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"Wood deserves esteem" says ecologically driven German sawyer and carpenter
"We're a classic family affair", Matthias Berthold proudly says about his carpentry and stair-building business in Friedrichsdorf, Germany.
Fifteen years ago he and his brother built two timber cottages on a 20,000m² former factory site at Friedrichsdorf near Bad Homburg, where the families live and work together running separate companies. Matthias Berthold set up his business 25 years before and has employed a journeyman and an apprentice since. With his wife, Katja and the two employees, they produce 'feature' roof constructions, handcrafted stairs, finger-jointed stools, benches and even an altar once.
"Furthermore, I've got my wife as a co-worker and she's not to be underestimated", he smiles. Katja keeps him on top of appointments, runs the office and finally convinced him to buy a Wood-Mizer band sawmill which he had been considering long before the launch of the small model LT15 mill. Other mills had seemed too expensive and he was determined to buy the new model LT15 for cash and that had led to further postponement.
He 'crossed the Rubicon' when a friend felled an oak and used with surprising ease an LT15 to cut it up, eventually for firewood. That clinched it.
However, despite having made up his mind to buy one he took a final look at the mill being demonstrated at the big Agritechnika fair in Hannover. Having absorbed the mill's technical facets, he bought it.
Not having envisaged a large amount of sawing he declined the electric feed function but opted for 'SW Setworks' and has not regretted it.
"I'm probably amongst those who don't often operate the machine", he admits, "but what I can do with it was difficult if not impossible before". For example, cutting wedge shaped spruce boards which he needs for eaves and trusses was almost out of the question. Not any more. Those functions as well as re-shaping antique cants to different dimensions are now fairly easy. All he needs to do in such cases is install an old blade to anticipate nails or mortar in them.
He began using Wood-Mizer's DoubleHard blades for frozen wood but nowadays he also uses the company's recently launched Stellite-tipped RazorTip blades and is enthusiastic about them.
"In fact, working with the LT15 is fun because one quickly sees the results of one's efforts", he reveals, "and there's always a nice smell around the sawmill".
Two or three times a month he does some 'unusual' custom sawing known as 'glass-of-wine-jobs'. These aren't particularly commercially rewarding but they enhance his operation's reputation and bring long-term rewards.
Working with wood and the sawmill is a fundamental part of the Bertholds' lives.
As enthusiastic members of Greenpeace for the past 25 years, they work with Greenpeace electricity and are very much aware of the importance of sustainability and of wasted energy. Matthias Berthold admits:
"At first, people were amused by our dedication to Greenpeace but after a few years many came around to our point of view and, furthermore, even official politics seem to acknowledge the organisation's values".
The family are not armchair environmentalists.
Matthias Berthold converted his US-army pick-up to run on LPG years ago when it was a rare and expensive thing to do, although it has now become common practice. All scrap wood from the workshop is shredded for the wood-fired boiler which heats the house. He even collects scrap wood from friends and neighbours.
The wood chips not only keep his workshop and home warm but also the rooms of his brother's horticulture firm, with its 15 employees, located in the extensive grounds. Here too the LT15 sawmill is put to good use typified by a contract where his brother had to remove a couple of Douglas firs. Matthias cut cants and boards from them and soon they will be transformed to profiled boards or floorboards for a terrace.
"If you work with wood, inevitably you hold it in high regard", reasons Matthias Berthold.
He bemoans many forestry changes in recent years. Demand for wood is higher than ever and quantity has become more important than quality. Big, heavy machines compress the soft soil so that for years rainwater remains in their tracks. Even forest wardens who visit to see his new sawmill or to have new benches cut express concern. They complain that a lot of timber that could be used for more valuable products is indiscriminately chopped into firewood, something almost unbearable to an ecological conscience.
"And another opportunity has emerged with the Wood-Mizer sawmill that makes me regret not buying it ten years ago", says Matthias Berthold.
"I'm 54 and I doubt our pensions will be sufficient".
So he buys oak, pear or cherry logs cheaply because they are designated 'firewood' and saws them to boards before stacking them carefully away. These well-seasoned boards will be worth several times their current value and make a nice pension top-up for Matthias and Katja Berthold.
The prospect is rather pleasant, indeed satisfying, and brings a cheery smile to their faces whenever they pass their neatly stacked boards.
Kirsten Longmuss, Germany
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