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"The story of the tree is there if you'll listen to it."

-- Andy Baugus

There are two kinds of treehuggers, those of us who try to save living trees from wanton destruction and the more rare breed, those who save dead trees. Andy Baugus is in the rare breed category. It was in 1989, after strong winds toppled some huge trees in Northwest Arkansas, many in Fayetteville's historic district, that Andy realized he just couldn't take it any more. The sight of those magnificent hulks piled up for disposal by flames or by chipping prompted a decision he's still living with today. He rescued 15 or 20 of those old-timers -- maples, walnuts, oaks -- not even sure what he'd do with their massive bodies, but knowing he'd at least try to find a way to give them a second life.

Baugus wrestled in the early years to find the right tools for slicing tree trunks lengthwise, since some of the hand-held sawing equipment available was doing more damage to him than to anything else. He finally settled on a Lucas Mill for slicing trunks into slabs. Fortunately he is a man familiar with operating big machinery and uses that knowledge and skill to physically manage massive timbers.

Andy explained "2nd Life Wood," the name of his business, saying, "The mission and philosophy is to conserve forests with the help of other like-minded woodworkers globally. I can do my part here in Northwest Arkansas as others can elsewhere, others who also want to be good stewards of our planet's resources." To this end, he has rescued trees from ravines, creeks, yards, roadsides, building sites, etc., and, of course, each removal presents its own challenges. Back hoes, track hoes, roll-back trucks, winches, cables, large industrial fork lifts, bulldozers, tractors and flat bed trucks have all played parts in transporting trees to the mill site. Of course, spine, muscle, grit, guts, sweat and maybe occasional tears and blood are part of the process of moving giants around as well.

After the slabs are cut, they are separated with wood strips and stacked for up to 3 years before they are put in the kiln to finish drying to an 8 to 12 percent moisture content, which is furniture grade. Then the fun begins.

Andy's passion for wood and the surprise each tree's interior holds is equaled by his respect for the life stories of these rescued trees. Andy keeps a record of each one, noting when, why and where it was cut or salvaged. For example, the Chinese elm slab I recently bought for a table top was cut in 2007, when Parsons Stadium in Springdale was being expanded, according to its numbered tag entry information in the tree journal. Charles Killian's headboard has a much better story. The book-matched elm slabs towering over where he now sleeps are from a tree he sat under as a kid. One end of his mom's clothesline was tied around the trunk, and his dad's garden was nearby in their yard on College Avenue.

" The individual slab can and will tell you what to do. Just look at it. Its unique shape and character will guide you," says the woodworker, adding, "Waste not, want not." These slabs have become conference, coffee, dining and kitchen tables, as well as mantles, counters, bars, benches and wall art. Each cut is unique, exposing the years of a lifetime.

Andy admits that although he'd rather do art than chase wealth, he isn't opposed to making a living from his work. He has recently completed building a showroom gallery for some of his finished pieces. It is at his mill site on Concord Lane, 3.2 miles out Arkansas 45, east of the Arkansas 265 intersection. (Turn right on Concord and right at the first driveway.) He's having a grand opening Saturday from 10am-5pm. His website, www.2ndlifewood.com, is loaded with pictures of finished pieces and unfinished slabs.

One bit of advice: Andy can usually be found in his shop or working on the grounds somewhere. Entering either area takes a certain level of adventurous spirit, so be forewarned. The new gallery, however, is easily accessible. Just park wherever a space is available. And, oh yes, do not start throwing the toy his dog will bring you, or you'll never quit.

Commentary on 05/17/2016

Print Headline: Out of the woods

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