Bismarck carpenter spends thousands of hours working with historic Elm tree from Lisbon

Michael Knodel holding up the smallest cookie of the 18' in circumference tree
Michael Knodel holding up the smallest cookie of the 18' in circumference tree(KFYR)
Published: Oct. 25, 2022 at 6:31 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - When an enormous and historic American Elm tree in Lisbon was diagnosed with Dutch Elm Disease and cut down in June, a Bismarck-based carpenter got to work salvaging the remnants. In July, Michael Knodel stripped and burned the bark, sliced the tree into cookies, and moved huge portions of the tree into his kiln to kill the bugs causing the disease. Three months later, he’s ready to start the next step of the process.

Knodel has been carefully using an app on his phone to monitor the temperature and humidity in his kiln over the past 21 days. A healthy tree can have a moisture content of 70 percent or higher, which means it could take a tree like this one, which had a circumference of nearly 18 feet, a year or two to dry out naturally... and that doesn’t kill the bugs or mold in the wood.

The kiln has pulled about 28 gallons of water each day from the elm. As Knodel opens the unit, he’s looking forward to what’s next.

“The best part of woodworking is it’s always a surprise. You can’t wait for the next step. It’s always a new reveal,” said Michael Knodel, owner-operator of Midwest Millworx, Michael K Construction.

The kiln ensures the wood comes out dry and sanitized.

“That’s something we want to be able to do is certify this is free of bugs, insects, larvae, mold,” said Knodel.

He unloaded the first part of the tree and moved the cookies one at a time to his mill for a first pass smoothing the slabs.

“This is the largest tree we have worked with currently,” said Knodel.

He had to purchase two pieces of equipment just because the tree was so large. Michael said the total time put into this historic elm has easily been over 1,000 hours, and there’s much more to go. He says the process is worth it.

“I enjoy doing this, more than I enjoy doing anything else. Sometimes I am in here until like two, three in the morning, maybe four,” said Knodel.

The largest part of the tree will go into the kiln next.

The rings of the tree have not yet been counted by an official, but Knodel’s preliminary guess is that the tree is around 200 years old.

After Knodel processes the tree, he plans to turn part of it into something special for the city of Lisbon. The rest, he plans to sell back to the community at a discounted rate to offset his costs. The project, he hopes, will allow people to keep a little piece of history alive.