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Check Out Tim O’Neill’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tim O’Neill. 

Hi Tim, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstories.
I had always been a woodworker and had recently read a book about harvesting backyard trees. I lost a tree in my backyard shortly after that, this is about 2001, so I had it sawn into lumber and it was an epiphany. I started grabbing trees from around the city from yards, stuff people would give me. I sawed them up and dried the lumber and used it for my projects. About 2005, I thought maybe I could sell this lumber to my friends (woodworkers), so I started the company. It was a pretty small operation for many years, making connections where I could, but in 2013 I partnered with a larger company, Missouri Organic. That partnership allowed us to get a building and some good equipment, and from there it took off. Since then, we have sawn over 350 thousand board feet and recycled over 2.3 million pounds of tree waste. All of our raw material comes from the waste stream and we make beautiful furniture and fixtures with our wood for people all over the city. People seem to love the story of where the wood comes from, but they also love the wood in and of itself. It’s nice to be able to offer this product to our city! 

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
It’s been a slow road; business growth has been gradual and perhaps solid in that way. We don’t do much marketing, it’s mostly word of mouth and I think that in conjunction with quality work/product is a great footing to build off of. 

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
My background or path to here is perhaps a little varied (like most people I assume). My degree is in illustration and design, and I thought would do that as a career, but I always found myself in the shop for fun. I worked as a designer/illustrator for a few years and had a good time with it. Ultimately, I found myself teaching at the Kansas City Art Institute. I was actually the interim head of design there for two years, right around the time I started sawing logs. I left teaching and went out on my own as a custom woodworker. It was during this time that I started the Urban Lumber Company. During the recession custom work was hard to get so I ended up working primarily as an exhibition designer for the Nelson Atkins. That was a fantastic job, great team. I hated to leave it, but it was about that time that I was approached by Missouri Organic and I decided to go full time into Urban Lumber. I had been doing custom work all through my time with the museum, so this kind of focused that into one spot, at the Urban Lumber Company. We get to help clients visualize all sorts of cool projects, so it’s a great mix of design, wood, and recycling. I like all that rolled up into one neat day job! 

What’s next?
I’d like to continue to grow our company, and continue to recycle as much waste stream wood as I can. My wife is a sculptor and we recently bought a large warehouse building where we live. We are planning to open up a 4–5-person shop in the basement, where we will rent space to makers who want to transition from their garage to a professional space without the overhead of a full shop during the transition. I started this way, and I think it’s a much-needed space for many people. I hope to have a great cooperative shop up and running by the fall and ideally help foster creative, quality, wood projects (or anything really) out of the space. 

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