Recycle and profit

Increased emphasis on environmental conservation has spawned some changes in tree removal and disposal services. In some locales, legislation bans dumping downed trees and other yard waste into landfills. Although much of that debris is chipped into portions appropriate for products, some say that isn’t the best use for trees that must be removed.

Jeff Nelson, who operates Treecycle Northwest (www.treecyclenw.com) in Portland, Ore., says that the typical recycling of wood is costly and breaks down what could be useable lumber. According to Nelson, approximately one-third of a large tree with a straight trunk can yield good lumber, with the crown most appropriate for firewood and mulch. A woodworker himself, he wanted to give good wood a new life when possible and increase sustainability. Nelson believes his approach reduces the demand on timberlands and lessens the emissions, fuel needs and cost associated with long-distance transportation of lumber. Tree service companies and their clients benefit because Nelson handles the removal at no cost, reducing the workload on tree crews and eliminating removal fees for the customers.

Nelson hung out his shingle in September 2007. For the removal side of the business, he looks for trees with at least 6 feet of straight trunk suitable for lumber. A diameter ranging from 10 to 32 inches is preferred. Often the lumber is custom cut for contractors or woodworkers.

Photo courtesy of Wood-Mizer.  
A Wood-Mizer company representative demonstrates a portable sawmill model LT-28. A large tree such as this may yield many feet of sellable lumber

Nelson also maintains an inventory of lumber for sale. Starting with quality logs from a number of varieties common to the Pacific Northwest, wood is air-dried for three to 12 months, then kiln-dried at 95 to 105 degrees to a moisture content of 6 to 8 percent. Once dried, the kiln is turned up to 125 degrees and the dehumidifier is stopped in order to kill any insects. The wood is steam conditioned for three to six hours to eliminate any case hardening that occurred during drying.

Nelson’s inventory varies, but he has offered alder, wild cherry and maple, all recovered from residential settings. English walnut, myrtle wood and “green” redwood are among the other varieties Nelson has given new life to.

Logs are moved before being milled for a new life by Treecyling Northwest.

The right tools for the job

He uses two Wood-Mizer (www.woodmizer.com) portable mills, an LT-70 and an LT-28. The LT-70 portable, hydraulic sawmill features hydraulic loading arms, two hydraulic roller toeboards and a hydraulic log clamp. The portable, manually operated LT-28 sawmill has a walk-along operation with a manual crank and comes with a manual winch, log turner, toeboards and trailer package. Nelson generally uses the LT-70 when working at a client’s site and runs the LT-28 at his own business location.

Nelson’s favorite features of the compact LT-28 include its ability to produce wide boards, which isn’t common with many circular mills. He has found that the thin-kerf band saw blades cut efficiently. The blades must be changed frequently, as often as three times a day, but they can be resharpened.

In addition to removing trees for “treecycling,” Nelson offers custom milling. He will work on a client’s site within the local area. For those who can transport logs or only have a small number of logs, he recommends that the work be done on his site. Customers may choose to pay by the board or by the hour. Nelson suggests that those who have logs stacked on one level spot choose the per board method. If the materials are in multiple locations, requiring that the mill be moved, the hourly rate applies. Setup fees, travel and blade damage are added. Nelson offers free consultations within a limited geographic area to evaluate the site and materials and estimate the number of board feet of lumber that can be generated.

With the economic and environmental benefits of treecycling, it seems likely that both solo entrepreneurs and tree service firms will consider adding the service to their menus.

The author is a freelance writer based in Greensboro, N.C.