Local Lumber

by Bill Duesing

First broadcast on WSHU/WSUF-FM, January 7, 2000

I have been building several new bookcases using wonderful, wide, white pine boards from a small sawmill about a mile east of our farm. The wood is beautiful and easy to work with. I bought impressive, one-foot-wide boards to use for shelves, sides and doors. Although this pine is white or reddish when fresh, it darkens with age to a rich pumpkin color. The lumber itself, the one-man sawmill and the trees growing in the forest around here are all part of the pleasure of the experience.

Southern New England is in one of the world's great forest regions. Our temperate climate and long-term plentiful rainfall encourage the growth of many large trees. White pine is one of the most magnificent and valuable timber trees in this region. It grows quickly to a very impressive size. With long, blue-green needles in groups of five, white pines can grow up to six feet in diameter, and over 200 feet tall. They prefer the dryer uplands. Several groves of pines planted on our farm by the former owner over 30 years ago now provide beauty, oxygen and cool summertime shade.

For thousands of years, the people who lived in New England used nearby trees to make homes, tools, vehicles and other useful objects. Besides pine, tulip, ash, white and red oak, maple, cherry, hemlock, birch and beech trees can also be cut into beautiful local lumber.

Our local sawmill is a simple, but impressive operation. Carlton, the sawyer, wasn't allowed to reclaim his factory job when he returned from World War II because of a disability. He was retrained and worked for decades as an engineer. Now, well into his retirement years, he saws these elegant boards. Carlton created this mill in the maple forest behind his house. It is a simple open structure, made with lumber from the mill and covered by the roof from an old school bus. With his engineering skills, he is continually adding control mechanisms which make it easier for one person to cut the ample supply of logs that contractors and road crews drop off.

After cutting the lumber, Carlton carefully stacks it with thin strips of wood between the layers so that air can move around the boards and dry them evenly. Fresh-cut lumber needs to be dried before most uses. The wood I've been using has been stacked this way for about a year, long enough to be fairly dry, although it will shrink a bit more in our heated space. If desired, the sawyer can smooth one or both sides with a planer. Although rough-sawn boards are nice for paneling and other vertical applications, it is useful to plane those that will be used for horizontal surfaces.

Because of its uneven sizing, native lumber requires a bit more care than the standardized boards available from the lumber yard, most of which come from very far away. If I work with basic tools and use the wood intelligently, the results are very satisfying and pleasant to live with.

The rough sawn pine require no painting or finishing. We coat the smooth shelves with a non-toxic sealer made from linseed and orange oils and a natural wax.

Recently, our neighbors had a large white pine on the south side of their house cut down to let more winter sunshine into their home. The tree cutters were only too happy to cut the trunk into eight and ten foot lengths which I can take to the mill this winter to be sawn into lumber for next year's projects.

Using lumber from close to home gives me increased respect for and understanding of our resources. There are many small mills scattered around this region. Find one near you and discover the joy of using local lumber. For a sustainable future, we all need to connect more directly with resources nearby in order to appreciate their value and importance.

This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth

This page and its contents are copyright © 2000 by WSHU-FM, Fairfield, CT, and by Bill Duesing.