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A collection of stories and articles about Wood-Mizer sawmills in use around the world, new business ideas, and available market niches in the wood industry

How the problem of urban woods can benefit your bottom line

How the problem of urban woods can benefit your bottom line About once a week I get the call. A variation of the calls follows this pattern: "I have a/several very large walnut/cherry tree(s) in my front/back yard that need(s) to come down. I’m sure there is a lot of veneer lumber in this tree. Who can I tell that would be interested in buying the trees?"These calls have increased over the years as a result of more "wooded lot" housing developments. The homeowner recognizes the value of wood (based on trips to the lumberyard) and wants to accomplish two objectives. First, to get the tree removed, and second, to receive cash from the sale of timbers/lumber.

Utilizing Urban Woods: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Good: Wide variety of species
Good: Plentiful source of wood
Good: Homeowners want bargains
Good: Environmentally positive
Good: Mill visibility to other potential customers

Bad: Potential embedded objects

Ugly: A millable tree in the chipper

Talkin’ About Going to Town
The next part of the conversation involves explaining why conventional sawmillers aren’t interested in urban trees, which is only half of the problem when it comes to dealing with urban trees. The threat of metal in the from of nails, bolts, screws, and so forth is a major concern in urban trees. Due to the open structure of most large mills, it can be extremely dangerous for employees if flying debris results from the saw teeth hitting foreign objects in the log. If the saw does hit metal in the log, it can cost several hundred dollars in repairs, primarily for the replacement cost of a blade, although other damage may occur. Most veneer buyers are even less inclined to purchase a log worth a few thousand dollars when that means placing a machine costing several hundred thousand dollars in jeopardy.

The second half of the problem is felling the tree in an urban setting. Loggers are very familiar with working in the forest environment but often have limited knowledge of working in town. These complicating factors reduce the attractiveness of the urban log to the conventional circle sawmill owner, but may be an opportunity for the Wood-Mizer owner.

Itching to Find a Niche?
The urban log may be a great niche opportunity for the Wood-Mizer owner. There are several reasons the Wood-Mizer has potential when sawing urban logs.

First, if the sawyer encounters metal in the log, the damage may not be as expensive. Compared with the cost of replacing inserted teeth in a circle saw, band saw blades are much less expensive, generally around $20.

Second, harvesting urban logs can be marketed as a service to homeowners. A savvy sawmill operator can present custom cutting as a savings to the bargain-hunting homeowner. Unless you are qualified and able to handle the liability of felling a tree in an urban area, the landowner would first pay for a tree to be felled. His cost to a tree removal service, however, would be diminished because the tree service would only be handling the non-millable pieces of the tree after it is felled. The reminder of the tree would be left in log form, per the homeowner’s direction to the tree removal service, where it would await your arrival.

Third, small-length logs, 1-2 m, are not a problem to proceed on a Wood-Mizer. This enables the sawyer to buck the logs into shorter length, thus eliminating defects and potential metal hazards before logs are processed. Generous use of a hand-held metal detector can locate most imbedded materials. After detection, many foreign objects can be removed by hand, preserving the log’s length if desired by the homeowner.

Fourth, the horizontal band permits the sawyer to watch for the gray-black stain that often indicates the presence of metal. To increase your opportunities to cut urban trees, contracts with tree service companies that specialize in removing urban trees. This type of relationship eliminates the need for you to learn the intricacies of becoming an urban logger, allowing you to focus on your main moneymaker: sawing.

Is that Sicky-Sicky Palm-Palm?
A friend stuck a piece of wood under the nose of a nationally-recognized wood technologist for identification. Of course, it was a trick question as the wood was poison ivy. (The technologist was not amused.)

The urban forest is quite diverse, including species not found in natural forest. Through hybrid crosses and ornamental breeding programs. Trees have been selected for the urban environment. While the varieties are chosen for characteristics such as foliage color. Shape, or growth rate, the wood produces by these trees may also be unique. These unique wood are often coveted by the craftsman looking for something new. Honey locust, a popular ornamental landscape tree, is an example. While honey locust is now a "mainstream" lumber species, it does have a unique color and grain pattern. Sawyers of urban woods are also able to process specialty products such as burls and limb crotches that create artistic grain patterns. Spalted wood (early stage of fungi infestation) results in interesting "character marked" lumber valued by many craftsmen for the special effect.

Show me the markets!
Before locating your niche in urban woods, you need to locate those who will buy these products. Your answer: the same folks that buy the traditional lumber products used in manufacturing. Your local municipality may also be a customer for custom sawn lumber to be used by the service department for landscape timbers, fencing, truck bed stock, posts, and benches.

Furniture-grade lumber can be marketed through traditional channels of distribution, although selling your product green may limit your potential market. One possible solution: co-op with other operators. While most large kiln facilities won’t dry small amounts, by combining your load with that of other local small operators, you jointly can have enough to fill a kiln. Your green lumber quickly becomes value-added and more marketable.

For the unique products such as spalted wood, burls and crotch wood, carvers, turners, and crafters become the market.

Each trip around town should be an adventure in finding one new manufacturer that uses wood. That manufacturer could be a one-person craftsman or a multinational corporation using low-grade blocking material. With the potential of harvesting urban trees that require removal, each trip around town can also be an adventure in spotting interesting new raw material.

Author: Bob Romig, Extension Specialist, Forest Products, Ohio State University

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