By Jack Petree, Wood-Mizer Contributing Author
Perhaps no sector of the wood products industry is more environmentally significant than the recovery and utilization of urban sourced timber. Equally, much of the recovered urban wood would not be salvageable without the availability of portable sawmills like the Wood-Mizer LT40 Super Hydraulic owned and operated by Paul Morrison’s business The Wood Cycle of Wisconsin.
An engineer and technical writer, Paul says he didn’t intend to start a full-time operation when he purchased his first Wood-Mizer in 1994. “My business, like many, was a hobby that spun out of control,” Paul explains. “I purchased a used Wood-Mizer to saw lumber to support my woodworking hobby and soon learned sawing lumber was as fun as making the finished products. The lumber piles grew, so I started doing side projects and soon found myself going to my boss to tell him I would not be there much longer.”
Fifteen years later, The Wood Cycle employs six people and produces hardwood lumber, custom furniture, cabinetry, millwork, artwork, and other products from logs recovered from small lots, street trees, yards, and other urban areas. “Finding logs to work from was never a challenge,” Paul says. “As a society we are strongly connected to the trees in our yards, from our family farms and the places we frequent. I built my business plan around preserving those memories by turning those trees into useful objects as the trees needed to come down.” Also, Paul continues, “In recent years, local has become the new marketing buzzword, and it plays perfectly into where we are positioned.”
“The challenge in starting a business was not the sawing, but the side of building the business. As a technician myself, the marketing and business aspects of woodworking was more of a learning curve,” Paul remembers. “I suspect this is the weak point of most people starting a wood business, especially since we are more accustomed to making things we want rather than buying them. The real question is ‘What is that made thing worth to the person who buys things?’ It is this buyer who determines the market value. My biggest business error was taking too many years to learn this.”
Regarding day to day operations Paul says, “Almost everything we do starts with urban logs. Having targeted our business to the urban log market, most of our wood comes from homeowners or from a strong network of arborists. We are a founding member of wisconsinurbanwood.org, which keeps us in touch with like-minded arborists, mill operators and woodworking shops. Your network is almost as valuable to you as your client list.”
The original sawmill has since been upgraded to an LT40 Super Hydraulic for its increased production capabilities and, Paul says, “We added a dehumidification kiln over the solar kiln so we could better control the drying process and to assure we heat sterilize the wood of any insects. I felt this was critical when we began selling wood instead of just supplying our own needs. Furthermore, due to the nature of working with urban logs, we hit plenty of nails and other interesting objects. So we probably use our sharpener more than some sawyers would need, but the price and quality of Wood-Mizer DoubleHard blades is a great fit for us.”
Paul says he is satisfied with the size of his business and is now directing his passion towards growing public awareness of the value of urban wood. “If I continue growing I will no longer get to play with the wood myself, and that is not why I quit the day job,” he says. “Instead, I am looking at ways in which we can grow this urban wood marketing concept.” Toward that end, Paul recently completed a book describing and defining the growing urban woodworking industry. “The farm to table movement is hopping,” said Paul. “People fully understand the concept and value of buying local. ‘Tree to Table; Emergence of the Urban Wood Movement’ is aimed at helping this audience understand those same local options are increasingly available from sawyers and craftsmen in their area, possibly working from their own trees.”
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