Can I Make You Something From the Davie Poplar?

D. J. Fedor rummages through a drawer in his office in the BeAM makerspace at Hanes, a no-nonsense room scattered with woodworking supplies. From these unpretentious surroundings, he brandishes a pen, laying it gently in your palm as if it were a royal scepter.

“You are holding $5 million right now,” Fedor says with a laugh. Well, it is a slightly fancy looking pen. But it isn’t gold-plated or diamond-encrusted or even made from discarded parts of the Millennium Falcon. Nope. Its casing is made from something much more valuable: The Davie Poplar.

And it can be yours … for a sizable donation to the University.

Fedor, the technical supervisor for BeAM, knows that trimmings from the more than 300-year-old Davie and other wooden giants are coveted items among students and alumni. But these organic statues of campus history are UNC inventory the same way its computers are, and all their collected scraps must be repurposed for University-related use — which usually means campus mulch. But with BeAM’s woodshops, and the students who use them, Fedor and University arborist Tom Bythell are exploring more meaningful uses.

The only items approved to be made from the Davie Poplar are the pens, which are created by students on Hanes’ wood lathes and presented in keepsake boxes — also BeAM-made — with plaques that tell their well-heeled recipients who made them. That’s unlikely to change.

But in a closet just off the makerspace is a woodworker’s dream — slabs and scraps from campus trees, neatly organized by type. Fedor hopes these cuttings one day will find new purpose through BeAM students and staff, who could hone their woodworking skills from the tree trimmings while making keepsakes to sell in Student Stores. The concept would bring the funds back to the University — and to BeAM’s budget — while planting a little bit of McCorkle Place in Tar Heel homes.