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Swiss Family Sawmilling

By Tony Kryzanowski

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Casimir Hagmann (right) hasn’t exactly taken a
sow’s ear and turned it into a silk purse, but he
has taken a pig barn and turned it into a small
specialty hardwood mill, which turns out some
fair-sized boards.

The operation’s equipment includes a
Wood-Mizer band saw (lower right).

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small01.jpg (21659 bytes)Switzerland has an abundance of natural beauty, but the country also has its share of "man-made" beauty due to the great attention to landscaping paid by its seven million inhabitants. Some of that landscaping knowledge and expertise will soon be making its presence felt in Canada’s forest industry through Nova Scotia’s Muskrat Lumber. The company’s owners bring a wealth of experience to the highly specialized market of decorative landscape fencing and garden furniture.

Co-owner Casimir Hagmann brings 35 years experience as a Swiss landscape architect to the small Nova Scotia community of Summerville. He and his two Swiss partners have converted a pig barn that was sitting idle in this picturesque area of Nova Scotia near the Bay of Fundy into a specialty hardwood sawmill. One partner, Hans Peter Stutz, is also rebuilding the Grand pres winery in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. The other partner is Stutz’s son-in-law, Marcel Kold.

Right now, Muskrat Lumber has created employment for three workers, but the owners hope to have as many as 10 employees by the end of this year. Once they launch the value-added phase of their business in 2000, many more local residents will find employment. Hagmann’s initial preference is to employ local trades people. For example, his mill foreman is a carpenter.

Cabinet-making experience will be held in high regard among potential employees once the landscaping and garden furniture manufacturing phase begins. However, there will be many jobs available for people who are willing to learn. Hagmann believes he will have no difficulty finding employees, as it will save many the daily commute to work in Halifax.

"We had the idea to start this business so that something comes back into the area," says Hagmann. "There are no businesses around here to supply work to people. We’d also like to offer small woodlot owners an alternative to the clear-cutting that is going on around here." He says large forestry companies have started to clear-cut thousands of acres of government land in the area, which he opposes.

"When the area is clear-cut, the area is killed and nothing is left for the children and tourists," he says. "Tourists come only where you have nature, and that’s another reason we started this business."

Among the wood species available in the area are white and rock maple, oak, cherry, ash, poplar, red spruce, white spruce, fir, juniper, hemlock and apple wood. The trees range in diameter from three to 12 inches.

Nova Scotia is unique in that about 75 percent of the province’s timber supply is held on private woodlots.

Hagmann conducts a survey of private woodlots accompanied by the woodlot owners. They mark trees for selective harvesting as they go. The owner arranges for commercial harvesting, and the logs are transported to Muskrat Lumber’s location near Summerville. Because they transport smaller log loads, Muskrat Lumber is able to avoid road bans during spring breakup, thus maintaining a regular wood supply and providing on going employment for local truckers. They also assist landowners with silviculture work, to promote a sustainable wood supply.

Hagmann is a strong advocate of selective harvesting over clear-cutting. He has difficulty understanding how easily clear-cutting is tolerated in Canada, since he comes from a country where something as simple as cutting down a tree is heavily regulated.

"I think it is very important that something stays," he says. "Now, when you fly over Nova Scotia, you see lots of wood that’s cleared. I understand that there is a lot of wood, but when you cut 10 tonnes a day, I think that ’s a big hole. Cutting here an acre and there an acre, I don’t think that’s a problem." He is concerned how large clear-cuts may affect air quality and water supply.

Until recently, most of the area’s hardwood has found use only as pulp chips or firewood. Given his back ground, Hagmann realizes it has much more market potential.

"The juniper here is considered garbage, but it is good landscaping material because it is resistant to rotting," he says. "You can do something with every piece of wood. When I drive by a house and see nice logs of ash that people split for firewood, I some times want to cry."

Prior to relocating his family to Nova Scotia six years ago, Hagmann and his brother owned a highly-successful landscaping business in Switzerland with three large garden centres and 200 employees. The hectic business pace meant he had little time for family life, so he sold his interest and the family relocated to the more tranquil Nova Scotia countryside. In addition to starting his sawmill business, Hagmann helps his wife manage a hardware store, garden centre, and restaurant. The relaxed pace and reduced population are much more to his liking.

"In Switzerland, you have seven million people in an area three-quarters as large as Nova Scotia," says Hagmann. "Here, there are only 900,000 people."

Their plan is to convert an ample supply of native hardwoods into landscape and garden furniture based on the many fencing and landscape designs they used in Switzerland, but which are not used in great quantity here. A recent marketing trip to the US eastern seaboard organized by the Nova Scotia government to gauge interest in their product line was extremely encouraging.

"This type of private fencing and garden furniture is not on the market in North America today," says Hagmann. "I think we have a good market, and people are very interested in our products. I know what people liked in Europe, and when I see what is on the market here, especially in Nova Scotia, it is more or less the same as we had 20 years ago in Europe."

He says Canadians are beginning to realize that landscaping adds value to their property, so the arrival of their European-inspired wood landscaping products is very timely. Their primary markets are Nova Scotia, the US and Europe.

Hagmann, Kold and Stutz have been in business since last April. Their first task was to rid the large, two-bay pig barn of its smell. Then the renovations started, which involved building a floor and organizing a power supply for the site.

Up until now, they have been producing lumber using a rented, gas-powered Wood-Mizer bandsaw. Once they establish an adequate power supply, they will install their own second-hand Wood-Mizer LT 40-HDG24 bandsaw and a Wood-Mizer edger to handle larger logs up to 16 feet.

Wood-Mizer is an industry leader in portable sawmills. Their products are North American-made and come in a variety of configurations from the 11'8" LT15 to the 26' 2" LT40 Super Hydraulic. There are a number of configurations in between, and many of these portable sawmills give the owner the option of gas powered, diesel powered or electrically powered engines.

For example, the LT40 Super Hydraulic offers an optional 40-hp diesel engine capable of a cutting rate of 60 feet per minute, an optional 35-hp gasoline engine capable of a cutting rate of 54 feet per minute, or a standard 25-hp electric engine capable of a cutting rate of 60 feet per minute.

Other unique features include patented loose-belt drive wheels that eliminate drive wheel machining, quick-stop clutch and brake for mill safety, and a high-capacity log loading mechanism that handles large logs with ease.

Muskrat Lumber has also purchased a custom-built bandsaw manufactured in Prince Edward Island to manufacture lumber from logs up to eight feet. Right now, their manufactured lumber is air drying down to a moisture content of 15 per cent. They are currently in the process of purchasing a dry kiln, as well as building a debarker. This year they will produce lumber only and will construct prototypes of their landscape and gardening furniture. They intend to test the market before launching the value-added component of their business.

The majority of Muskrat ’s lumber is manufactured in one-inch thickness, but they can produce lumber up to four-inch square beams. Hagmann says their focus is definitely on quality rather than quantity, which explains why they have chosen bandsaws.

In addition to offering close proximity to their wood supply, Muskrat ’s Summerville location is only an hour away from the Port of Halifax, which is open year-round. They expect to make full use of the port with the export side of the business. Hagmann says they have many marketing contacts in Europe as a result of their previous landscape and garden centre business, which they intend to make full use of for this Swiss family sawmilling enterprise.

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This page last modified on Tuesday, February 17, 2004