I was on a construction jobsite in N. Minneapolis. We were doing the ridiculous work of dismantling, then cutting down walls from a 100-year-old garage. We were going to re-use the walls for the framing of the new garage 10 feet to the left.
I am one of those annoying people who asks the question “Why?” a lot. Why were we reusing 100-year-old lumber? Wouldn’t it be faster to build new from the ground up?
Steve Walden, a multi-decade experienced, ninja-level carpenter/mason grabbed a chunk of 2x4 we had just cut out from this 100-year-old garage and held it next to one that had recently been purchased from Home Depot. He put them side-by-side and showed me the end grain.
The 100-year-old 2x4 was “old growth” lumber. The Home Depot 2x4 was “new growth.” The old growth lumber had somewhere around 30 growth rings (one growth ring represents one year in the life of the tree). New growth had eight. Steve handed me the blocks, one in each hand. I could immediately feel the difference. Old growth had weight. It had substance. It was dense and strong. New growth made me wonder if it was going to split in two if I tried to drive a nail through it.
I’ve been hearing the whispers of God saying ridiculous things like, “Grow as slowly as possible” and “Be as small as possible.” It sounded like crazy talk at first, but I’m starting to fall in love with those ideas.
Trees that don’t have to compete for sunlight (“trees” that don’t wrestle and struggle with God) grow so quickly that they become weak. Trees that don’t struggle can grow to a “usable” size within 30 years. Chop ‘em down and pack ‘em up. Fast production. Fast achievement. Fast houses. Short life-span. The lumber expands and contracts through the seasons. The lumber is unstable. The lumber is very susceptible to termites. The lumber is weak. It still works! It still produces what we want. Houses are still being thrown up. It is effective. It is quick. It is easy to cut, easy to shape, easy to use. In many ways, it is good.
Old growth trees wrestle with God. Life is hard. Progress is slow. In a single year there is very, VERY little growth. They wonder if they will even survive. Forest fires blaze through. 200 years pass and they are finally becoming “usable.” But then, the lumber is stable. The lumber is naturally rot-resistant. The lumber is strong. The lumber can span great distances and strike wonder in the hearts of new-growth builders. The lumber resists termites. The lumber is dense and hard to chew for the little buggers. It’s not effective in the modern American way of approaching effectiveness. It is long-lasting. It perseveres. It endures. It is hard to cut, hard to shape, hard to use. But, it is good.
Learn more about old growth wood here.