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Recycled Treasures

Millwright Gia Carrozzi recycles timber into specialty pieces

By Kurt Glaeseman

When Gia Carrozzi was thirteen years old, she already knew she wanted to live and work in Northern California’s lumber-rich Humboldt County. What she didn’t know was that one day, through her True Cut Custom Milling Company, she’d be operating a set of portable sawmills, offering consulting advice to other portable mill owners, and providing top-end specialty slabs and beams and smaller lumber.

Rich Background
To say Carrozzi is a hard worker is sheer understatement. She represents the fourth generation of her family to work with wood. Her father immigrated to California from Italy and was an old-growth timber faller in the 1930s. He became a sawyer and a master carpenter and worked on the docks in San Francisco when aircraft carriers still had wooden decks. He has always been an inspiration and driving force for Gia; it was he who encouraged her to join the union and work as a mechanic or operating engineer to get herself established financially.

Carrozzi grew up in San Mateo County and became a member of the California Conservation Corps, an organization that gave urban kids access to the country and to rural jobs. She did some fire fighting in La Honda, worked for a California Department of Forestry helitack crew, and helped with control burns near Hollister.

Carrozzi was always drawn to the north, back to Humboldt County. There she did odd jobs — ran a saw, sold oak and madrone firewood, picked crab — and finally in 1986, landed a six-year position on the Redwood Bypass Project, working as an oiler to service heavy equipment. She still does machinery service and maintenance for Mercer Fraser out of Eureka. But her passion is millwork.

Carrozzi tries to educate people looking to purchase a portable sawmill. She says that owning the largest slabber made by Lucas has allowed her to mill pieces 76” wide and 24’ long.

Finding the Right Mill
At one time, Carrozzi had worked with an Alaska Mill and decided she wanted to do specialty work on her own. In 1996, she took her dad to the Redwood Regional Logging Conference to show him a Lucas Mill demonstration. They liked what they saw, and they purchased one from Bailey’s in Laytonville, Calif.

“Bailey’s,” says Carrozzi, “helped me get going, taught and showed me, and were instrumental in getting my name out. Owning the largest slabber made by Lucas enabled me to mill pieces 76 inches wide by 24 feet long.” These were used as bars or table tops, and she did a special piece that was 76 inches wide by 12 inches thick and 22 feet long —designed as a fireplace mantel for the lodge at PALCO (Pacific Lumber Company at Scotia).

In addition to the Lucas Dedicated Slabber, Carozzi has a Linn Lumber Model 2600A (the largest of their bandmills) and a Mobile Dimension Sawmill, built with the biggest track with a 14-foot endstand, so she can work with a 25-foot long, eight-foot diameter log.

The Linn Lumber 2600A is the newest of the three pieces. “I’m just getting it dialed in for the big stuff,” says Carrozzi. “It is built to cut 55 inches wide and 48 inches on the vertical, so I can put a 4-foot log in the mill and have room to maneuver and roll it.”

Recycling Old Growth
Much of the lumber Carrozzi mills is genuine old growth, neglected pieces found in out-of-the-way places.

“I don’t like to use the word ‘salvage,’” laughs Carrozzi, “but rather ‘recyclable.’ Our parks are loaded with usable remnants. Often the parks have no money, but they do have a viable product that can be harvested without destroying the ambiance of the pristine forest.”

Carrozzi has an array of auxiliary equipment, including this 15,000 pound Clark 125-B forklift.

Carrozzi often discusses her “finds” with good friend Bill Boak, a retired logger who is known up and down the coast for curly redwood lawn ornaments and gun cases. The two have learned to spot a diamond in the rough.

“Once I bought a nasty-looking chunk of old growth redwood. I spent some time evaluating it and then went to work. Every board that came off it was clean vertical grain, but it originally looked so ratty,” she says.

Her dad had shown her what to look for, and Boak confirms that there are still a lot of retrievable old-growth pieces out there. But as Carrozzi is quick to point out, it isn’t an easy process, and people interested in purchasing their first portable sawmill often don’t understand the work involved. She gets a lot of calls asking for advice.

“I try to educate people who are going to buy a portable sawmill,” says Carrozzi. “Do you understand what it takes to get that stump out so that you can use it — saw, excavators, big chainsaws to rip it into chunks you can handle? But more and more people are starting to understand what valuable and beautiful pieces can be processed.”

Varied Products
Carrozzi has broken up a 100,000-pound redwood burl for a party who does fine bowls. She has also worked with black oak, cypress, pepperwood, black walnut, and eucalyptus.

“I do anything, not just big pieces. One guy wants nothing larger than 12-foot by 36-inch pieces. I took the slabber and the Lucas Mill for one week and cut 2,400 feet of wood for a new home — door and window trim, cabinets, and shelves.”

In her spare time, Carrozzi makes and stockpiles lumber to refinish her own log home.

Where is it all going? “I’ll take on any job if people bring me their logs. I go out on-site and advise the customer whether it is worth it. I also work with micro-mills who have portable mills of their own for smaller jobs. We have to think in terms of best recovery as well as the pros and cons of having the work mess at their place or at mine.”

Keeping it Simple
At her place outside Fieldbrook (near Arcata), Carrozzi can receive almost any size wood. She has plenty of auxiliary equipment: a Gale skidster 010, a John Deere 110 backhoe, a Case W20 loader, and a 15,000-pound Clark 125-B forklift.

“I do a lot of this work by myself,” she says, “but I do need one other person for the bandmill.”

Carrozzi can be observed meticulously wielding a level and a square — tools of the trade handed down through her family — even though larger mills have sophisticated computerized programs to maximize lumber recovery.

She spends a lot of time on the computer too —finding out who is out there offering planing and dry kiln services, and who might be seeking milling advice or perhaps an unusual custom job.

Carrozzi’s charges are reasonable for such specialized work. She starts at $125 per hour for slabbing, $3000 per 1,000 board feet for big long beams, and $500 per 1,000 board feet for making lumber. Quotes run higher for difficult or highly specialized jobs.

“I’m trying to stay simple,” Carrozzi claims. “I want to offer long beams, custom slabs, and custom cutting. I’m not into planing or dry kilning. Other folks are set up to do that. What I like is being able to take a junk stump and turn it into a beautiful product. I just want to mill!”

Gia Carrozzi and True Cut Custom Milling Company can be contacted by e-mail at thesawer@suddenlink.net or by phone: cell (707) 498-1122 or home (707) 822-9372.