The Urban Lumberjack – The Accidental Eco-Warrior of the City

an urban lumberjack dumpster diving

Urban lumberjacking is a new term that has been coined to describe a growing core of people who seek lumber in urban situations. Typically the urban lumberjack’s activities include diving into skips (dumpsters) and rubbish bins in an attempt to find the precious wood stored within. The great thing about the army of urban lumberjacks is that they actively work to reduce the amount of waste by businesses and homes by salvaging large chunks of β€˜rubbish’ and turning it into something useful.

What do urban lumberjacks use their lumber for?

Urban lumberjacks typically use their lumber for one of two reasons. The first reason is that timber that is found can be prepared for use in furniture or home projects. The second reason is to find a cheap source of firewood. With firewood costing more and more these days, why wouldn’t you (though you do want to be careful about burning painted or treated wood)!  Building home projects with found timber is also a great idea. Buying good timber new is a very expensive thing and a person can save many hundreds of dollars by cutting this cost out and finding their own timber.

What do I need to become an urban lumberjack

The first piece of equipment that an urban lumberjack will need is a sturdy pair of leather gloves. This is obvious because we will be working with old wood which will potentially cause splinters to enter your hands. The second item required will be a claw hammer, preferably two. These will be used to remove nails and break apart larger wooden structures so that individual pieces of wood can be salvaged. Third item is a crowbar: this is not essential but may assist in taking apart wooden structures that are nailed together. A screwdriver set is also very important as there may be screws in the wood you find that need to be removed to make salvaging practical. The final item that you will need is a car, or access to a car to transport your treasure back to your home or workshop.

Where should I look?

The best place to look for decent wood that has been thrown out is at various businesses rather than homes. Specifically, shops or buildings that have been refitted are great sources of timber. Old shelving is often very easy to come by, but this is typically made from medium density fibreboard or chipboard. This is one of the cheapest wood products around and is also unsuitable as firewood. It may be what you need for your project though. Solid pieces of hardwoods are a bit harder to find. A good place to also look is out the back of bulk commercial and light industrial businesses. At the very least, broken discarded pallets are an easy-to-find source of timber that can be used for many projects, and are suitable for firewood.

What urban lumberjacking is not

Urban lumberjacking does not include stealing from construction sites. This is theft, and not a form of recycling. By choosing to steal lumber you are not part of the urban lumberjack brotherhood, but a thief instead. The police will rain swift justice on such people. Another thing that is not urban lumberjacking is ripping up your floorboards or using furniture as firewood. Although this may take a certain amount of woodworking skill to do, burning your own wooden possessions is rightfully considered by many to be an act of desperation.


Urban lumberjacking is a rewarding and environmentally friendly activity that should be performed by more people. It is a promising sign of the times to see that the recycling message has been taken so strongly by many that we have terms like this being used now. Remember, recycling one ton of wood saves approximately 18 million BTUs of heat energy, so by recycling timber we’re having a very profound impact on the environment.

This essay about recycled timber and urban lumberjacking is brought to you by Fremantle Timber Traders. We’re basically a business-sized group of urban lumberjacks. If you would like to read more about us and what we want to say, you may also want to read – Recycled Timber – Tips For Choosing And Working With Reclaimed Wood

Image credit: Larry Powell/Shutterstock

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