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Posted on Sun, Jan 27, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Reclaimed urban wood behind the success of Ypsilanti custom carpentry business

By Tom Perkins


Awards for the Ypsi Film Fest Jake Grimes created from reclaimed urban wood.

Photo courtesy of JDG

Last year, the city of Ypsilanti came to tear down the tree of Jake Grimes’ neighbor at the corner of Sherman and Oakwood Streets near Eastern Michigan University.

The tree had died seven years prior, was rotting at the top, had been dropping limbs, was infested with beetles and was growing uglier instead of up.

Grimes’ neighbor was sad to see the tree go because her family had enjoyed it as her kids grew up there. She asked city workers if they could cut several slices off the stump, and that’s when Grimes suggested a different way to keep the tree in her life.

Grimes, owner of the Ypsilanti carpentry business JDG Creations, told the neighbor he could turn the tree into a dining room table and sideboard.

The holes the beetles chewed through the tree and the mineral deposits at the bottom made the wood perfect material for creating unique furniture with personality.


A table and sideboard Grimes made out of wood from a dying tree in his neighbor's yard.

Photo Courtesy of JDG

“You had a diseased, ugly tree that needed to go but there was someone sad to see it go, so we took it and turned into something that’s beautiful,” Grimes said. “I love the fact that we made a dining room table and sideboard for a person out of the tree that was just 25 feet away from where it now sits.”

The furniture is one of several custom projects Grimes and his partner, Evan Lampe, have undertaken as they move their business from more of a standard remodeling firm to doing custom projects made out of reclaimed urban timber.

Grimes says he is becoming skilled enough to where he can build just about anything, and working with urban timber to create custom pieces is a more exciting avenue than traditional carpentry.

"I like doing the fun, quirky stuff,” he said. “I'll always stay in the building industry, but I’m doing more and more wood turning and different things. It’s one of the dying arts; there are not a lot of skilled carpenters left in the world.”

For example, Grimes recently created the awards for the Ypsi Film Fest, which are handmade pieces in the likeness of the locally iconic water tower. JDG also recently made wedding goblets and built a custom kitchen out of local cherry tree wood, among other projects.

Grimes' work even caught the attention of the Wahington Post, which mentioned him in an article on urban timber in the Ann Arbor area.

The direction of work also has put Grimes in new partnerships with local designers like Larry Macaig of Fulcrum Design/Build, as well as with a variety of blacksmiths, pottery makers, steel fabricators and other artisans.

“This collaboration with many talented people is what makes our projects so unique,” he said.

Grimes also works with Tree Frog Tree Service, a company that pulls down diseased wood. Grimes takes some of the more interesting pieces Tree Frog finds for his projects.

He explained that commercial timber producers look for spotless wood and typically avoid urban wood because it’s usually damaged in some way, whether through disease or perhaps a nail stuck in a trunk.

But it’s the character from that damage that makes the wood appealing to Grimes and fits his projects.

“People who appreciate the natural character of wood really like it,” Grimes said. “They appreciate the process of furniture making and it ties into the pride of taking something from nothing and turning into something.”

Tom Perkins is a freelance reporter for



Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 4:10 a.m.

I cannot help but be amused at the urban wood water towers...


Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 11:52 a.m.

Yippee......MADE IN AMERICA!


Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 12:05 p.m.

KIKIPIE.....And grown in America to boot


Mon, Jan 28, 2013 : 4:47 a.m.

The Dude has a Good Business Plan: 1. Sell the "Brick Dick" to EMU students and 2. Sell the "Distressed by Ash-Borer Beatles" tables to Ypsi Yuppies. Cool!!!


Sun, Jan 27, 2013 : 8:55 p.m.

Tom, thanks for introducing us to such an interesting business. The table and sideboard are gorgeous!

Dog Guy

Sun, Jan 27, 2013 : 4:07 p.m.

Those Ypsi Film Fest Awards look like very good wood.


Sun, Jan 27, 2013 : 6:36 p.m.

Doggy....Just going by the photos I gonna guess ( just a guess ) it's maple and I think the tops are a walnut stain.

J. A. Pieper

Sun, Jan 27, 2013 : 3:51 p.m.

I would take this over perfect wood any day, these creations are so beautiful!


Sun, Jan 27, 2013 : 3:34 p.m.

We had to have two huge beautiful maples removed last year. One had been dead for a year and the other was fast approaching death. We believe the retention pond from the subdivision they bult next door contributed to their demise. The chips from one are being used on our paths through a wooded area at the back of our property. The tree removal company took the chips from the other one unfortunately. I like knowing that the tree is still here in another form but I like Mr. Grimes solution so much better.


Sun, Jan 27, 2013 : 12:22 p.m.

Really interesting business. There's always a demand for quality!


Sun, Jan 27, 2013 : 12:09 p.m.

Sweet.I love it.There's quite a bit of cool wood out there.There is a house on Edison in Ypsi Twp with two chunks next to the road ( they were still there a few months ago ) that could be made into something cool.I had a walnut tree cut down a few years ago and had it cut into planks,which I still have some left.I gave some to a friend of my parents who used it in making a real nice kitchen table.I'm no " environmentalist " but I hate to see good wood being wasted and really old wood is getting pretty rare these days


Sun, Jan 27, 2013 : 11:48 a.m.

LOVE it! Thanks for the article!


Sun, Jan 27, 2013 : 11:28 a.m.

Nice article, Tom. I can't help but grin at the water tower-shaped awards!


Sun, Jan 27, 2013 : 10:27 p.m.

Get yer head outta the gutter ottozrule :)