In today's wood products marketplace, clients are often as concerned with where and how a product is sourced as the product itself. Recently, the US Secretary of Agriculture released an important study and asserted that, "Wood should be a major component of American building and energy design. The use of wood provides substantial environmental benefits..." By utilizing truly local wood processed in a highly efficient manner, your project can perform both environmentally and economically.

Client preference, green point systems, creative style, and other factors all influence today's end product and often it's assumed such a project will cost more. However, when it comes to sourcing your wood, there is opportunity for your project or production work to perform both environmentally, economically, and with expanded choice in species. This opportunity is through the use of locally sourced lumber, milled nearby or on location with a modern portable band saw mill equipped with a thin kerf blade.

Kerf is the width of cut a blade makes as it passes through material, which makes thin kerf sawmilling a very efficient way to mill wood. Low cost chainsaw mills typically consume 1/2 inch of wood with each pass. Traditional circle saw mills and high production conventional mills typically have kerfs 1/4th of an inch or greater. Thin kerf saws remove as little as 1/10th of an inch per cut to produce smooth, consistent, accurate lumber with much less log wasted as sawdust.

The benefits aren't theoretical. When making basic slabs, Art Blumenkron owner of Goby Walnut & Western Hardwoods in Portland, OR says, "I recover two additional slabs for every eight passes I make. I save close to 3/8" of wood over a chainsaw mill and I can hold much tighter tolerance which means less waste when I flatten the wood." This increases yield from material available and when the lumber is used for a project on-site, maximizes cost savings with as much as 30% more lumber made from each log. Art uses an industrial sized ultra thin-kerf WM1000 capable of sawing a 67" wide log because of the massive size of the material he cuts for his clientele.

The environmental benefits of producing wood needed for a project near or on-site, are maximized as well, by displacing the need to harvest, transport, mill, and distribute lumber over long distances. Most green certification systems award project points both for use of a renewable resource and for using a locally sourced product, potentially helping a project achieve a higher certification level than may otherwise be possible.

Most modern thin kerf band saw mills are portable, built as a wheeled trailer, and can be set up and cutting lumber in less than half an hour with only 1 or 2 persons. Portable mills are relatively light weight and can be towed behind a regular pickup truck. Typically, a mill operator will set up at their own log yard for general duty. If you are providing the source logs or a project demands on site cutting, the sawyer can simply tow the mill to your site and begin milling wood the same day. This versatility allows for projects with trees on-site to utilize those trees for the project without ever transporting them.

While off the shelf lumber is available almost anywhere in common species, local portable sawyers often have a selection that is difficult or impossible to obtain from traditional sources. Wood can be sourced direct from the project site, or may be from storm blow down or urban wood removed of necessity, diverting it from the waste stream. Less common species will be available by the region they grow in.

  For example, in Warwick, New York, Megan Offner and Dave Washburn founded New York Heartwoods in 2010 with a company mission to regenerate forest vitality and build their local economy after seeing tremendous waste of urban and other wood removed out of necessity. For example, New York State has some of the most infested timber stands in the entire United States with restrictions on transport. That wood can be sterilized and used for wood product instead of being chipped or disposed of in landfills. NY Heartwoods saw opportunity to reduce waste and save money for private timber owners as well as local jurisdictions. With their kiln, they are able to sanitize the wood, saving it from the chipper and over loading landfills. With a portable band mill, they are able to make lumber and slabs to sell to clients located in the New York City and Hudson Valley area. Their primary clients consist of designers, furniture makers, and retailers and restaurant remodel projects.

Because of their location, NY Heartwoods is able to obtain a wide variety of species with a majority of their logs obtained within only a couple of miles from their log yard and milled on a Wood-Mizer LT-40 band saw mill. The high instance of forest pests in New York State such as the Emerald Ash Borer and recent severe weather like Hurricane Sandy have provided an abundance of source material to mill. This abundance means NY Heartwoods is able to transport logs the minimum distance, usually less than 5 miles, to their log yard and increase the green value of the lumber that is eventually produced. Heartwoods also has a dehumidification kiln that is used to dry the lumber and sterilize the wood to eliminate the possibility of spreading any wood pests that may have come with the wood.

Heartwoods is also pioneering what Megan calls mill-sharing. The concept of mill-sharing began for Heartwoods during startup when looking for an appropriate mill for their operation. Dave was introduced to Jed Bark of Bark Frameworks, an NYC-based fine art framing company, who owned 70 acres and a bandmill purchased to create lumber to make frames from his own trees. As a successful business owner, Bark didn't have time to produce much lumber himself so under their cooperative agreement, NYH is able to use the mill for their needs while helping to manage Bark's woodlot for sustainable selective harvest, and to fulfill the client's need for very high end wood product. NYH is forging additional relationships with other owners of underutilized portable mills in the area as they receive increasing requests from landowners wanting their trees milled into lumber.

Women in Woodworking: A Conversation

Join New York Heartwoods' Megan Offner and a panel of other women woodworkers as they recount their career paths, and opportunities they see for other women in wood manunfacturing.

On the West Coast, Pacific Coast Lumber in San Luis Obispo, California offers Walnut, Acacia, Ash, Sycamore, Oak, Red Gum, Elm, English Walnut, Cypress, and old growth Redwood. Local Source Forest Products out of Northwest Washington specializes in helicopter recovered old growth Cedar and Douglas Fir left to rot in the woods a hundred years ago and more. North Florida Portable Sawmill near Jacksonville, Florida specializes in recovered old growth Cypress and also offers Pecan, Laurel, Hickory, Cherry, Cedar, Oak, Maple, and Pine. New York Heartwoods offers Black Cherry, Black Walnut, White Ash, White Oak, Red Oak, Hard & Soft Maple, Sycamore, Shagbark Hickory, Hemlock, White Pine, Spruce, and Eastern Red Cedar.

For many outdoor projects, you may be able to use "green" lumber that has not been dried or seasoned. However, there will be many occasions where your project will call for dried lumber. This is achieved by either air drying the wood, or through the use of a wood drying kiln. Many sawyers own and operate kilns, and for specific projects, a kiln can be set up on-site to dry your wood, reducing the potential for warping and checking (cracking) for more precise uses.

Because of the versatility of portable band saw mills, there is an opportunity for specialized milling methods resulting in particularly beautiful wood product that may enhance your end product. Local Source often "quarter saws" their old growth material. Quarter sawing orients the grain in parallel lines along the entire length of the board, aligning the very dense grain to the best visual advantage and produces a board that warps less with changes in humidity.

East to West, Urban and Rural

Located in San Luis Obispo, California, Pacific Coast Lumber is one of the early pioneers of urban wood processing. Owner Don Seawater has been milling urban lumber since 1996 when he saw the potential for trees removed by or from municipalities. With urban wood, often overlooked because of the relatively inconsistent nature of urban trees, Don saw opportunity. Having worked in the traditional lumber industry for years, he knew this wood was highly suitable for the already existing non-standard and exotic material markets. What resulted was really a combination of several business.

First, Pacific Coast Lumber has the capability of removing and transporting trees to his log yard. Second, Don and his crew use their portable band saw mill to convert the logs into lumber. About half of the lumber they produce is sold as general lumber with the other half used for their growing list of products, or custom projects. With licensed architect David Brannon on staff, Pacific Coast is able to custom design, build, and install nearly any project a person may desire. Everything from Adirondack Furniture Kits the user assembles at home to full blown retreat structures with live edge siding, doors and windows are available, all manufactured with recovered urban wood.

Every year the availability of wood from local sawyers in North America increases, making it more convenient to purchase custom or dimensional lumber in production quantities that can help your project perform both environmentally and economically. Due to the efforts of people like Don Seawater in the west and Megan Offner and Dave Washburn in the east, wood produced on portable band saw mills can be found throughout North America with increasing ease.

Clayton Petree and his father Jack own Public Policy Perspectives in Bellingham, Washington. Both are dedicated to exploring practical approaches to environmental issues businesses can adopt to be both environmentally sensitive and profitable. The two have written more than 2,500 articles for regional, national and international publications.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.