The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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When trees attack!


As much as I enjoy trees, their look, their majesty, their dignity, and everything that they provide to the human race; they aren’t all that great when they fall onto your house. A few days ago my neighbor’s, and I use the term ‘neighbor’ very loosely, Ash tree fell into the back corner of my house. The trunk had rotted, probably eaten away by insects, and half split off and crashed into my mudroom. Fortunately, the mudroom is a separate room that is attached to the side of my house, and though it was damaged fairly badly, we only use the room for storage. Unfortunately, part of the canopy of the tree also hit the main body of my house, putting a hole in the roof, tearing off shingles, and also ripping my nearly brand new gutter from the house. There was also a good deal of collateral damage as well; a stone wall behind my house had a roughly ten foot section collapse, three very large and pretty Hostas that my wife had planted when we first purchased the house ten years ago were destroyed, and several other smaller plants were also completely annihilated. It was a large tree.

My neighbor, bless her, called me last night to inform me that her insurance company says that she has no liability in the situation and that I should handle it myself. I politely thanked her for calling and hung up. Because I’m a pretty smart guy, I already knew that and had already made arrangements with my insurance company and a tree removal service. I didn’t want to get into a discussion of legal responsibility vs. moral responsibility. Just as I am not really legally responsible to keep my yard in tip top shape, I believe it is the correct thing to do. Just as I am not legally responsible to pick up litter, I still do it whenever I see it. I am a good neighbor and home owner. Wait, let me rephrase that: I am a fucking outstanding neighbor and homeowner. My house is well kept, my yard immaculate, my sidewalks are clean, my gardens tended. My wife and I are quiet people, we don’t involve ourselves in other’s business. We are on friendly terms with most of our neighbors. Not to pat myself on the back too hard, but anybody reading this blog would be lucky to have people like my wife, daughter, and myself as a neighbor. There was a time when being a good neighbor meant something. Rampant liberalism ruined that idea. Now before anybody here accuses me of being Rush Limbaugh, don’t. I am neither a liberal or a conservative, I think all politicians are douche bags. I believe that all citizens have the personal responsibility of maintaining their property and everything on it to the best of their abilities regardless of what the law, any lawyers or any politicians have to say about it, and that includes pruning trees that really don’t look all that hot.

Now that my brief essay on moral philosophy is over with, I actually have some okay news. The other day the lovely, talented, highly intelligent, gracious, generous, and living proof that God is an Irish woman, Megan Fitzpatrick, posted free, downloadable plans for a Stickley #802 sideboard that I think looks like a great project. The not so lovely Christopher Schwarz wrote the article for Woodworking Magazine some time during 2009. Though the Harvey Ellis curve is a hair too dramatic for me, I otherwise think it is a great example of Arts and Crafts furniture, and I have the perfect place for it in my family room. I am a huge fan of Arts and Crafts designs, firstly because they look good in my home, and secondly because they are straightforward to build. I believe this will be my next project, though I will wait until the end of the summer before I start it; woodworking in the heat is not for me anymore. With the Stickley sideboard and the ever looming presence of The Hand Tool School I believe that my woodworking for autumn is set. Now if I can get my house fixed and keep any more of my neighbors unpruned trees from falling on it things will be alright.



  1. Art Watson says:

    Clicking the unlike button. 😦 trees don’t belong on top of homes.

  2. bloksav says:

    I have a hard time understanding that your neighbor can not be held responsible for the tree.
    If there had been a hurricane and an otherwise sound and healthy tree had tipped over. Sure the owner of the tree should not be held responsible.
    But in the case where a tree is partly rotted and perhaps have even shown signs of it, then it is improper maintenance and the owners insurance should pay.
    But like you have noticed, there is sadly often a huge difference between moral obligation and legal obligation.
    The really sad thing about this is that the only people who benefit from this slide in the public behavior are lawyers etc.
    Sometimes it is hard not to dream of the 50’ies or 60’ies where apparently there existed a higher code of morale. At least in this particular case.
    I know that there were other things that weren’t quite as good in those days, but the entire idea of keeping home and property in a good shape I believe was held in higher regard than now.

    Regarding the curve, I agree that it is a bit dominant, but I am not sure how it will look without it, or with a lesser curve?

    good luck with the clean up.


  3. billlattpa says:

    According to the insurance adjuster, the only way my neighbor could have been held responsible is if the tree was visibly rotting or dead. While the tree looked pretty bad and had never been pruned, it didn’t appear to be in as bad a condition as it turned out to be. I was constantly cutting branches from it that were brushing against my roof and siding. The woman who owns the house has simply never paid attention to it or much of her yard for that matter. Now, the rest of the tree is still up and it’s still a very large portion, enough to where if it did fall into my house the damage would be extremely bad. So I’m hoping she takes the initiative and has it removed before I have to legally force her to do it. But I guess being a good neighbor means little anymore, at least in some places.

    As far as the sideboard, I think it is a great design and would go perfectly in my family room just as a decorative piece. I love the curves associated with Harvey Ellis, this one is a bit pronounced for my taste. If I do any modifying to the design I think it would be to just soften the curve a little. Thanks

  4. Brian Eve says:

    Perhaps there is some lumber on that tree worth snagging? That sideboard in ash would be cool, especially with the story of it falling on your house!

    • billlattpa says:

      That’s a great idea but unfortunately the tree is too damaged to use. Funny you mentioned that because not too long ago somebody in my neighborhood had a very large oak tree come down on their property and damage their sunroom. The tree came down in a storm so the wood was in great shape. The tree was nearly 50ft tall and there was the opportunity to get some very nice, wide boards from it. I just couldn’t figure out a way to approach somebody I didn’t know and ask if I could take some of the tree that nearly destroyed his house. Oh well.

  5. You sure none of it is usable? A small piece of riven Ash would make a very nice spring pole for a lathe

    • billlattpa says:

      I’ll check it out but I don’t think so. About a 20ft section of trunk came down and it was completely rotted out. There are some nice limbs more than a foot in diameter that are in good shape but I don’t think too many people want to use limb stock for anything. If they take the other part of the tree down (which they really need to do) I may have a look at it.

  6. That really stinks and I’m sorry you have to deal with it. I feel your pain with not-so-great neighbors. We have 4 homes out of the 20ish around us that look like junk yards or abandoned because of their lack of care. What is unfortunate is that they are keeping people who would care for their yards from moving into the area (two people actually said they would not consider a home for sale because of the neighbor’s yards), so I really fear for the future. We’re only going to get more like them as others move out.

    I agree that it is wrong that she isn’t liable. I really hope she takes the rest down with no issues!

    • billlattpa says:

      The sad part is that her house is actually pretty nice. Her yard is very long, roughly 100 yards, from driveway to the back door of her house. Originally two trees framed the entrance to the portion of her yard nearest to her house. At one time they were very nice but they haven’t been kept up with for at least 5 years. The way the tree grows, it needs constant pruning to keep stress off of the trunk and unfortunately for us that just hasn’t happened. I spent many hours removing limbs that were weighing down the large branches in the hopes that the tree would grow up rather than out, but I could not legally go onto her property and do what really needed to be done. Besides, I’m not an arborist and I don’t own the equipment to do it right anyway. I was back there again yesterday afternoon sawing off more of the heavy limbs that still remain. I just hope that she has it removed very soon. The tree is still very large with a massive split trunk, if the rest falls and it does it my house there would be major, major damage done, not to mention the real possibility of injury. I’m going over to our borough manager this week and explaining the situation, I just hope that it doesn’t get too ugly. Thanks.

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