Harvesting wood responsibly is a key issue for small mills. Denlinger participates in the industry’s voluntary Forest Stewardship Council program (FSC) that requires cutting trees selectively so as not to ruin the surrounding woods. Schucker buys his wood from loggers in the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), a comparable set of standards.
For both mills, harvesting sustainably is a matter of survival. “Let’s face it,” Denlinger says, “if we go in and level a woodlot, that lot is never going to be a woodlot again. Eventually we would work ourselves out of business. We’re trying to log in such a way that wood is going to be there five years from now, 10 years from now, 100 years from now.”
The harvestable wood on a 10-acre lot probably yields some 40 to 50,000 board feet, he says, and it is usually sold at auction. A forester prepares an inventory of the wood; the buyer examines it and places a bid. At Heacock, it will take the mill one-and-a-half to two weeks to harvest that much wood, and about the same amount of time to turn it into lumber.
Running the log through the saw at the mill is a matter of experience. “The first cut pretty much determines where everything else is going to fall, Schucker says. “You look where the knots and defects are and try to line them up on the outside corners of your cut so they don’t end up smack-dab in the middle of the face of the board.
“If I open up a board on the saw, and I’ve got a nice clean face, I’m just going to cut four-quarter. If I need 8/4, I’ll try by opening with a 4/4 cut, and if I don’t see any signs of defects that will show up further down, then I’ll cut my 8/4. You have to learn how to read the log.”
Both companies use every scrap of lumber that comes through the mill. At Heacock, boards that aren’t good enough to ship are made into surveyor’s stakes in a separate building. Others become side or floorboards for trucks. Still others go to swimming pool contractors, who use them for the forms they pour their concrete in. Bark is ground up for playground mulch; scraps are ground up and sold as horse bedding. (Because horses eat walnut shavings, which cause lameness, walnut is kept out of the bedding by cutting it separately.)
Bailey also sells its sawdust as bedding, but since Schucker buys topgrade wood, most of what he has is too good to be strictly utilitarian. It’s cabinet-grade, and he markets it relentlessly. A shaper turns out custom molding and flooring. A lathe turns ash and maple blanks for baseball bats. Butcher-block countertops are made on a rack of hydraulic clamps. Cases of wood plugs used to cap off conduit in building projects sit next to the copy lathe that churns them out. Schucker even sells Adirondack chairs, made from thermo-treated wood (bought elsewhere) that is baked to modify the sugars and prevent rot.
In the end, most woodworkers go to both mills. A cabinetmaker sorting through kiln-dried cherry at Heacock says that Bailey is the only mill that can provide him with the 20-foot boards he sometimes needs. My trips through the country took me to Haycock when I needed beams to renovate a barn and to Bailey when I needed oak for cabinets.
To find a mill in your area, search the web for “custom sawmills.” To see what stock Bailey has on hand, or to order one of Schucker’s Adirondack chairs, go to http://www.baileywp.com. Visit Heacock Lumber at http://www.heacocklumber.com.