Green Horizons Newsletter - AgEBB

Green Horizons

Volume 9, Number 1
Winter 2005

Landowner Spotlight: Landowner produces, markets “garbage” wood with portable saw mill and kiln

Paul Easley of Moweaqua, Ill., will tell you that there is money to be made in sawing and selling wood that to others, is waste. Wood byproducts, including those usually left in the woods following Timber Stand Improvement (TSI), can readily become a supply for pen blanks, bowl blanks, or other craft wood projects that do not require the typical boards sold by larger mills.

Easley has established a successful business during the past 18 years, utilizing a portable sawmill and a dehumidification dry kiln. His retail store, Oak Leaf Wood ’N Supplies, sells retail hardwoods, imported lumber, hand tools, and woodworking supplies to customers across the U.S. and overseas, in addition to the value-added wood products that are sawed, dried, planed and shaped on-site – with a list of products including cabinet and furniture-grade lumber, carving stock, mantles, gun stock blanks and ball point pen stock. Easley is also producing lower-grade wood products, including planking for bridges, oak flooring, stock for trailer beds and grade stakes.

“There’s an unbelievable amount of products that can be made from wood,” Easley said. “I didn’t reinvent the wheel; I just went after the markets for products that are already out there.”

Paul Easley surveys his collection of blanks, which includes a supply for high-end and lower-grade wood products.
When Paul and his wife, Kathy, purchased their farm, many of the trees were dying and needing to be culled, an “old growth” forest. However, Easley believed there had to be a wiser use for the trees that needed removed than trash wood or firewood. “It’s nice to feed mother earth, but why not take the natural resource of the dying trees and cut it into some usable product?” Easley said. “There’s a tremendous amount of material that gets thrown away that can be sawed out and made into usable products.”

This became the driving force for Easley to pursue purchasing a portable saw mill, then later, a dry kiln system to add value to the wood. “I went to find someone to buy some of my logs and found that they had no value and that I was too small a harvester to deal with on a commercial level, so I bought my own saw mill.”

Today, Easley continues to practice selective harvesting, removing undesirable species from his woodlots for processing into value-added products, then replacing them with new trees. “Eventually, we’ll have even growth and some very high quality trees. It’s the proper thing to do when you’re working in a small woodlot like this,” he said.

Approximately 20 percent of the wood processed into value-added products is removed from Easley’s acreage, with the remaining 80 percent harvested from urban contractors who would other-wise have to take their logs to a landfill.

“It’s staggering when you consider that half of the forest land in the state of Illinois is on row crop farms – becoming the back forty acreage that nobody looks at like it’s an asset,” Easley said. “I venture to say that if half of the forest and land owners in Illinois would look at their wooded areas like they were a crop with value, and market some of these materials, they would not only supplement their family farm but in some cases, it could be the salvation of the family farm.”

To ensure a continual supply of the raw materials needed for a growing value-added business, Easley developed a distribu- torship for the saw mill company he purchased his own mill from. Soon the entrepreneur was marketing and selling portable sawmills in the region and purchasing all or part of the lumber produced by his customers. The Easleys also began to recover wood that would otherwise be buried in landfills, for which contractors had to pay a price for disposal. Once the word traveled that he was seeking this wood most people considered trash, Easley found himself with a tremendous amount of supplies to work with.

“I can go in, and depending on the species, I can take what is left after a commercial harvest and make as much off of it as you can with the logs that were removed,” he said.

“It’s all in the way you cut it, the way you market your product. A lot of things you might find here you wouldn’t think there is a market for, until we produce something out of it.”

Using a band sawmill, Paul processes wood others might consider trash into value-added products on his farm.
For example, Easley received two large walnut crotch pieces, dumped by a tree service. After making one pass through the saw mill, Easley was astounded at the beautiful natural feathering on the pieces, excellent material for gun stock blanks. Using a digital camera, he photographed the feathering and emailed this with a description to several possible buyers across the country. Immediately a buyer from Tennessee who makes free-formed tables contacted Easley with measurements for cuts he wanted and instructions to ship it immediately. The material that had been on the ground eight hours previously was on its way to Tennessee, and Paul had received $800.

“Keep it small, keep it simple, and don’t buy any more equipment than it takes to get the job done,” suggests Easley. “Then go to work, do the job with a smile on your face and be enthusiastic about your product. If you’re willing to do that, and talk with your customer, you can succeed. We’re living proof.”

Paul Easley is chairman of the Illinois Tree Farm Committee and is a featured speaker at the Tri-State Forest Conference, April 2, Keokuk, Iowa (See calendar of events).

More information about his business is available on the new DVD of agroforestry practices, produced by the University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry. To purchase a DVD, see information on back page.

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