Words :: Carmen Kuntz.
Tyler Spence slowly guides a 60-inch chainsaw blade—easily twice the length of his extended arm—across the rough bark of a cedar tree laying across a Squamish Valley logging road. The massive saw, gliding smoothly along a steel Alaskan Mill frame, is equal parts toy, tool and trade for Spence, an ex-competitive skier who now turns trees into tables.
The saw engine snarls, sawdust flies and by the time Spence and his friends have carefully loaded the metre-wide, four-metre-long slabs into his truck, the only evidence that a tree once blocked this road will be a pair of stubs in the ditch on either side. Eventually, the wood harvested performing this public service will sit in someone’s dining room, the growth patterns in the grain only hinting at the stories of adventure and effort hidden beneath the polished surface.
“My grandpa introduced me to the Alaskan Mill,” Spence says, “one he actually made himself.” A rudimentary and portable milling system, the Alaskan Mill is comprised of an adjustable pair of rails that guide a chainsaw through a log, maintaining a consistent, predetermined thickness. Standing alone it’s an unassuming tool, but paired with a chainsaw, the simple steel bars come alive, capable of turning massive trees into manageable lumber, even in remote locations.
Spence’s grandfather, a career woodworker and furniture builder in Vancouver, passed his old Alaskan Mill down to his grandson. After years of upgrading and modifying it to match bigger chainsaws and mammoth logs, Spence recently retired the mill—his work has literally outgrown it.
From snow to sawdust, Spence’s transition from athlete to artist was propelled by injury. The Penticton native spent six years competing with the biggest names in North American freeskiing before giving up the competitive halfpipe scene in 2008 after a series of concussions. Before going back to school, he moved in with Squamish skiers Rory Bushfield and Sarah Burke to enjoy a laid-back season of fun, friends, pow, and “proper ski bumming.”
“When I moved in, I noticed Rory had a ton of big wood slabs drying out,” Spence recalls. “The garage was filled with them.” This makeshift shop became the base for a deep friendship and countless chainsaw adventures. “It was our hobby after skiing or biking. Rory and I used furniture-making and milling as an excuse to get out into the wilderness more, exploring and finding unique, large pieces of wood.” The duo used their middle names to label their handiwork and Warren & Wayne furniture began populating living rooms of friends and family.
After earning a degree in construction management, Spence ditched the traditional career arc/desk job and connected with Mary Lynne McCutcheon, a family friend and ace cabinet maker based out of Canmore, Alberta. After four months of apprenticeship, Spence decided to make the leap and pursue furniture construction full-time.
“Rory and I were pretty rough with chainsaws and sanders,” Spence admits. “It was more about being creative, not so much fine woodworking—so learning the proper skills was important.”
Most of his wood comes from trees that have fallen across logging roads or dropped in someone’s yard. “Now that people are getting to know me, instead of paying an arborist to wood chip a tree, they ask me to turn it into furniture.”
After two years building in a communal workshop in Vancouver, Spence opened his own shop in Squamish’s industrial district just over a year ago. “Getting to make a bunch of sawdust every day gives me a joy that’s similar to skiing,” he says. “I like how there isn’t one set way to do things with woodworking, just like there isn’t just one way to ski a mountain.”
Properly drying the massive slabs is the most time-consuming part of building furniture. “You cut this wood and finally get to see what the grain looks like and you get all excited and then you have to wait a year to use it,” says Spence, who air-dries most of his lumber but will rent a local wood kiln if he’s in a rush. Luckily, searching and sourcing wood is a constant adventure, and Bushfield often still joins in on the fun.
Most of his wood comes from trees that have fallen across logging roads or dropped in someone’s yard. Spence is highly conscious of the role fallen trees play in forest ecosystems, and never takes from park or protected areas. “Now that people are getting to know me, instead of paying an arborist to wood chip a tree, they ask me to turn it into furniture.”
“I think what makes Ty’s furniture unique is the story behind each piece of wood,” Bushfield says. “He’s out there getting the craziest pieces, having the wildest adventures.” From driftwood collected along river banks and beaches, to fallen trees on mountains roads, all Warren & Wayne pieces start with an adventure and come with a story weaved into the grain. Some you can see, but most you can’t.
Excerpted from ML Coast Mountains, Summer ’19.