By Tony Kryzanowski, Wood-Mizer Contributing Author
There is only one word to describe Red Deer, Alberta, Canada resident, Shawn Moore's successful venture into specialty wood products, and it is 'evolution'. Tired of the feast and famine business cycle that is common within the petroleum sector, he now finds himself in partnership with his wife, Natalie, in Trimmed Line Tree Services Ltd. providing sawn and kiln-dried, sometimes rare, wood products, destined for anything from counter tops and coat racks to slabs of live-edge wood and handcrafted furniture.
The business diversified into production of wood products from salvaged trees only a couple of years ago, but they are already looking for more land to expand. "We've gone from a small crawl to the steps almost being leaps now," says Shawn. Moore's career in the wood industry started fresh out of high school at the end of a chainsaw in 1991 working for a land clearing business. It progressed to seismic line clearing work for the oil and gas industry in 2005, with most business activity taking place in winter, as well as a 'full circle' residential tree service, which included dangerous tree removal, stump grinding, salvage wood recycling, kiln drying, and tree planting for when seismic line work dropped off in summer.
Shawn, a qualified level four tree faller tutor, says that a lot of the wood he was falling and chipping for private landowners and municipalities was ending up in landfills, and it seemed like a huge waste of a valuable resource. "I was sitting there one day watching 20" logs going into our large capacity, whole tree chipper, thinking how other people were talking about biomass and greening up the world, and I am shredding 20" marketable material," says Shawn. "I just made a conscious choice that I should look into other opportunities for that wood."
Shawn began to notice that the number of seismic line clearing jobs were becoming fewer and fewer, "and the ups and downs of the economy crash really hit home." By mid-2015, with oil prices dropping to less than half of what they were a year earlier, thousands of people employed in the oilpatch were being laid off. Suffice to say that seismic jobs had become very scarce and this was having a significant impact on Trimmed-Line's cash flow. "Everybody seemed to be holding onto their dollars, and we decided consciously last fall when the oilpatch was looking very grim that we were going to go to this bare bones crew and get our kiln and added value project off the ground," says Shawn.
The income potential of diversifying into a supplier of kiln-dried wood or handcrafted wood products was just too good to ignore. Whether it was for private landowners or the oilpatch, he essentially was being paid to remove the wood fibre. Shawn calculated that instead of paying the $67 per tonne to deliver wood chips to the landfill, he could divert the merchantable salvaged wood fibre he had acquired for free to his business, and pay an employee what he was saving in landfill disposal fees to produce a valuable and saleable solid wood product.
Also, diversification made Trimmed-Line Tree Services less dependent on business from the oilpatch and also provided year round employment for key staff members. When the company won the award for best Small Booth at the Red Deer 2015 Home Show, which was the first year they participated in the event, Shawn knew that their products had plenty of public appeal and that the business had a strong chance for success.
Today, Shawn describes himself as an urban logger. Unlike high volume, commodity-driven, lumber producers where most of their lumber is used in structural applications, Trimmed-Line Tree Services is focused primarily on lower volumes of sawn and kiln-dried wood products used mostly in appearance applications, although they do produce some dimension lumber for non-building construction uses and for custom orders in an effort to find a market for as much of their salvaged wood fibre as possible. "We're selling live edge slabs into a fairly consistent market at $14 per board foot versus 75 cents per board foot for 2" X 4"'s," says Shawn. "It was a no brainer for us." They will saw various log diameters depending on the species of wood, the wood grain it presents, and the market demand for the product. "Even a small chunk of two inch lilac, we've been selling to wood turners for pen blanks and toothpick holders," says Shawn.
Logs salvaged from Trimmed-Line's tree removal jobs come from about a 150 kilometer radius of Red Deer, representing more than 10 tree species. "We have just about everything that is planted or native to central Alberta," says Shawn. This includes mountain, green and black ash, black poplar, aspen, spruce, mayday, schubert chokecherry, apple, elm, Manitoba maple, oak, and various willows, including their favorite, laurel leaf willow.
The on-site process starts with chainsaw operators taking down trees. Other equipment will accompany the takedown crew as needed. This includes a whole tree chipper, forestry mowers, mini-excavator to load trucks and remove trunks, and a tracked loader. Some of the salvaged wood is still chipped on-site and delivered to the City Red Deer for use in their landscaping projects, but none is landfilled. Merchantable logs are transported by truck to the Trimmed Line Tree Services yard, sawn on a Wood-Mizer LT50 portable sawmill, and if necessary, edged on a Wood-Mizer EG200 twin blade edger. "The Wood-Mizer product had a lot accessories to grow my system," says Moore, "I thought it had good trade-in value. It's a really simple and strong machine." He adds that the edger is a good asset to have when making dimensional lumber and allows a three-man crew to work very efficiently.
The goal is to discover and preserve the unique wood grain of each merchantable log. After careful inspection, the saleable slabs produced from the bandsaw are dried in a custom-built wood dry kiln, with heat provided by a wood waste-fired boiler. The fuel is wood waste collected from the bandsaw and edger. The heat from the wood boiler also heats Trimmed-Line's shop and warehouse.
After drying, each slab from each tree from each species is either 'laid down' in various corners of the warehouse, waiting for calls from customers, or sometimes it is partially prepared in their woodshop for customers. To accomplish this task, they use a 20" planer, bandsaw or one of several tablesaws, bandsaws or chopsaws to fulfill customer requirements. Sometimes, Moore's business partner and custom wood worker, Chad Yanulik, converts wood slabs into attractive, handcrafted wood products in-house.
Their list of customers grows almost daily -- artists, woodworkers, cabinet makers, builders, designers, and businesses like restaurants looking for that special slice of wood or slabs from the same tree with the same grain characteristics for their special woodworking project. They are finding that once they supply one or two pieces to a project, they are being asked to supply a lot more product for customers' future projects, because they are so enamored by the wood's appearance.
The entire business concept came together rather quickly, stemming from a bid to salvage trees from a local school project and a promise to use the wood to build park benches -- which helped the builder achieve its LEED certification. After the purchase of the Wood-Mizer bandsaw and edger, the final piece of the puzzle clicked into place with the help of veteran specialty wood manufacturer, Peter Schmutz, owner of Solar-Dri Timber Specialties near Rocky Mountain House. He advised Shawn on the construction of a dry kiln, which is a 40' shipping container. The wood-fired boiler takes up 20' and the kiln takes up the remaining 20', with fans installed inside to circulate the air. The internal temperature and humidity can be monitored externally. They will ramp up the temperature to as high as 60 degrees Celsius for a specified period of time for phytosanitation. Depending on the species, it can take three to six weeks in the kiln to achieve their optimum moisture content. Wood destined for wood working projects are dried to below 10 percent. They have two more 40' shipping containers on site to accommodate expansion.
Once the City of Red Deer approved the kiln installation last spring, the company hasn't looked back. The City is also helping to support the business. "We have a pilot project starting up with the City with the parks department to start rescuing the park tree waste," says Shawn. Today, Shawn says that the business is undergoing a complete switch in focus. "This [wood products] business used to be our summer business, which was a back up to keep us going until the winter," Shawn says. "We're doing a complete switch of the tide. Our summer is becoming our main, core business, and if we get anything in the winter, that will be a bonus."
Timber Frame Business Spotlight - The Beamery
The Building of Noah's Ark
Dream Project Gallery
Get inspired by dream homes, barns, tables, and more built by Wood-Mizer sawmill owners around the world!
Browse the Gallery >
Get new articles sent to your inbox