Vail: If life gives you beetles, make benches |

Vail: If life gives you beetles, make benches

Allison Subranni
Vail Daily correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Allison Subranni/Vail DailyWolfgang Opel, an Eagle woodworker, says was thrilled at the chance to recycle trees kill by pine beetles into benches in Vail, Colorado

VAIL, Colorado ” I’m sure everyone has noticed the burning piles of wood on the hillsides in Vail, COlorado, but what about the wood that is salvaged? Well, master carpenter Wolfgang Opel is turning it into park benches in Vail.

As I walk through the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens I find a red truck and a soft-spoken man dressed in a traditional German timber-framing uniform. He welcomes me and tells me to make myself comfortable as if he is the one about to ask the questions.

Opel has the hands of a man who works the land, or in this case, the trees. His eyes show a desire to make the world beautiful through his creations.

“One of the reasons I became a timber framer is because I wanted to have a good impact,” he said. “There are a million other reasons why I like it, like you go home and say that you built something. To achieve what a customer likes and to have the product in front of you for everyday use is good.”

Opel spent his youth traveling Europe and America while working in construction. He then returned to his native Germany to become a master timber framer and graduated with advanced degrees in layout methods and interior carpentry.

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He also served in the German army, taught skiing in Europe, and met the love of his life, whom he’s been married to for 11 years. He now owns his own company, NIKI Woodworking and Timbers LLC. He says that he is proud of his work and is happy to create with the pine-beetle wood.

“The more wood we preserve the better it is for us right now,” he says. “The wood would just rot and then not be used, or be burned and would contribute to greenhouse gases. The biggest concern was for fire hazard for the town of Vail, and the biggest thing for me is to preserve it (the wood).

“The town of Vail got the timber and they gave it to me and I made the benches out of it mostly by hand.”

Opel also says he is very concerned with the environment and in the preservation of nature. “There are more trees growing than are being harvested, and I like to preserve as much of what we harvest as possible because I’m a good guy, I preserve the atmosphere.

“The more we preserve and use of what we have harvested the better,” he says.

Opel explained the process of using the beetle-kill wood in layman’s terms. Because the wood cannot be used in structural timber framing due to the little pathways that this particular pine beetle creates, using the wood for benches makes the most sense. Benches do not require wood with the strength usually needed for the structure of a house or a frame. But keeping the logs as big and in as natural a state as possible is very important to Opel because the more wood he preserves the less wood he has to burn.

Removing the bark and sanding the logs, leaves the benches with an attractive golden-honey color that is natural within the pine.

“I tried to leave the logs as big as possible and we got rid of all the bark because that is where the pine beetle lays it eggs,” he says. “We must burn the bark to kill the eggs, which can lay dormant for seven years. However, we tried to leave (the bench) as solid and massive as it could be and preserve as much wood as possible.”

On my way back to the car I walked over the three new bridges in the gardens and I noticed the solid structure and nature-inspired design in the handrails. From the branches of the beetle-kill pine trees, Opel and his team created an innovative design for the handrails that makes the bridges appear as though they grew from the ground. He wanted to use every single part of the beetle-kill trees given to him by Vail.

It only takes Opel two days from start to finish to complete a bench, and he can customize the benches for any customer. If you would like to see samples of his work, visit the East Vail bike path. The golden benches are hard to miss.

To see more of Wolfgang Opel’s carpentry, visit

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