Three men in neon-colored hard hats push the blade through a black acacia tree trunk, slicing it into three 1/2-inch-thick slabs and exposing stunning lines and swirls.
"That acacia's beautiful," said John Dominguez, the director of a 2-month-old partnership between Anaheim-based West Coast Arborists and Woodhill Firewood in Irvine, adding that the old-growth grain is something that "you'll never see" on the market today.
It takes eight minutes to cut each 11-foot-long slab because the wood is so hard, said Tom Rogers, owner of Woodhill Firewood, which takes in 600 tons a day from tree trimming and removal jobs. The acacia should yield eight to 10 slabs, he said. Each might surpass 250 pounds, and with luck they'll be sold to artisans to make tables and other pieces.
The tree, which fell in Monrovia Canyon Park in December, and a nearby deodar cedar that fell in Arcadia, are examples of how the popularity of salvaged wood furniture has produced a secondary trend: rising efforts to ensure that urban trees, including those that fall during storms, don't end up in landfills.
It's not a new idea to turn such trees into lumber, and some communities such as Lompoc have embraced it. The state has even lent equipment to those who want to try milling. But until recently, trees that fell or were removed by homeowners and cities in Southern California were mostly treated as trash -- perhaps firewood or mulch, officials say.
PHOTO GALLERY: How salvaged trees become hand-crafted furniture
Dominguez, who has been charmed by wood since playing standup bass in youth symphonies, said he would like to make more connections with furniture makers and wood artisans and see more closed-loop recycling: A tree falls and gets turned into lumber that's used in flooring in, say, a city building. "Walk into City Hall, and you're walking on street trees," he said.
Ferris Kawar, a recycling specialist in Burbank, says about 1% of what goes to the landfill is wood -- an amount he calls "obscene." Branches from downed trees become mulch, he says, but the trunks often go to the landfill.