Sometimes the key to business success is finding the right niche and adapting whenever necessary. Les Dougherty worked for 30 years as a carpenter and contractor building high-end homes on the west coast. Faced with the economic downturn and stalled construction industry in 2008, he and his wife, Susan, began a new venture and have been running a successful operation ever since.
When the farm that had been in Susan’s family for three generations fell on hard times, Les and Susan were forced to clear cut trees in order to generate the income needed to save the family farm. Having recently taken up woodturning as a hobby, Les recognized the value the figured maple wood would have for woodworkers. Rather than letting the logs be turned into newsprint and chips, they negotiated to buy the logs back, and in 2010, North Woods was born. Les and Susan began sawing trees from their land, and as word spread, people began to call about trees on their property that they didn’t want. In addition to their family farm, North Woods also processes wood from other small family farms around the area. Since North Woods’ beginning, business has grown to achieve national recognition and has earned a reputation for excellent products and superior customer service.
Providing burl, fiddleback, curly, spalt, graft, and quilted hardwoods, North Woods supplies a wide variety of wood turners and woodworkers across the United States. The blanks are cut to sizes that make them ideal pieces to be turned into bowls, platters or pens. North Woods also partners with woodcraftsman, Tom Stone, to produce stabilized wood blanks. This process combines fragile or otherwise unusable wood with heat activated resin, resulting in a blank that is part wood and part vividly colored resin. In addition to woodturning blanks, North Woods also produces slabs and lumber for their clients. They sell inventory online and at woodturning tradeshows, but most of their business comes from word of mouth referrals. Woodturning is a fast growing hobby, and their customers include men and women of all ages and education levels. “The common element is a love of wood,” said Les. “We’ve even talked to a doctor who recommends woodturning for stress relief to his patients.”
North Woods uses a Wood-Mizer LT40 Hydraulic sawmill to saw 500 to 1,000 board feet per day, creating desirable figured woods for their client base. “The Wood-Mizer mill is a critical part of our business,” said Les. The first step for processing all their raw wood products North Woods’ Les and Susan Dougherty use their LT40 Hydraulic to give trees new life for woodworkers. is to run them through the sawmill before further processing them into turning blanks. North Woods cuts their wood using 1.5" wide DoubleHard blades. “We’ve been able to resharpen blades four to six times, which helps keep our business expenses down,” Les said. “We love visiting Russ and his crew over at Portland ReSharp in Wood Village. They are always friendly and usually ahead of schedule.”
Although their property lost its certified sustainable status after the clear cut in 2008, Les and Susan have continued to practice sustainable forestry practices on their own with hope for recertification in the future. Susan said, “We’re doing everything properly for the wilderness, the animals and for future generations. We hopefully will never have to cut again in our lifetime, only thin.” The vacant areas resulting from the clear cut were immediately replanted with fir and cedar seedlings which are doing very well. “It makes me very happy that now this wood can go to woodworkers and wood turners who make beautiful things out of them,” said Susan. “I’m glad that the trees are able to carry on and have a new life.”
North Woods was awarded Third Place in the Hydraulic Sawmills category during the Wood-Mizer 2014 Business Best Contest. Connect with North Woods on Facebook or at www.nwfiguredwoods.com.
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