By Heather Hudson
Anyone who knows June and Larry Scouten will tell you that they aren’t the type to take it easy in their golden years.
The couple managed a 150-acre farm in the Smiths Falls, Ontario area, about 80 kilolmetres southwest of Ottawa, complete with 100 head of beef cattle, while both were teaching high school full-time and raising a family. Their retirement in the early 2000s didn’t stick the first time; a shortage of science and math teachers drew them back to the classroom for a few more years.
And as they prepared for true retirement, selling some of the farm material and 50 acres of their land, the project unearthed a second act that neither saw coming—but made perfect sense for the industrious couple.
“The 50-acre lot we sold had some cedar bush on the border line and the buyer didn’t want our cows in his front yard—so we had to build a fence as part of the deal,” explained June. After cutting down some of the cedar and building the fence, they had the logs converted to boards and tossed them into their farm sale. Unexpectedly, the boards proved very popular with buyers.
“We put two and two together: cedar lasts a long time and people like to buy cedar boards. We started to think cedar would be a very useful product.”
The Scoutens began scouring their remaining 100 acres and cutting down white cedar trees damaged from the 1998 ice storm that ravaged parts of eastern Ontario and Quebec. They had no trouble selling their findings to folks in the area who were keen to use them as posts and rails for fencing.
As satisfying as the work was for “people who like to make use of stuff,” they realized their new hobby was dangerous work. “Basically, it didn’t bring in a lot of money and it was quite risky to be felling these trees and still keep all your body parts intact,” said June. “That’s what got us into establishing a mill, buying equipment and dealing with the milling of logs.”
Today, the two run the successful Scouten White Cedar, a milling company that deals exclusively with white cedar logs harvested in Ontario. They cut the logs into various sized rough boards, dress them and sell the results to homeowners and contractors in Ontario and, occasionally, northern New York State.
The Scoutens’ choice of wood originally came from what was close at hand but, in time, they began to understand and appreciate the unique value of white cedar. “The true value of cedar is that it stands the test of time in conditions that would cause rot in a lot of other woods,” said June.
White cedar is an evergreen softwood common in the northeastern U.S., southern and northern Ontario. It grows mainly in rocky and wet areas and has a wide fibrous root system which allows it to cling to rocky, difficult areas where hardwoods cannot grow. It matures to roughly 50 feet. Its natural oils protect against rot, moisture and insects—making it a historically popular wood for cabins. June says it’s no accident that many long-standing barns in their area are made from cedar logs—and are still standing decades later.
The Scoutens’ customers have discovered that white cedar is ideal for a range of outdoor structures, including decks, docks, fences, sheds, gazebos, picnic tables, saunas, chairs and roofing. June says they also mill it for indoor paneling, wainscoting, ceilings and floors.
As a local product, it’s also a more cost-effective choice for central and eastern Canadians than Western Red Cedar (grown and milled on the west coast). And the size of white cedar is particularly suited to a mid-size operation with an artisanal sensibility like Scouten White Cedar.
“The red cedar is a bigger tree than white, so automated machinery can cut red cedar logs quite efficiently. With a smaller log, like white cedar, you have to be more careful. Generally, it takes a knowledgeable sawyer to get the most out of a particular log,” said June.
“We’re doing that all the time, looking and measuring and trying to figure out how to get the most out of each log. That’s why the big box stores rarely sell white cedar. They can’t get a large, dependable, high-quality supply. And we do strive for quality—the knots are very solid and attractive. We also sell clear cedar with no knots.”
For years, Scouten White Cedar was supplied by a Sault Ste. Marie company, but today they work exclusively with smaller suppliers within 150 kilometres of their home and business. Getting sufficient quality wood hasn’t been a challenge so far, but they’re realistic about potential hazards like market variables and government regulations that could present problems in the future. “You never take anything for granted,” says June.
As the orders came flooding in, the Scoutens upgraded their hobby tools for more industrial-grade machinery, including a Silver SF-4020AH moulder that transforms rough boards into finished fence board, deck board, tongue and groove, channel board, balusters and more.
The Scoutens cut logs into various-sized boards using two Wood-Mizer LT15 electric band saws.
They recently added a Cantek HP-345T tilting head resaw to their machinery line, which has quickly become an important piece of equipment because they can safely cut thick boards such as a 4 x 4 x 8 into 4 pieces of 1 x 4 x 8. The hydraulic hold-downs hold the board securely so the cut is consistent.
“Because it tilts, we can also produce beautiful beveled cedar siding, with either a planed or rough surface, with or without a rabbet.”
When it comes to the mill’s accommodations, a structure they’d used to repair tractors and farm machinery was converted into the main building of the mill. It’s been modified a few times over the years to adapt to the needs of the machinery. “The moulding machine has to be kept warm or it won’t lubricate—and then won’t operate—so we had to enclose part of the building and insulate and heat it with a propane furnace. We also had to build an addition to house the space to run 16-foot boards in one side and out the other,” explains June.
An 80-year-old “good old-fashioned barn” was repurposed to house one of the bandsaws; the hayloft is used to dry the boards. A birthing area for cows is now a storage area for lumber, in addition to a round bale barn that also holds drying boards. June acknowledges that if they’d had to build or buy their mill from scratch, things would have been much more difficult.
Larry’s engineering education and their hands-on skills in science have made up for their initial inexperience with running a mill. Still, June says the learning curve has been steep at times, particularly when it came to that moulding machine. They learned, “you’ll quickly be up to your eyeballs in shavings” if you don’t collect them, so Larry designed a custom collector for the shavings, which blows them into round bale bags. They sell the shavings to farmers to use as dry bedding for animals. Even the slab wood is bundled with steel bands and sold for kindling.
Scouten White Cedar customers are an even mix between homeowners and contractors. Although most customers use white cedar boards for outdoor fencing, decks and indoor flooring, some of the Scouten white cedar logs are being put to inventive use. A Penetanguishene, Ontario business uses their white cedar for structural foundations called cribs that can be filled with rocks and laid in water. A Sudbury company built a realistic giant fort in a playground out of Scouten wood. And there are some massive shelters for picnic tables built by a Kingston company —complete with Scouten’s intricate beveled roofing—at a horse riding establishment in Ottawa. A visitor from England loved them so much, he ordered four just like them. “It’s exciting to know that our cedar roofing has been to England. It blows my mind all the things people use cedar for,” said June.
The growth of the business has been customer driven and June expects it will stay that way.
Today, three full-time employees work with machinery and help get orders together. The Scoutens expect to expand a little, depending on the market. Their informative website (www.scoutenwhitecedar.ca) has captured the interest of many new customers.
“We’d like to do another 10 years. We can still operate well and we like what we’re doing. Milling is good for us physically and mentally. And it’s satisfying to be able to point to hundreds of fences, decks and docks in Ontario that we’ve been part of creating. We also enjoy helping customers who appreciate natural products like we do.
“We can’t sit around all day,” says June. “You need a reason to get up in the morning or you won’t live very long. The mill gets us moving and we really enjoy it.”
On the Cover:
It can take loggers time to get used to a new location when they move their equipment—new terrain, different timber, and perhaps different weather conditions. But Swiss logger Beni Brunner had to get used to a whole new country and continent when he set up logging operations in the B.C. Interior with his Valentini remote control tower yarder. Read all about Brunner’s B.C. experiences beginning on page 10 of this issue. (Cover photo by Paul MacDonald)
The robots are coming—to home building
A forest industry advisor recently warned wood producers that the robots are coming to American home building.
Logging in B.C., Swiss style
Swiss logger Beni Brunner has set up a remote control tower yarder operation in the B.C. Interior, and the equipment is working well in some very challenging conditions.
B.C.’s Kyahwood Forest Products has a green waste-not approach to business: it uses trim ends for its feedstock, the plant’s residuals are used for manufacturing wood pellets, and some of the sawdust generated at Kyahwood is used to heat the mill.
Forest planning tools can generate big $ savings
Alberta’s Millar Western Forest Products says there is the potential to save millions of dollars in its woodland operations with new forest planning tools.
Hobby sawmill takes off
What started as a hobby sawmill operation for retired teachers June and Larry Scouten has grown into a successful business—and they can now point to hundreds of fences, decks and docks in Ontario that Scouten White Cedar has been part of creating.
New and Noted at Portland’s Timber Processing & Energy Expo
We take a look at what was New and Noted at the recent Timber Processing & Energy Expo (TP&EE) in Portland, Oregon.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre and Alberta Innovates.
The Last Word
The forest industry faces some tough sledding with multiple challenges ahead, says Jim Stirling.