Nestled in 172 acres of protected land adjoining Forest Park in Portland, Oregon, The Audubon Society of Portland is a non-profit environmental organization dedicated to wildlife. Their Wildlife Care Center is Oregon's oldest and busiest wildlife rehabilitation facility, treating more than 3,000 injured and orphaned native animals and responding to more than 10,000 wildlife-related inquiries a year. When planning new and improved structures to house the animals in their care, they turned to Sustainable NW Wood for materials that reflect their long term commitment to conservation.
Selecting local FSC Certified Western Red Cedar and Western Juniper lumber from restoration projects in Eastern Oregon, general contractor, conservationist and former Audubon employee, Esther Forbyn created beautiful structures for the Audubon's permanent residents that are not able to be released back into the wild. With thoughtful planning for the animals' well-being, safety of the care-takers, and a commitment to quality materials that reflect the values of Portland Audubon, the structures are mostly women-built with all local materials. These open-air mews allow the animals to feel connected to the surrounding forest, while keeping them safe. Birds like Ruby the Turkey Vulture, Julio the Great Horned Owl, Aristophanes the Raven and Xena the American Kestrel are now permanent residents of the Wildlife Care Center due to injuries and human imprinting that would make it impossible for them to survive in the wild. They are now living as educational ambassadors for their species and Portland Audubon. The Wildlife Care Center is free and open to the public and a wonderful way to connect with these magical creatures up close and personal.
The Nature Conservancy is a global environmental nonprofit working to create a world where people and nature can thrive. When it came time to remodel and expand their Oregon headquarters located in Portland, they were guided every step of the way by their mission to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. They held strong to their vision to conserve nature for its own sake as well as for its ability to fulfill the needs of their expansion and to enrich the lives of their employees and all who visit the new space. This project is a shining example of partnership, collaboration, flexibility and sustainability.
Housed in what is now called the Oregon Conservation Center Building on SE Belmont in Portland OR, The Nature Conservancy partnered with Lever Architecture to reimagine their inefficient and outdated space. Sustainable Northwest Wood was instrumental in sourcing FSC certified lumber, connecting with regional fabricators to develop finished goods, integrating Western Juniper and Western Red Cedar products from The Nature Conservancy’s regional conservations sites.
A Walk in the Woods: Carbon Farming in the Forest
Some months ago when the weather was warm and the days were longer, The Build Local Alliance hosted a walk in the woods to highlight and discuss the role that small landowners can play in emerging carbon markets. This event was co-hosted with the Pinchot Institute for Conservation and Ecotrust at the Raincloud Tree Farm in Corbett, OR. The owners of the Raincloud Tree Farm were gracious enough to allow 30 people to come to their property on a Saturday to learn how their forest can help mitigate our excessive carbon emissions.
As you might remember from biology class, trees in forests suck-up carbon dioxide (CO2) and expel oxygen (O). The symbiotic relationship between what we need to breath and what a forest produces has largely been taken for granted as the human species has evolved. This along with other ecosystems services, such as clean drinking water, climate regulation and others, have been so neglected that in many cases we need to be more concerned about the potential to maintain them.
Society’s continued use of fossil fuels has driven greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) to the point where our climate is changing. Putting aside the debate of whether it was going to change on its own or not, burning fossil fuels is an old technology that for reasons involving air, water and land pollution is something we should be evolving away from.
To begin to wean us off this old technology some jurisdictions have created ‘cap-and-trade’ systems to ensure that industries don’t continue to release emissions, related to fossil fuel burning, without penalty. On the West coast the California cap-and-trade program was launched in 2013 to put a cap on the amount of greenhouse gases the state emits. If emitters of greenhouse gases in California emit more then the state set cap allows then they must purchase offsets for the excess emissions on the California Carbon Market.
This is where forestland and responsible forest managers come in. Since forests sequester carbon (rated as the worst greenhouse gas) forest landowners can be paid to manage their forests in a way to sequester more carbon. In the past this financial opportunity was only available to large landowners, but recently more outreach and methods have been developed for small woodland owners to be involved. As we walked the forest, presentations from the landowner, Ecotrust, Forest Carbon Works, Sustainable Northwest and others helped to shape my understanding of what goes into inventorying carbon stocks in a forest, how that sequestered carbon stock is registered and how that stock can be sold to an industrial emitter in a different state.
What resonated with me at the end of the tour is a consistent theme that we share at Sustainable Northwest Wood: if properly motivated, forest landowners can protect ecosystems services that forests provide society while counting on multiple revenue streams outside of just timber. Over the coming decades the Raincloud Tree Farm will harvest about 61 thousand board feet of logs per year with a net annual timber revenue of $18,000 while also earning $4,700 a year as a carbon sink for the state of California.
I think it's safe to say that the owners of the Raincloud Tree Farm are certainly seeing the forest for more than just the trees.
Sustainable Northwest Wood loves Oregon White Oak and so do our customers; but are we "loving" it enough? Fire suppression, residential development, and conversion of native habitat for agricultural use have had a devastating effect on Oregon White Oak habitat. The greatest threat to oak is not the logging of individual trees, but the conversion of the oak habitat to other uses, such as vineyards and orchards. Today, a mere 3% of its historic range remains in the Willamette Valley. Our native oak woodlands and savannas are now considered some of the most threatened ecosystem types in the Pacific Northwest.
In response to this, a group of private land owners, led by Willamette Partnership, started The Oak Accord - a voluntary oak conservation program designed to urgently create awareness of oak habitats importance, to limit or halt its ongoing and rapid loss, and to promote long term stewardship. The Oak Accord is working to restore 20,000 acres of oak in the Willamette Valley and Sustainable Northwest Wood is committed to help reach this goal.
As a supplier of locally sourced materials from well-managed forests, we believe that restoration is an essential component of a resilient ecosystem and vibrant economy. In light of this belief, we pledge our support of The Oak Accord. Our partnership allows us and our customers to get involved in restoring this critical ecosystem. Sustainable Northwest Wood will be donating 10% of every Oregon White Oak purchase to the Oak Accord. Through this partnership, your purchases will directly support on-the-ground restoration projects.
Sustainable Building Week 2019 did not feel like an event only in its second year in existence. With a robust schedule of nearly 30 well-organized, well-attended events in a wide range of topics, this cross-pollination of Portland’s best and brightest design and building professionals came together like a well-oiled machine to inspire, connect and educate. About 1800 attendees attended events all over the city to focus on a multitude of issues that need to be addressed in an effort to Keep Portland Green.
Hot topics included Equity, Diversity & Inclusion and discussions around how true sustainability cannot exist without equity and Embodied Carbon and the challenges of measuring and reducing total carbon emissions in the construction industry; and Materials Transparency and how the expectation for transparency in product ingredients is growing in response to the demand for healthier built environments. The week was rounded out with sustainable building tours, panel discussions, happy hours, dance parties, a hike, a run and a morning of yoga for green professionals. Oh my!
The Sustainable NW Wood team divided up and attended as many events as possible, soaking up the opportunities to learn, share ideas, collaborate and connect. Here are our highlights from the week.
From Jake Foster, Inside Sales:
As a first time Sustainable Building Week attendee, I found it inspiring to see all the different angles and approaches people are taking in order to use business as a tool to implement a more sustainable society. The Small But Mighty Happy Hour consisted of 6 of the PNW’s finest firms and individuals giving a brief presentation on their work. The presenters ranged from an author, to a landscape architect, to a sustainability focused communications agency. Highlights for me included the work being done by Keith Jones, the director of PDX Green Loop, as well as some of the more impressive passive house designs I’ve ever seen by Michelle Jeresek at Ivon Street Studio. I left feeling comforted and reassured knowing that there are incredibly talented people in our community doing everything they can to make the world a better place.
Passive House 101 was an in-depth presentation of the history and fundamental principles of Passive House, the world’s leading standard for energy efficient construction. Josh Salinger of Birdsmouth and Beth Campbell of Green Hammer, both board members of Passive House Northwest, presented to a packed house at the spectacular office of Ankrom Moisan in downtown Portland. The audience consisted of a well-rounded mix of architects, builders and everyone in between. Highlights included the importance of reducing thermal bridging, use of high-performance windows, and project specific optimization of utilizing solar heat. Due to its project specific customization and proven success in every climate zone around the world, Passive House certainly does seem to be the world’s leading standard for energy efficient construction. With a great turnout of so many talented individuals and organizations, I left feeling confident that construction here in the PNW is heading in the right direction.
From Lynn Morgan, Sales & Marketing Manager:
It’s hard to believe this was only the 2nd Annual Sustainable Building Week. It was so well organized, thought provoking and inspiring! Debunking Product Transparency for Manufacturers was an informative, educational and in-depth look at how product ingredients are pushing specifications and how transparency around ingredients is transforming business. Led by our own Terry Campbell and krowdsourced Director of Sustainable Data & Resources, Ren DeCherney, this panel discussion brought together speakers from International Living Future Institute (ILFI), Cradle-to-Cradle (C2C) and Healthy Product Declaration (HPD) to de-mystify the process of obtaining 3rd party material certifications and how they help designers, architects and consumers more easily find products for healthier built environments.
Conversations about Conservation – a tour of the Oregon Conservation Center and headquarters of The Nature Conservancy. Hosted by Sustainable NW Wood and led by president, Ryan Temple, project architect Timothy Cooke with Lever Architecture, and Mitch Maxon with The Nature Conservancy, this tour highlighted some of the beautiful and well-thought design details of this newly remodeled building. The seamless partnerships worked together to create a much more open and collaborative space for their employees and the community. As part of The Nature Conservancy’s commitment to conservation and sustainable forestry, the project utilized local cedar and juniper products from their own preserves, and nearly 70,000 board feet of Forest Stewardship Council certified lumber, partnering with local manufacturing partners for a building that “walks the talk.”
From Terry Campbell, Director of Business Development:
Reflecting upon Sustainable Building Week (SBW) 2019 I am left with a positive attitude that many of the issues facing our planet and humanity can be addressed in the built environment. I condensed my experience during the week into three topics that caught my attention.
First it is clear that the sustainable building movement has a great opportunity to be a leader in addressing societal issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion. With three events dedicated to this topic I was happy to be a part of the Diversity Game Changer event which provided a platform for seldom heard voices to share their story. Collaborations for improving city, state, regional and national policies need to benefit all of us.
Secondly, I got very nerdy with ‘embodied carbon.’ This should be a rising concern for all green building practitioners as the amount of carbon emitted from the full life cycle of products needs to be better understood. We need to look for methods to eliminate the carbon upfront before its embodied in our products, buildings and atmosphere. The International Living Future Institute (ILFI) Portland Collaborative and Gensler event, Designing a Carbon-Free Future: for Portland and Beyond, provided some excellent information and in-depth discussion.
Lastly, Solar Oregon’s Electrify Everything event was utterly compelling. From the small renovations one can do to their dwelling, to the benefits that can be realized from electric cars, the panel made a very electrifying case for switching off the tap to all fossil fuels.
With these issues not going away, I look forward to developing some great collaborations with people I met and working towards Keeping Portland Green!
And that’s a wrap. One incredible week of connection, collaboration and learning with like-minded people dedicated to a better, more sustainable future. It doesn’t get much better than that. We’re looking forward to being part of Sustainable Building Week for many years to come and hope to see you there next year! For more info or to get involved http://sustainablebuildingweek.com/
Tucked away near the Deschutes National Forest, just south of Bend, Oregon is the sweet little community of La Pine. This is home to Levi’s Sawmill Services.
Levi Littrell owns one of several rural sawmills that we purchase Western Juniper to sell through our Portland lumberyard. These mills are turning an invasive “weed tree” into beautiful lumber, as part of grassland and watershed restoration work in central-eastern Oregon. To read about some of the other rural mills we support, check out earlier blogs of mill visits to In the Sticks Juniper Sawmill and Southfork Gardens.
The Sustainable NW Wood team popped in to visit Levi’s mill on a perfect spring day. The mill was a lively scene, with saws buzzing, sawdust flying, sawyers hustling like worker bees in a hive. Levi stopped production for a bit to greet us warmly and show us around his operation. He specializes in cutting juniper from the restoration projects and beetle killed blue stained Ponderosa pine salvaged from fire damaged and hazard logs. We find ourselves surrounded by organized piles of logs, sorted by size and species, along with stacks and stacks of stickered lumber, drying in the afternoon sun. For a small mill, he has the systems in place of a much larger operation, with eyes on the future.
Like most of the sawyers I’ve spoken with, Levi confirms that cutting juniper is unlike any other lumber. “With juniper, you have to read every single log.” It’s a gnarly and twisted tree, and the lumber is very dense with a wild, swirling grain pattern that has frustrated and baffled even the most seasoned sawyer. Levi changes saw blades at least 5 times a shift.
Harvesting the trees presents a whole different set of problems. Juniper trees have numerous, large and flexible limbs with very prickly needles. A considerable amount of time must be spent just delimbing the trees. The work is slow, dangerous and fatiguing. Traditional logging methods do not work with this tree, so finding loggers who actually want to cut this rebellious timber is becoming increasingly challenging. It takes significantly more time to harvest each tree, compared to other logging, and in this business, time is money. You can geek out on the study OSU did on the harvesting of juniper HERE. Levi has orders he is struggling to fill because the loggers are not providing logs in the volumes promised. As the demand for juniper lumber increases, this harvesting issue will need to be addressed if mills like his expect to survive. Juniper is still a largely unexplored product and most of the mills we work with are grappling with how to make a successful business from this unruly commodity. With a mill that is set up and geared toward scalability, Levi Littrell seems to be the closest to finding the sweet spot.
There are many benefits to constructing your raised bed with juniper lumber. Restoration Juniper is long-lasting, beautiful, and chemical-free lumber that supports family-run mills committed to restoring Northwest ecosystems. Juniper lasts much longer than today's cedar or redwood, up to 50 years or more in ground contact applications because of its naturally high oil content that is decay and rot resistant.
It is genuinely not a good idea to use pressure treated lumber for raised beds: the chemicals can leach into your soil and ultimately into your vegetables. So juniper is a good alternative for the environment AND your health.
Understanding juniper lumber is key to successfully building a raised bed out of Juniper. Juniper landscape timbers come in a variety of sizes. The most common sizes for raised beds are 2"x6"x8' and 2"x8"x8'. Juniper lumber comes from a small tree that has a great deal of character. Juniper landscaping timbers are true dimensions, meaning they are an actual 2" x 6" or 8", which is pefect for stacking. Landscape grade lumber will often have some bark, wane, knots and is rough sawn. Understanding Juniper’s unique character before you embark on building your raised bed will provide a much more satisfying experience.
Let’s take a look at what is required to build a 4-foot by 4-foot raised bed out of Juniper boards. I chose this size for our example raised bed because it makes sense from a materials standpoint, as there will be little waste. It’s always a good idea to sketch out your project first to take into account the ideal length of lumber you’ll need, as well as how many pieces you’ll need so you can get everything in one trip.
This project will require one 4x4x8 Restoration Juniper timber, four 2x6x8s or 2x8x8s depending on the height of the bed walls, coated (or stainless) 3/16” or 1/4” (min. 3-1/2” long) flat-head or hex-head timber screws, a saw (circular or hand), measuring tape, a pencil, a carpenter’s square (or “speed” square), power drill, drill bit that matches the diameter of the shank (unthreaded portion) of your screws, a drill bit that MATCHES the diameter of the screw threads, and a driver bit (for the drill) or a socket wrench.
The first thing you need to do is decide on the height of the walls or depth of the bed. Beds that are at least 12” deep can support most vegetables. Deeper beds with higher sides, those that are 16” to 18”, are wonderful for limiting back strain. My own raised beds are 24” tall with a 6” ledge running around the top for sitting and for placing garden tools (and the taller beds are the perfect height for very young gardeners). A personal observation: I have noticed that my taller raised beds need watering less often than 12" beds.
To create a 12” deep bed you will need 2x6x8 Restoration Juniper, which can be found at Sustainable NW Wood. Our staff can help you select the Juniper that will work for your project. We’re using 8-foot long pieces because the raised bed will be 4’ long and 4’ wide. Two rows of 2x6 per side will get the 12” depth for your bed. If you would like the walls to be taller, two rows of 2x8s will give you a 16” depth, which is close to standard chair height (for comfort). Using 8’ lengths helps to eliminate too much waste.
Start by cutting the 4x4x8 into the correct length using a circular saw, four pieces at 12” long for the 12” walls or four pieces at 16” long for the 16” length. Many circular saws won’t cut all the way through a 4x4 post, so you will have to mark around to the opposite side to make your cuts on the opposite side line up properly. If you don’t have a circular saw, you can also use a handsaw, it will just take some muscle.
Now measure your boards to make sure each cut will give you a 4’ section. Make all your cuts at once so that everything will be ready to assemble. You will need to cut two pieces of 4’ for each side. You now have everything cut to the right lengths to get started on building your raised beds.
Fasten the 2x6 Juniper boards to the posts using the timber screws (which are very rust-resistant). You will need to be careful to position the screw holes so they won’t hit each other coming in from a right angle. To do this, you will alternate our holes at high and low points on the post at each corner for each 2x6.
Since your screws are at least 3-1/2” long, you will take you drill bit that is the diameter of the SHANK of the screw and drill the FULL depth of the length of the screw. This is the PILOT hole; this is the hole that the screw threads bite into. Then follow this with the larger drill bit (sized to the diameter of the screw threads) JUST to the thickness of our outside board. This is the CLEARANCE hole; this allows you to easily pass the screw through the first board and allows ALL of the attaching power of the threads to be applied to the second board (your upright post).
Screw the first board to a 4x4 post making sure it is flush with the bottom. Repeat this at the opposite end of the board with a second post. Secure the second row in the same manner. Now you are ready for the next side. As explained earlier, stagger the attachment holes on the right angle of the post and screw the bottom tier to the post and repeat with the second tier.
Now you are ready to set the 90 degree angles of the two sides. This can be done using a carpenter’s square, or, if you only have a measuring tape, the 3-4-5 method (SEE ILLUSTRATION). It is important to make sure each corner makes a 90 degree angle or your raised bed will not be square. You just have to repeat these steps for the two remaining sides, making sure each board is secured to the post with two timber screws.
When you’re finished, get someone to help you position it where you want the bed, making sure it gets plenty of sun. I recommend laying steel mesh (also called ”hardware cloth”) followed by landscaping cloth on top before you add the soil. This allows for good drainage while keeping gophers and other unwanted critters out. Pick a screen size that is less than 1” squares; DO NOT use window screen. If you want to put a layer of gravel before the soil goes in, this will further aid drainage, also. I recommend 3/4–minus gravel (can be purchased in bags) about 2” deep.
Basically, you’re done. But if you want to add a sitting/tool ledge around the top, remember to figure in extra 2x6s for that; these can also be added later if you decide.
There you have it! Now it’s time to fill it up with your favorite mix of garden soil and other soil amendments and you’ll be ready to plant your healthy garden. Your new Restoration Juniper raised bed will give you many years of gardening enjoyment and without the introduction of any harsh chemicals from the lumber.
Exploring the area where Western Juniper is growing with reckless abandon and meeting some of the sawyers who are removing it and turning it into beautiful lumber was an eye opening and surprisingly heart- warming experience. It changed me. Moved me. Stirred something familiar in my memories of growing up in a small, rural town in Eastern Kentucky. Something about the close-knit community, the hard-working people with a deep connection to the land, the struggle to patch together a decent living. In this place of unparalleled beauty, I make my second stop of this mill visit journey at South Fork Gardens, located in Dayville, Oregon. If you missed the first stop at In the Sticks Juniper Mill and want to learn more of the back story about the grassland and watershed restoration work we are involved with, you’ll find it at this link. https://snwwood.com/Blog/Mill-Visits-in-Juniper-Country
I’ll start by saying it feels pretty great to be part of a company that is doing good work in the world. I began my adventure to Juniper country knowing that we are supporting the restoration of the grasslands and watersheds in eastern Oregon, that we are working with small rural sawmills turning an invasive, water thief into beautiful lumber and that juniper is a very cool wood. Colorful, character rich, dense, durable, and super rot resistant, juniper makes great products like landscape timbers, garden box material, decking and siding, butcherblock countertops, flooring, tongue and groove wall paneling. I can (and do) talk about juniper all day, every day. But the heart-warming part of this experience came from meeting these sawyers face to face, in their element, and seeing first-hand how our support directly affects real people in these small communities.
The population of Dayville, Oregon is about 150 people. Tony Hand brought his family here from the Portland metro area when his kids were about to hit middle school. He wanted a better life for his family, off the grid and away from the growing concerns of urban life. His son David, now in his early 30s, runs the portable saw mill perched on the rugged mountainside of their 363-acre property. I asked David what it was like to move away from the city to a cabin with no electricity in the middle of nowhere, and he lit up and smiled at the question. “It was like camping every day!”
There aren’t many options in the way of commerce, jobs, and sources of income in Dayville. When he’s not cutting juniper, David works at the Dayville Public Water Works. His brothers are machine mechanics supporting the logging industry. His mom runs the general store, Twisted Treasures and Gnarly Goods, where you can get the best cup of coffee in town, fill your growler and buy a piece of local art.
This father and son team supplies some of the best quality 6x6 landscape timbers we can get our hands on and are a go-to resource for custom cuts.
The Hands’ property is a rare find with a spring fed creek that runs year-round. The juniper that grows here is high quality because of this precious water source. Tony selectively logs the property, cutting and thinning to remove fire hazards and allow room for younger trees to grow for the next generation. His intention is to leave a legacy for his grandkids, and he is logging in such a way that ensures they will be able to not only utilize, but also protect the natural resources of this beautiful land for generations to come. One of the surprises of this trip is the level of stewardship and respect for the land these sawyers have. It touched me deeply.
The mill they operate is portable and the same kind Tony used as an arborist in Portland to mill slabs of fallen trees on site. It’s a very hands-on, manual, physically demanding process compared to the last mill I visited. The adjustments of the saw blade to cut at the correct dimension and pushing the blade through the lumber are all manual. I watch father and son work in harmony, without a lot of words between them, and a sense of pride emanating when the final cut turns the log into the timber. When they’re on a roll, they can mill a log in about 6 minutes. David finishes the demonstration and shows off the chainsaw end trimmer contraption he built to chop the rough ends to a uniform finished length. It’s pretty dang clever and gets the job done.
David is the primary sawyer and mostly works alone, milling timbers while Tony works in the woods, thinning, pruning, logging, keeping his son supplied with premium logs to cut. They have an impressive load started that will soon be headed to our shop in Portland. Their lumber has been used on hundreds of projects around the country like the Oregon Zoo, PCC Sylvania, and a load for a homeowner project in New York just left our yard. There is a growing demand for this durable lumber, and that demand supports these two juniper sawyers and many more. We thank you for that.
Deep in the heart of eastern-central Oregon is some of the most breathtaking high desert landscape in the country. This is where Western Juniper calls home and where I had the immense pleasure of touring some of the juniper sawmills and getting to know the sawyers we work with. I left with a much deeper understanding and appreciation of what it takes to get this amazing wood into our lumberyard. In this three-part series, I’ll take you on my journey to connect to the people and the land, and gain a sense of place in Juniper Country.
First, a little back story: Western Juniper, Juniperus occidentalis, is an evergreen conifer that is native to Oregon, but years of fire suppression have allowed an explosion of the population, growing from a territory of about 1 million acres to 7-10 million acres. This native has become invasive. Once pristine grassland and prairies are now overrun with juniper and dozens of the marked creeks on the drive along the Journey Through Time Scenic Byway were dry as a bone. One of these thirsty trees soaks up 25-30 gallons of water a day in an already parched region. The result is devastating the watersheds and drying up the tributary creeks that feed the John Day River, threatening salmon, the Greater Sage Grouse, and other wildlife, not to mention the humans that live in the area. I knew that the invasion of juniper is a real problem here, but seeing the effects first hand was startling. If water is life, this area is in critical condition.
In response to the proliferation, the non-profit and our parent company, Sustainable Northwest, helped forge The Western Juniper Alliance, bringing together government, civic leaders, non-profit organizations, land owners and businesses to address the issues and create solutions that have a positive impact on the environment, while boosting the economy of the surrounding rural communities hungry for work. The impact to the watershed after removing juniper is profound and almost immediate. Within a month of cutting juniper from along the creek beds, pools of water appear where there was none. Within a year, the grasses grow lush again, and signs of wildlife return.
Among the reasons Sustainable Northwest Wood exists is to support small mills in rural areas. We are the retail outlet for about a dozen juniper sawmills throughout Oregon, selling the products they produce and creating markets throughout the Pacific NW and beyond. These juniper sawyers are turning an ecological problem into an opportunity and are now cutting lumber instead of firewood. Granted, a fair amount of it still ends up as firewood, but the bulk of the logs become landscaping lumber that significantly longer lasting than its counter parts cedar and redwood. Only about 10% of the logs that are harvested make the #1 grade to become the beautiful juniper decking, flooring, siding, wall paneling, and butcher block countertop material we have available at our shop. My quest was to see what it takes to go from log to lumber.
First stop: In the Sticks Juniper Mill located in Fossil, Oregon. And it truly is “in the sticks.” Fossil is about three hours from Portland, a drive through steep, rugged canyons that are a geologist’s dreamland, past acres of wind farm turbines, rolling hills and jaw dropping vistas. It is home to more mule deer than people. In some stretches of the drive, I saw more bald eagles than cars. It is a tiny town of about 450 people, which is the same size town I grew up in Kentucky, where everyone knows everyone, and most people scratch together a living by juggling at least a couple jobs.
Owner, sawyer, and entrepreneur, Kendall Derby, lights up when he sees me and greets me with a warm welcome. He has a Hoss Cartwright quality about him, with an infectious smile and an unassuming demeanor. He’s an epic storyteller and draws you in with tales that always begin with “Oh, I’ve got a good story for you…”
Kendall has a long history in the industry. He grew up with a dad in the Forest Service, so his play grounds were state and national parks. Born in New Hampshire, his formative years were spent in Kentucky in the Daniel Boone National Forest, which is my neck of the woods, and the Sierra Mountain range in Nevada. It was in the Sierras that he first realized he was in love with the mountains. A love not unlike how he loved his own mother. A love like what he came to find with his wife, Amy. The mountains are a part of who he is. And I was deeply moved by the connection.
He was introduced to his wife Amy by a mutual friend and after 18 years together, they operate like a well-oiled machine, tending to the farm chores, feeding the chickens and mucking the horse stalls at the end of their work day. Amy works for Oregon State University as the Wheeler County Extension Agent. She’s just returned from a leadership retreat with more than 100 teens involved in the 4-H program. She and Kendall have hosted 4-H Urban Exchange students over the years in an effort to bridge a very real rural–urban divide, and give youth in both areas a chance to understand natural resource management issues, and walk a mile in the other’s shoes.
Kendall was a late bloomer, earning a degree from OSU in Rangeland Ecology & Management at the age of 27. He’s both an environmentalist and a realist. He has a deep understanding of the rural rancher. He hunts. He fishes. He’s on the planning committee for Wheeler County, the poorest county in the state. He spent a number of years in the Forest Service until an entrepreneurial itch just had to be scratched.
In 2004, Kendall milled his first log from a piece of land he purchased as a timber sale in Dayville, Oregon. He intended to log the timber and sell half of it to high end furniture makers. He chuckles at his first “failed idea.” But the love for the work stuck, and in 2007 he moved his milling operation to its current location in Fossil. He runs a computerized wood-mizer sawmill, which is high tech in comparison to some of the other mills I would visit. He cuts a log into a 6x6 landscape timber in a matter of minutes without touching it. He has a kiln for drying lumber, which is a definite competitive advantage, and adds significantly value to his offerings. He offers a drying service to other sawmills in the area, which also helps boost his sales.
He currently has two employees and is looking to hire at least a couple more. But with a population of 450 people and a median age of 63, there simply isn’t a pool of qualified people to hire to run the mill. He muses about ways to keep the next generation in the county to improve the workforce. In 2018, Fossil High School had a graduating class of three. Yes, THREE. And the young people are not staying. There’s simply not much to keep them here.
Aside from the workforce, running a juniper sawmill has the additional obstacles of the rural location, which hampers shipping the product, high equipment costs, low margins, and a largely unexplored product. He’s seen a dozen mills start up and fail. He’s come close a couple times himself. But still he persists. He wears all the hats: mill owner, sawyer, marketing, sales, blog writer, web master, mechanic, purchaser, and the customer service guy who helps the local furniture maker find the perfect slabs of juniper in between answering my relentless questions. It occurs to me that he has to be weary. I asked him, “Why do you do it, when it’s so hard to make it?” I thought I saw a little mist in the corners of his eyes as he spread his hands toward the hills and said “This.”
Tucked away in the basement of the Gardeners and Ranchers Building in industrial SE Portland is the shop of one of our favorite craftsmen, Josh Aguiar, the owner of A Joint Effort. The building itself is filled with creatives and makers of all kinds, and the place is buzzing with the sounds of machinery and the smell of sawdust. I meandered through the dimly lit hallway to find his space with a Sasquatch sticker plastered on the door, a clear sign that this was going to be fun.
Peeking inside, the space is filled to overflowing with stacks of wood, tools, piles of cutting boards in various stages, finished projects and some in mid-stream. The room feels alive with activity. I am greeted by Maxwell, Josh’s helper that has been a family friend he was a little kid and joined the team in 2017. Josh welcomes me with a warm smile behind a dusty beard. He is somewhat shy, openly regretful about the condition of his shop and wishing out loud that he’d cleaned up a little more for me. I grew up under the feet of a carpenter, and the sight, sound and smell of his shop flood me with fond memories. I assure him it’s perfect just like it is.
I’ve only been with Sustainable Northwest Wood about 8 months, so I’m curious about our customers, what they do, and how they work. This is my first shop visit and I’m like a kid in a candy store taking it all in. I start asking a flurry of questions that are burning my curiosity. Josh is humble and thoughtful with his answers, and at moments beaming with pride.
Josh got his start in woodworking at 18 in a cabinet shop in his tiny home town of Tonganoxie, Kansas. He moved to Portland at 21 and never looked back. In his mid-twenties, he was fortunate enough to land an apprenticeship with the legendary wood sculptor, Leroy Setziol, who was one of the Northwest’s most accomplished wood artists. Leroy gave him a piece of Western Red Cedar to work with as his first project. Apparently, it was good enough for the work to continue, and Josh spent the next two years learning from the master. He left a lifelong impression on Josh’s work and instilled in him the philosophy of “Do your own thing. Be your own man.” He shows me a stunning piece made of myrtle, beautifully chip carved into a table. It takes my breath away and I can see that he is proud of it. His soul is hungry for more commissioned work like this, but his bread and butter are the cutting boards he sells at Portland Saturday Market. When compared to his passion for carving, he’s somewhat dismissive of the stacks of cutting boards gracing his shop. These are amazing little pieces of art made from local walnut that he helps mill from salvaged trees, combined with myrtle, madrone and maple that he hand-selects from our lumberyard. Every piece is unique, one of a kind and finished to a buttery surface that I can’t help but touch. He uses a blend of walnut oil and beeswax to seal each piece, sometimes enlisting his kids to help with this part of the process. It’s an all hands on deck family business, especially around the holidays when they are cranking out hundreds of beautiful cutting boards.
I asked Josh what’s the hardest thing he’s had to learn. He thought for just a moment, chuckled and said “Sales.” I can see him squirm just a little, unsure of his own charm, and can imagine the introvert in front of me struggling to put on that sales hat. He tells me his son, Cypress, (yes, the woodworker named his kid after a tree) is a natural, so he puts him in charge of running his booth at the Market while he cranks out more product at the shop.
When I stop by his booth at Portland Saturday Market the next day, it is bustling with activity. He’s right – Cypress is a natural salesperson, charismatic, knowledgeable and pretty dang adorable. I spend some time browsing the amazing selection of one of a kind pieces on display before making the agonizing decision of which one is coming home with me. As it turns out, it’s impossible to buy just ONE.