Business Feature: Among the Trees

How four friends started a sustainable business with leftover timbers

Those piles of timber you see outside demolition sites can be a bit of an eyesore. To Sara Buchner, Elizabeth Duck-Chong, Luke Mitchell and Peter Jorgensen, they were the inspiration for a business, Among the Trees

“The four of us realised that all that wood could be used if there was just an easy way to get it from where it was to the market we knew was out there,” says Sara. “We decided that we were that way!”

The team opened their Marrickville warehouse in early 2022, selling recycled timber out the back and running classes in the front. Recycled shop fittings are filled with eco-friendly wood finishes, locally made tools and reclaimed fittings taken from the timbers they sell. More recently they’ve added studio space for local makers using reclaimed products – not just timber – upstairs. 

In the early days, they sourced their wood from swap sites online,calling in at local building sites and doing collection runs where they would hire a truck. They now have a regular group of tradespeople who collect wood from their jobs and drop it directly to the warehouse. 

“We’ve seen a really steady increase throughout the year of people just coming straight to us,” Sara says. “They really care about the wood – so much so that we sometimes have to put a pause on things because we’re full.”

Identification of timbers is done in several ways. Some are common, some have a provenance from the owner, others are identified by Liz, who specialises in rare and exotic timbers. Quite a lot of what comes to Among the Trees is old growth timber, sometimes hundreds of years old, which is completely unavailable unless it is reclaimed.

“We’re all learning,” Sara says. “One of our great resources is old veneer catalogues that have samples of the actual timber, so we can hold them up next to our pieces and check grain and colour. There’s a guy down the road who does vintage restorations, he pops in every now and then he’s really good at identifying pieces – half the time, if he identifies it he’ll buy it, because he’s like ‘Oh, this is super rare! I have to have it!’”

In future, the team hopes to use the microscopy resources at ANU to develop an accurate timber library of the most-seen types. As Sara says, “We have a wall of eucalyptus and for some we know this is typically blackbutt, that’s typically spotted gum, but the others tend to blend into each other. A lot of it is stuff you would never see or harvest today. Every now and then we’ll get something in and look at the grain and we’ll be: ‘Wow, that would have been a big tree!”

The classes at Among the Trees are run by Luke and include green woodworking techniques like spoon carving; wood recycling and repurposing to make picture frames, spatulas or rolling pins and longer courses that include making a work bench and an introduction to upholstery. They aim to improve users’ understanding of basic woodworking tools as well, for both beginners and more advanced students. More classes are planned for this year. 

“All our streams come together in reducing waste,” says Sara. “In the future, we hope to have more consistent supply of larger-scale timbers to cater to carpenters and construction, we just need more space to store them. Right now, we’re mostly selling to DIYers and renovators who can find the perfect match for what they need. Pete can dress it or cut it to size if required, which makes life much easier for inner-city people who usually don’t have access to workshops.”

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