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Small Wood Thoughts – a One Man Show

Frank W. Pender Jr.

“Are you keeping busy?” is a question often asked of my one man mill operation on my 70-acre tree farm outside of Dallas, Ore. “Busy” is an understatement. I sometimes feel like I did, over forty years ago, when I used to run a few head of beef cattle on the outskirts of Gresham, Ore. I could never take a couple days off, as I had lots to do in keeping them critters fed.

Getting Started
The first two years of my marriage to my wonderful blue-eyed, blond wife, Alice, found us often living weekends at “wood camp,” a site on a friend’s tree farm where we had pitched a two-cabin tent, and cooked over an open pit fire. We produced 100 cords of firewood a year, even though we both had full-time jobs. I taught 7th grade; she was in charge of student activities at OCE.

Near the end of the second year of producing this intensive by-product from a forest, we attended a woodland tour near Stayton, Ore. There were a number of vendors marketing their wares. One, in particular, caught my attention, a sawmill. I watched him saw logs for better than an hour.

“What a dream,” I thought. “I have to have one of them.” As my wife and I were driving down the gravel road of the hosting tree farm, I said, “I am going to sell the house in Monmouth and buy a Mobile Dimension sawmill.”

As some would say, “the rest is history!”

Staying Busy Today
Since that decision in 1983, there have been very few “down” days in operating my sawmilling business.

With the economy in shambles, small woodlot owners have fewer places to market their logs at a price worth the effort. Many mills are cutting back on work hours and the number of shifts in a day. It was not too long ago I read where the Hampton Lumber mills were the number one producers of sawed lumber in the world for three years in a row. Wow! Now it is truly a different story.

What is the answer? I do not know, nor do I have some sort of “magic mirror” to help through such times, but I am busier now, than when I was still teaching full time, nine years ago.

Customizing products for special needs is part of my solution to staying busy. I have sawed five complete homes since beginning the sawmilling part of my tree farm operation. With the addition of the planer-moulder, I have done flooring for five different homes. Folks bring their logs in and I process them from logs to flooring, ready to be laid. This makes it nice as the floor is from their land.

I began just milling some of my logs into specific lumber orders, to drying lumber (soft woods and hardwoods), to remanufacturing with the Logosol moulder-planer.

From this processing there are fall-down products: sawdust chips, kindling, firewood, and slabs for benches, mantels, tables, etc. I use firewood materials and sawdust for heating the kiln, retail sale, and giving to those in need.

New Opportunities
Another area that has more than sprouted into a sideline of sawing has been burl wood or highly figured lumber and unique species of lumber as well. One species that has become very worthwhile has been Pin Oak. I was fortunate enough to get a whole log truck load, and most was converted into cabinets and a dance floor. Another species is Wild Cherry or “bitter cherry,” which makes for beautiful flooring as well as wood working projects. I can never seem to find enough logs for orders.

So what I am saying again — think outside the forest for the trees! Another unique product has been Scotch Broom, often considered the dirge to forestry in western Oregon and Washington. These stems make for great walking sticks or canes. Perhaps the sweetest of all my farm products that I nurture is Poison Oak. This last year, I had 24 colonies of honey bees come to visit, and each colony produced an average of 22.5 lbs of honey. What a sweet success story, and I did not have to lift a finger.

Another sideline has been to help folks get their lumber graded. A service I can help with is always a reward. Down that same trail of thinking has been to have a resident wood carver available. He does not just produce bears, but santas, eagles, fish, golfers, moose, deer, raccoons, dogs, you name it! We have even produced special signs for parks, schools, and businesses, and a beautiful carved kitchen table for a family.

Think outside the forest or perhaps, deeper into the forest; mushrooms, arts and crafts materials, maple moss, sword fern, licorice fern, limbs for building rustic furniture, moss from oaks for weaving, etc. I even sold mistletoe to a pharmaceutical company to produce an antidote for an allergy.

One’s imagination alone becomes his/her limitation when it comes to marketing what is in the “forest for the trees.”

Frank W. Pender Jr. is the owner of Tanglewood Timber Products, in Dallas, Oregon. You can visit his website at