Adventures in Log Hunting: the Pulp Mill
In the world of urban lumber, most wood from tree removal is turned into firewood or mulched. For a long time, I had assumed most logs harvested in industrial forestry were turned into lumber. It turns out that a lot of wood from logging projects doesn't make grade for various reasons and is sent to the pulp mill and turned into chips for paper.
In the fall of 2015 my business partner Mark and I went to a pulp mill between Detroit Lake and Salem Oregon. We heard rumors that mixed in among low grade pulp logs one could find some awesome oversized wood. In short, an exciting treasure hunt! Up to this point, we had been spending an average of 4-6 hours on urban tree removals getting one or two logs at a time. Having 20 or 30 logs on hand seemed like a proper log deck to us.
Upon arrival, we came face to face with the sheer volume of logging that goes on in Oregon alone. Giant front loaders unloaded whole log trucks in one scoop. Log decks were piled 20 feet in the air that went on as far as the eye could see. The mill or should I say wood shredder aka log eater, churned nonstop, grinding log truck loads of wood into chips in record time.
In and among the piles of wood, we saw 48" plus diameter old growth fir logs and huge decks of big leaf maple. How could this be? Chipping old growth fir? Upon closer inspection, we found defects like white speck, root rot, and excessive ring shake. A lot of mills have also retooled to cut smaller logs and actually don't want large, old growth logs.
After a frenetic and excited romp around the piles of wood, Mark and I decided to buy a 40" diameter big leaf maple log. It was probably 30 feet long and we had to trim off the end so it could fit on the trailer! Getting it off the trailer with an underpowered front loader proved to be quite a challenge as well!
Cutting and stacking the slabs was a lot of work. Our equipment struggled to load the log as it weighed 10,000 pounds. Pulling each slab off the mill took some ingenuity, leverage and sheer physical exertion. After a day and a half, we had an amazing stack of 18' long big leaf maple slabs!
Fast forward a few years and the next step I had been dreading arrived: Surfacing all of the wood. From one end of the stack to the other between the planing machine took about 70 feet. Over and over as we ran the slabs through the machine, revealing the amazing color and art of nature. There wasn't much time to appreciate all this as I had to repeatedly muscle each slab off the outfeed table onto a forklift.
Eventually, we won the battle, bringing in one slab at a time into the Epilogue showroom at Sustainable Northwest Wood. Three years after starting this harrowing task, the wood is finally for sale!
For the pulp mill, selling one log to a couple of guys with a small flatbed and trailer is pretty much a nuisance. But as Mike, the mill manager said, "God didn't grow that tree to be turned into toilet paper!" We tend to agree and think you will too!