City Bench & CFPA

Yesterday, the Connecticut Forest & Park Association partnered with City Bench for a holiday open house at their showroom in Higganum. It was my first time to City Bench, though I have seen their work displayed in various places around the state, including CFPA’s library, Bradley International Airport, and Yale University.

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It makes total sense that CFPA, an organization that has been serving Connecticut to protect forests, parks, walking trails, and open spaces since 1895, would work with City Bench to kick off the holiday season in fine woodcrafting style.Founders Ted and Zeb Esselstyn walked us through a slide show presentation. Their business combines traditional fine woodworking with forestry, sustainability, and art. I can’t do their story justice, but you can read about it in their words here: City Bench Story.

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The popular press has also covered City Bench as they have garnered attention throughout the region. Yale Univerity has been a partner and even the New York Times has noted them. Much of  their work has been with the city of New Haven. They manage the city’s old trees by salvaging them when they come down or have to come down. Working in urban forests has unique requirements. Many of these trees would be unsuitable for traditional wood production because of the large amount of metal and obstructions (e.g. barbed wire, wiring, nails, bullets, etc.) that are found in them. Many of the trees that City Bench takes would be destined for land fill.

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After seeing City Bench, I thought of several other businesses I like that capitalize on waste streams. Moto Art repurposes products that are near and dear to my heart. They take scrap vintage aircraft products and make furniture and sculptures. I’ve thought about sending them some bits from Horst Engineering…but we try to keep the scrap to a minimum…

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Another business that comes to mind is Resource Revival. Also on the metalworking side, they repurpose old bicycle parts into all kinds of neat products. Making use of “junk’ is in vogue, but what City Bench does is truly remarkable.

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The woodworking is top-tier and the sustainable mission enhances their offerings. Looking over their stuff, I liked how every piece had a story. Essentially you get a “certification” stating the origin of the tree that was converted into your unique piece of furniture. They have worked with many of Connecticut’s notable trees and have helped private tree owners craft keepsake memories of their favorite trees long after their lives have ended.

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My favorite part of my visit was meeting Ted and Zeb, plus their mom. This family has a passion for what they do. I love family businesses. Having grown up in one, they are near and dear to my heart. Even their display space is historic. The building was part of Higganum’s old Scovil Hoe Company complex.

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I learned a bit more after Ted and Zeb sent me across the street to meet their neighbor at Kenyon Laboratories. Ken-Lab makes use of the main Scovil space to produce amazing gyros for the film, photography, and defense industries. I got a bonus tour of their factory and got to check out their new machining centers. Nothing beats a shop tour, particularly when machining is involved. I’ve had my fill of machines this week. I was in Irvine, California on Thursday and Friday to visit a customer in the aerospace industry. I’m on a machine high right now.

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My one regret from yesterday’s City Bench event is that I didn’t join my CFPA friends for the short trip up the road to the Esselstyn’s wood shop. I stuck around the showroom and talked business before commissioning a piece for one of Horst Engineering’s recently renovated conference room. I can’t wait to get back there and see the finished product.

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