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Green woodworker turns scraps into beautiful furniture

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Liberty Woodworking in the Saint Pete Times NewsST. PETERSBURG — Driving around town, Billy Dunn scans for "urban timber," trees felled by lightning or disease. Even discarded wood catches his eye. And when he sees possibilities, he calls Pete Richardson who, like Dunn, is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council and the Viable Lumber cooperative in St. Petersburg.

"Most people don't know they have these really exotic, beautiful hardwood trees in their back yard," Richardson says.

Ornamental trees, most likely planted in the 1950s and '60s, even the tropicals, Dunn says, grow denser and slower and show tighter rings because of the weather here, which, for him, makes the wood more attractive with better quality.

Off-cut wood and scraps collect and pile up at his shop, Liberty Woodworking, on First Avenue S. But it's just a matter of time before the piles become a table, bench, bar or shelves. "I've always saved every piece of wood," he says. "I get a piece of wood, and I think about what I'm going to do with it."

His attitude toward wood all started for the self-described Army brat when he was about 6 years old and his father was stationed in Cairo. "Wood is scarce in Egypt," he says of the country where he took his first woodshop class. "I grew accustomed to seeing any kind of wood reused. That stuff doesn't get thrown away.

"Green, in my mind, is durable. If you make something that doesn't last," he says, "that's just a waste. That's not green."

In Egypt, Dunn says, he started buying tools whenever he had spare money. From there, his family moved to Germany, and then to Maryland, where Dunn eventually went pro as a builder of stage sets.

On a trip to St. Petersburg to visit a friend, he met his future wife and moved here in 2001. After stints working for other people, he opened the shop about eight years ago and named it after his daughter, Liberty.

Working green is something Dunn has always done, in one way or another, he says, because reusing is second nature. And another factor came into play. After he bought some Chinese plywood for cabinetry work, exposure to possible toxic materials affected him. While cutting it, "my chest would tighten up and my tonsils would swell," he says. "I thought to myself, 'This isn't something you want in your house.' "

About three years ago, Dunn decided he wanted to do something about the pile of wood scraps in his shop, and he put a "ridiculous amount of hard work and energy" into building a machine, that as far as he knows is the only one of its kind, to mill and join the scraps together to make boards.

"It takes woods that are all shapes and sizes," he says, "and makes them one cohesive thing." And that became ReharvestedWood, the term he trademarked to describe it. "I take scrap material, stuff that's on the way to the Dumpster," he says. "It doesn't get any greener than this."

Elizabeth McCann is a freelance writer based in St. Petersburg.

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Billy Dunn
6563 46th St. N. #702
Pinellas Park, FL 33781

Telephone: 727.824.7785

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