Monday, December 11, 2017

Now we can saw our own!

When we began operations in 2004 we chose a different path from most urban log recyclers. Rather than pick up and saw a few choice logs here and there we wanted to recycle as many as we could. This includes lots of lower grade logs and less desirable species, but darn it, that is what gets cut down so that is what should get used.

I would estimate that over 95% of the logs we pick up go straight to a local mill (after trimming and scanning at our lot) for pallet, blocking and ties. I have mentioned this before, but the remaining ~5% are the kind of logs that make woodworkers sit up and take notice so we had them sawn into boards that we dry and sell to make this whole enterprise work. We have worked with a number of different sawyers over the past 13 years, some very good, others not quite what we wanted. There were errors in communication, short cuts taken that compromised quality, and lots of time hauling logs one way and boards the other. It was time to saw our own.

It seems obvious now, but aside from the capital outlay there is considerable time to invest in running a sawmill and Joe (our only employee) hauls logs full time. No matter, we had everything else needed (more than can be said for some of the mill owners we used) to be efficient: a forklift, kiln, and some space. Here is our new Timber King 2000 ripping through a smaller walnut log:

We can get nice walnut boards from a log like that much faster than hauling it an hour away and making a second trip to pick up the boards. But the real benefit of sawing our own is getting exactly what we want from each log.  Here is a good example, a big sycamore, too big for the mill (that is a 36" bar for scale):

Joe chain saws it in half and gets it on the mill.

We only want quartersawn boards from this sycamore and it takes extra time and effort to get that. Here is a maneuver you won't likely see the $X/bf sawyers taking:

So instead of 50-70% QS and the rest being rift sawn, we get close to 100% QS boards like this:

Or like this white oak:

There is more to this story and this blog will be one place to see more. We have not had any trouble selling the best quality wood - it flies out of here - and we will now have more of the good stuff than ever before. It feels a lot like "what took us so long to figure this out" but whatever the excuse was, it is all better now. Well, not completely. There is a big pile of logs to be sawn.                                         

Thursday, September 29, 2016

fun with cookies

Log sections invariably crack as they dry yet they still make nice (and trendy) table tops. We rarely stock them but can usually manufacture one while you wait. Here are a couple burr oak cookies:

Monday, February 8, 2016

what a visit to Lumber Logs is like

Many of you already know - and maybe some of you will never know - but I want to describe the atmosphere at Lumber Logs on one of our retail Saturday mornings. Why not? Pictures of cool wood will always show up on this blog, but a building full of woodworkers enjoying themselves deserves its own post. Hopefully you will add your own thoughts in the comments.

Retailing lumber is a second job for both Joe and Tom; this is why we are only open for retail four hours per month (first and third Saturdays, 9 - 11 am). The effect of this bottleneck of opportunity is that the building fills with woodworkers of all types during those hours. This has been a fascinating study for me, as interesting as discovering sycamore or osage.

Let me just list a few observations:

  • Most visitors are males. Maybe 80-90% of our buyers are guys, but women and children and controlled pets are all welcome and make it all more fun. Our neighbors are an iron works, a trucking company, and a brickyard, so expect a testosterone laced industrial environment. We do not have a coffee machine, climate control, a restroom or running water. We do have a wood stove in winter and fan in the summer. I come home dirty after every visit.
  • Most people are happy to be there. I am likely not the only guy who rarely enjoys "shopping", but when the environment is a building full of my favorite material, then "shopping" becomes this experience full of imagination and hope and promise. (Maybe my wife feels the same way in a shoe store?) Finding the wood I need is easily one of my favorite woodworking steps because I haven't yet screwed anything up! Perhaps others feel this too since the building is full of happy people who share a love of this material.
  • People are understanding and patient. This strikes me as extraordinary (perhaps because I am often not particularly patient), but when there is a backlog of buyers waiting to have their selections scaled and priced, without exception these people show admirable flexibility. What happens next is really interesting.
  • Once somebody has met their particular need, they are free to engage others. And they do. Discussions about design, finishing, and teenage children flow naturally and without any posturing. A guy helps another with a large slab. Another shares an experience with an unfamiliar wood species. Ineptitude gets mentioned on occasion and it is always with laughter. Mistakes sound like fun; I'll have to try that.  
  • Most people find what they want. If they came looking for 2000 bf of black locust for their deck, then they will go away disappointed, but for a smaller scale project we have the goods. I am especially encouraged when somebody tries a new species they have not used before. The diversity that grows around here and thus that we stock should excite any worker of wood. Our local forest is an exceptional resource. Tell us about your project and we can suggest something that may surprise you. If we do not have what you want, say so and maybe we can improve. We have been cutting thicker oak as a result of multiple requests even though drying it is a challenge. Since our entire business is composed of Joe and Tom, if you get one of our ears you can affect what we do.
  • Not once in 12 years has anyone complained about us rounding all transactions to the nearest dollar. I wonder when pennies will go out of circulation.
  • Lumber haulers come in all shapes and sizes. We are especially impressed by the driver of a two-seater convertible who buys 100 bf of wood, the old dilapidated pickup with duct tape connecting rusty panels (for sale; this could be yours!), the jaguar driver, and the 16' trailer owner who buys one board. My story of 300 bf in and on a Subaru seems to encourage those who feel challenged with bulk.
  • Not even counting the business side of the experience, I always come away energized by the people who visit. This is not my universal reaction to crowds of people, so there is something special about woodworkers that I must like. These people are genuine optimistic doers. They understand challenge, failure, success, and making something that others treasure. They usually work alone but obviously get along with others. This combination of self reliance and sociability in a welcoming environment must be the formula for happiness, or at least temporary joy. At least, it seems to work that way. There is a natural and unforced woodworker's scene in St. Louis. Come experience it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Pictures from the yard

Here are some photos of lumber we have had come in from our sawyers:

Natural edge spalted maple.

Here are some others dry and ready to go:

The cherry slab inventory is full:

Big wide quartersawn white oak table top material - these are extraordinary:

8/4 osage, some of it quartersawn:

Spalted QS sycamore:

Elm slabs with burl figure:

Huge thick heavy oak slabs (those are keys, for scale):

Another shot of the elm on left, oak on right:

Box elder turning blanks (kiln dry):

Last but not least, crotch figured chunks in a number of different species (above the mantle pieces):

Monday, April 13, 2015

Pear turning blanks

There are few woods as fun to turn as pear. We rarely have any blanks of any size in stock, so I am mentioning now that we DO have pear in sizable chunks for turning. We started with some big sections:

Some became thicker boards:

Some became bowl blanks:

A couple of the bowl blanks include some swirling figure:

    (The white is wet Anchorseal). Some blanks are only $5. Come and get 'em.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Scenes from the yard

Let's see if this new smart phone camera is any good. Here are some recent shots from the Lumber Logs' headquarters:

We finally bought fork extensions for the lift and can load the kiln without sweat:

We just got some nice wide cherry table top material from the sawyer. The biggest are 20" wide (before drying):

We have some green pear in sizable chunks:

Some pear still needs to be sawn into blanks:

If you want a piece of osage orange to turn then Joe will chainsaw off a chunk for you, leaving a pretty sight (if you like yellow):

Speaking of Joe, he has decided to decorate his workspace with a portrait of his niece. She is showing that you can pose with a (plastic) chainsaw and still be pretty.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Lumber Logs makes its Disney Hall debut

Two members of the LA Philharmonic recently joined the four members of So Percussion  for a performance of "Timber" by Michael Gordon at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. The members of So made the walnut pieces being struck from Lumber Logs' wood. How cool is that?

photo credit Lawrence K Ho of the LA Times