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A Profitable Private Forest Plan
Along with 200 acres of private forest, the Wood-Mizer LT40 Hydraulic sawmill allows Jim Birkemeier of Timber Green Farm in Wisconsin, the flexibility to saw his own logs for profit, boost the local economy, and hire employees.
By Jim Birkemeier
Date Posted: 1/1/2013
A woodlot should produce a strong annual income to reward the forest owner, and support the local economy with many benefits. From our 200 acres of family forest, we sell high value finished wood products direct to customers all over the world. Our sales are doubling each year with annual income for 2012 on track to reach $2,000 per acre. Using basic skills and simple tools, we make beautiful and valuable wood products right here on the farm.
Full Vigor Forestry
The Menominee from Wisconsin taught me to take only the mature trees, the sick, and the fallen - and the trees will last forever. Our forest was highly degraded by destructive logging back in the 1960s before we bought this farm. Our active forest management work is to restore the forest to a more natural state, correcting the past bad management. We let all our good trees grow - our forest has an annual growth of sawtimber of over 400 board feet per acre – 4 times the regional average, and the quality is similarly above the norm. I salvage trees killed by oak wilt. This killer got me into the sawmill business, and Dutch Elm Disease, the Bronze Birch Borer, windthrow, etc. supply me every year with more logs than I can use.
Arthroscopic logging means we use the smallest possible tools, do the minimal amount of impact, get the job done, improve the forest – and the good timber keeps right on growing. Precision felling is critical when you select one tree per acre each year. I use the bore cut method and have learned lots of tricks to get a tree down with a minimum of damage to the surrounding trees. On the average at Timbergreen Farm, there is a half mile haul from stump to sawmill. My choice is to use the smallest possible equipment. Our trail system is well developed and I use arches and winches to get the logs to the trail. The tractor and forwarder never leave the trail to protect the soil and regeneration.
The three biggest challenges to a forest manager are to make good money on small diameter logs, curved/ crooked trees, and commercially worthless trees. I don’t saw low value boards or ever try to compete with the big industrial sawmills. One time I sold a truck load of cants to the pallet factory and got $.30/bf and realized I lost money – never did that again.
Small Diameter Trees
80% of the volume of wood harvested in restoration forest management is small diameter trees. For ten years we have been sawmilling logs down to six inches diameter. With our Wood-Mizer LT40 sawmill, we simply live saw or flitch saw the small diameter logs, leaving the natural edges intact.
Our forest is full of leaners. They are dangerous to fell and hard to sawmill. I live saw or flitch saw the logs, with the flattest side down on the Wood-Mizer. This produces a series of curved flitches with the bark intact. This lets the bandsaw cut straight with the grain and produces lots of quartersawn lumber.
When we do get a good tree that has died, I love to quartersaw most straight logs. It takes a little longer, but the oak, cherry, walnut, elm, and maple are all spectacular and more stable when quartersawn. I saw to get good boards of all species, not clear cuttings with ‘grade sawing’. I use and feature the character – knots, stains, figure – I don’t throw away the good stuff – we show if off and sell it! I square up a knotty log, then saw it through and through, making a set of wide boards.
Crotch Wood & Burls
Crotch wood and burls can be the most beautiful and valuable lumber. I leave the crotch on the end of the log, saw the log, dry the boards, then use the crotch wood for special projects. Our edger is rarely used for green lumber as we sell so much live edge wood products. The natural edge is featured, not thrown away. The edger is used more today for ripping dry lumber into straight strips for flooring or glue-ups. I sawmill for value, not volume. Each part of a tree is made into its highest value use. Knowing
the variety of products we make is important to making smart decisions.
Timbergreen Solar Dry Kilns
Using solar energy to dry our lumber has been the most important key to our success. I built my first ‘solar cycle’ kiln in 1988, using boards right off the Wood-Mizer. Lumber is stacked in a two walled room, under the roof for air drying. Each layer of wood has stickers to create the space for the wind to blow through the wood piles, evaporating 90% of the water in lumber for free – in 2 to 3 months. The top 20 layers of boards are secured with 2” nylon straps to hold them tight and straight while they dry. The weight of the bundle is sufficient to hold the boards below flat also. In Wisconsin, the lumber will air dry to 12% Moisture Content. To reach 6% MC for manufacturing products, we have to add some heat, and we choose to use the sun. Once the lumber is air dried down to 12%, two sliding doors close the openings to create a well insulated and air tight room. The sun’s heat is collected in the rooftop collector and the front door collector surface and blown into the room. Our kilns have about 600 square feet of solar collector surface area. Suspended 8” below the window is a layer of used corrugated metal roofing, painted black. The sun heats the metal to about 200 degrees F on a clear day. Two 1/3 hp fans are controlled by a simple household thermostat to kick on when the temperature reaches 90 degrees. The circulating hot air helps remove the last 6% of moisture. The cost of the electricity to run the fans that circulate the air is about 1/10th of a cent per board foot, and we add $1 in value per board foot by drying the lumber.
Simple Wood Manufacturing on a Small Scale
Making finished wood products makes us better forest managers, loggers, sawyers, and woodworkers. Selling products direct to customers at retail prices earns us 1,000 times what a timber buyer would pay for low value and small diameter trees, 100 times the stumpage value of average timber, and even 10 times what a forest owner is paid for their best trees. Since the wood is all salvaged, most of the retail price earned goes to pay wages and stays in our family and local community. When wood comes out of the kiln, I see the dried lumber and can now judge what is the best value product from every stick of wood. We just unloaded 1,200 BF of dry lumber and began the production process:
• Most boards were ripped into strips for flooring and a variety of projects.
• There were live edge flitches from small diameter logs. The sound ones will be planed and cut into cheese boards.
• There was a series of curved flitches from large logs. These were cross cut into shorter lengths, then straight grain blanks were ripped for flooring and glue ups.
• A few straight good wide planks were saved whole for special projects.
• Some of the best quarter sawn oak and some curved pieces not right for flooring – were resawn into thin lumber for laser art projects.
Product Diversity is Vital
Our flooring business is down 80% from 2008 due to the recession and the flooding of the market with cheap, imported flooring products. This is why diversity is important. Custom built counter tops, cabinets, stairways, and furniture are other furnishings we make and install in our customers homes. By doing more work, we can earn more money per board foot on these products. This is also more skilled labor than flooring installation. We earn in the ballpark of at least $25,000 per thousand board feet for solid wood products for the home.
Broadening our Sales Reach Internet sales have become the major income stream for our wood business, selling a wide variety of wood products around the world every day. You are invited to check out TimberGrowers.com and TimberGreenWoods.com to see the huge variety of beautiful products my crew produces from scraps of salvaged trees. Our biggest seller is now Christmas ornaments and gifts. Since it is winter somewhere in the world every day, a box of different colored wooden snowflake ornaments is our best money maker of all.
Building Local Sales
Woodworkers need the confidence that if they make something beautiful and useful that someone will buy it for a good price. Go shopping in the stores and see for yourself what wood products sell for. See what is selling today. Customers prefer to buy local wood, if they know where to get it, it is convenient, and is competitively priced. I have a retail Timber Growers store, in downtown Spring Green, where we sell a wide variety of products. Wood products are high value, and by eliminating the
brokers, middlemen, and shippers – we can sell our local wood at competitive prices.
Making wood products from dead and salvaged trees is pretty easy at Timbergreen Farm:
we allow healthy trees to grow
we have a plan and a system to use trees blown down in a storm
we encourage maximum species diversity
we harvest with small equipment
we use all tree species
we use different parts of each tree for their highest value use
we make hundreds of products using simple tools
we dry our lumber using natural
wind power and the sun
we put one person to work for every 50 trees cut in one year
we have a retail store to sell direct to customers
we sell our products in 100+ other stores in the US and Canada
we sell gifts and holiday products online
we keep it simple and share everything we know & do
Full Vigor Forestry, book by Jim Birkemeier, 10 DVDs (30 to 55 minutes on all subjects), Solar Cycle Kiln Plans - all for sale online at FullVigor.com
Timber Techniques Training – One day to one week hands-on-the-job training at Timbergreen Farm at Spring Green, WI.
Editor’s note: The preceding was paid advertorial by Wood-Mizer.
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