents yard died while I was in college, I was pretty bummed about it. That tree had shaded 4 generations of my family and was beautiful. I mentioned my feelings to Mom who bartered for my memento. A neighbor wanted the wood because he was an artist and drum maker. They agreed to cut the tree down in 10 foot sections and he towed the sections away to his property. In exchange for all that wood and he agreed to make me a drum. The drum is made out of the outer layers of a hollowed out branch and the wood is nearly white. He then stretched hide over the ends, laced them together and added a handle. It is a very simple piece. However, it means a tremendous amount to me. He delivered it on Christmas Eve and the hide had not finished curing. I got to listen to it ping and pop and speak as the hides finished drying and tightening.
posted by onhazier at 2:10 PM on June 1, 2009

What about a tree slice table? Another example.
Bowls, pens, chairs, night stands or cabinets are other ideas that come to mind.
posted by runningwithscissors at 2:10 PM on June 1, 2009

You could bore a hole through a twig and thread it onto some thin leather cord. Alternately, I would take a small section of branch (maybe 5 inches long by 1/2 inch thick), carefully strip the bark and sand/oil it till smooth. Would make a nice little keepsake in addition to being worrystone-esque. Then you could do whatever with the rest of the tree. I had a small twig like this for several years, and each time I picked it up it became smoother and smoother.

All good things must come to an end, but the memories are forever.
posted by Night_owl at 2:28 PM on June 1, 2009

When a hurricane killed a two-foot diameter cedar tree at our beach house, I had the tree cutters carve me several 4 inch slices. I stuck the best ones under the roof of our storage shed, and let them dry well. I then sanded the best one smooth, and covered it with several layers of polyurethane. Then I had the name and date of the hurricane inscribed on it, and I sealed it again.

You can take a slice from the base, sand and seal it, and mark it something like, "Tree of my youth, Drexel Street." Perhaps it will continue to be meaningful for you over the years and decades.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 2:34 PM on June 1, 2009

The Seattle Times gardening section just did a piece about using native plants, and among the recommendations was using dead trees as centerpieces for gardening displays. Purpose-built nurse logs, if you will. Then I recommend planting more trees.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:12 PM on June 1, 2009

Cut it down quick. Split the trunk and paint the ends. This is important because as the wood dries it's going to shrink and that will cause it to crack. The cracking in an unsawn log is called checking and makes the wood virtually useless. Unless you're really in to having a table saw throw a chunk of wood at your head at a sizable percentage of the speed of sound.

I wouldn't mess with more than the straight part of the trunk. Branches have to support weight laterally and when that's gone they tend to behave badly while you're trying to work them.

Ideally you'd split and seal the ends of the trunk, and then get together with a relative as soon as possible and cut the wood into planks and/or billets on a band saw (resealing any cut ends). Then stick that away for a year or two to dry thoroughly.

You're not going to get any wide planks, but something like a step stool, or sorme sort of frame and panel constrution, like maybe a small chest, would probably work pretty well.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:38 PM on June 1, 2009

walking stick? We have one my partner made when she was in high school. It's beautiful and a treasured item. I have a friend who carves elaborate walking sticks. If you have the wood working skills, you could make something really beautiful.
posted by dchrssyr at 3:48 PM on June 1, 2009

A coworker of mine had a door made from a mesquite tree. I also like the idea of small things that you could give away.
posted by raising_arizona at 4:19 PM on June 1, 2009

Craft's blog has a Crafting With Nature section that has some great ideas. I especially love these.
posted by dogmom at 5:03 PM on June 1, 2009

I'm kinda sentimental about things like this.

I would at least make a lucky keychain out of it.
posted by jabberjaw at 5:41 PM on June 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

A collection of wooden building bricks in a custom made wooden container.

My grandfather hat this made out of a cherry tree in his garden and his children played with the brick and their children and their children...

Of cause from time to time you will have to replace a brick that got lost.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 8:31 PM on June 1, 2009

Hourglass? Rolling pin? Platter?
posted by orange swan at 10:10 PM on June 1, 2009

Have a wood worker turn a bowl for you. Bowls are wonderful, and have wonderful imagery. They are decorative and useful. I think the tree would like it.
posted by fifilaru at 10:34 PM on June 1, 2009

Personal I would make a ring out of the wood. That way you get to keep it with you wherever you go. And, wooden rings are "in" right now.
posted by elationfoundation at 8:02 AM on June 2, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you for all your great suggestions! I'm leaning toward a planer, jewlrey box, or keychain -- what nice reminders of an important piece of my childhood.
posted by sciapod at 8:57 AM on June 9, 2009

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