By Jack Petree
Many challenges face North America’s forests, including insect, fungal, and invasive plant infestations, catastrophic wildfire, political issues, and environmental impacts (both real and perceived). But in the south-central Oregon town of Lakeview, Bob White runs Lakeview Reclaimed Lumber, one of the most versatile — and environmentally sensitive — sawmill operations likely to be found anywhere in the nation. This facility may one day be seen as a precursor to the shape of at least one sector of a healthy forest products industry in 2021 and beyond.
Using mostly thin kerf processing equipment, Bob runs a dedicated small-log system capable of producing as much as 20,000 board feet of lumber per day. Combining a stationary thin kerf mill set up for 20’ logs with a variety of other equipment to mill dimensional lumber, White is able to create what he calls “whimsical” buildings, furniture lumber, flooring, paneling, massive furniture slabs, and just about anything else imaginable.
“If someone wants it, we can probably mill it,” says White.
Bob uses the term “reclaimed lumber” to mean something beyond the old-fashioned sense of the word. In the “new” world of the 2020s, logs and tree parts that previously wasted away in slash piles and landfills, or were just left in the woods to burn or disintegrate, are now recovered and turned into high-value products by thin kerf based companies like Lakeview Reclaimed Lumber. Turning potentially wasted logs into high value lumber is what Bob means by reclaiming. A dedicated small-log system also removes one concern of some opponents to thinning for fire reduction — 16” and smaller logs characterize much of the fire reduction harvest.
Bob’s log source is also out of the ordinary, especially when compared to conventional sawmills that cut for volume. Bob says he mills, markets, and sometimes builds, a variety of end products including high-end, custom furniture and small outbuildings from unconventional sources. He has utilized “blue pine” (the result of beetle kill); Juniper, from trees removed to enhance and preserve native habitat throughout semiarid regions of Oregon and other states; and a variety of small-log species removed to reduce the potential for wildfires. He also takes slabs from trees conventional mills cannot use or refuse to take.
Bob also reclaims lumber in the more traditional sense. In its present form, Lakeview Reclaimed Lumber was founded to mill five million board feet of 8” X 12” X 18’ of mostly oak timbers bolted together for use as crane mats, which supported the massive machinery on a pipeline project.
Because Bob can provide a client with virtually any wood product they might have in mind, he says versatility in his sawmill equipment is a must, emphasizing, “I’ve got to have it!”
At the core of Bob’s processing approach is a Wood-Mizer small log system consisting of a 2-head vertical saw (TVS) worked in tandem with a 2-head horizontal resaw (HR250). In tandem the system allows the very small logs (16” and smaller) characteristic of fuel thinning efforts to be milled into salable product.
An LT50 capable of handling 20’ logs, a mill originally powered with a Yanmar diesel but now converted to 3-phase electric, adds additional versatility to the operation. A chainsaw mill is currently used to mill slabs from oversized logs; however, Bob says he hopes to one day replace it with a thin kerf substitute like Wood-Mizer’s WM 1000 wide mouth industrial mill. Handling of materials is accomplished by means of a Takeuchi TL12 skid steer.
The small log system is one reason Bob’s operation might one day be seen as a template for the future forest industry’s success as it moves into ever-increasing environmental scrutiny. Depending on the mill owner’s goals, the system can be operated profitably at either low or relatively high volumes, thus offering flexibility seldom achieved in a sawmill operation — large or small.
Run at optimum levels and depending on species and dimension, Bob’s operation could potentially process as much as 20,000 board feet of lumber per day; however, according to Bob, the saws in his mill are generally running at a small fraction of the input they are capable of. The extreme difficulties presented by the oak crane mat timbers; an inability to find employees in an era of subsidies to those who are either out of work or choose not to work; and the huge variety in the type of wood Lakeview mills combine to create a situation where Bob’s mill operates at what might seem like a snail’s pace compared to full-on operation in optimal wood.
Bob admits the employee problem is especially vexatious. “Right now we’ve gone down from six people to three. If I had another order right now I don’t think I could take it and promise delivery anytime soon. Based on business right now, I’d really like to have 10 people working.”
It is a testament to the flexibility of Bob’s small-log system that Bob is able to continue operating Lakeview Reclaimed during this time of immense difficulty for all businesses.
Issues such as the inability to profitably harvest and mill small logs; the small volume of logs close to production facilities; and the number of species that are not desired by today’s conventional sawmills have all been limiting factors in the nationwide effort to treat forests for health and resilience. As reported in TimberWest Magazine (March/April 2019), Julie Sackett, the Forest Health and Resiliency Division manager for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR), commented that the lack of enough commercial contractors to perform the catastrophic fire reduction work the agency plans for is hindering the success of DNR’s planning efforts.
In creating a market for otherwise unsalable wood fiber, small-log sawmills can fill a void in the forest products industry capable of supplying harvesting, trucking, and milling jobs that will provide both economic opportunity and environmental benefit to an industry hard hit by a lack of both in the past.
Unorthodox as it might seem, Bob White is an individual living life on his own terms to the extent possible, and like many owners of small mills, his operation reflects a highly individualized approach to achieving his personal goals in life.
“I just love this work,” he says. “If I had my choice I would work 24 hours per day. I just love making beautiful wood, and I love seeing that wood used to make beautiful objects.” The fact that Bob can make a living for himself doing what he loves, while providing a good living for others, even in times of economic downturn, and bring about significant environmental enhancements as he does all that is, according to Bob, “a big bonus!”
ON THE COVER
Image of Mark Swanson Logging putting its Tigercat through its paces.
Small Log Mills Likely to Play a Big Part in the Future
Lakeview Reclaimed Lumber, a versatile sawmill operation, may one day be seen as a precursor to the shape of at least one sector of a healthy forest products industry.
From Yarder to Ground
Mark Swanson of Mark Swanson Logging has had the ability to change mid-stride and grasp opportunity for 36 years.
The Next Generation Logging in Southwest Washington
At 34 years old, Adam Zepp, owner of Fuller Creek Enterprises LLC, is one of the younger members in the logging industry, but he’s no newcomer. He is the third generation of Zepps in the woods.
Managing Log Loader Maintenance
Practical methods to extend the life of your log loader undercarriage
Jammin’ Gears and Throwin’ Tongs
Kyle Freedman’s love of the mountains and forests around his hometown helped drive him, literally, into the timber business, and the formation of High Country Logging.
The aftereffects of wildfire smoke and how to tackle it.
Record lumber prices present opportunity, and risk, for domestic industry.