Portable sawmills help reduce carbon emissions

Posted: June 17, 2011

Source – Forest Business Network

Reducing carbon emissionsOver the past 30 years portable thin kerf bandsaw mills have gained a reputation as a valuable asset to small woodlands owners. These easily transported machines are valued for their ease and safety of operation and an ability to economically produce smooth and consistent lumber from any species of tree. Many landowners initially purchased a portable sawmill to get the most value from their woodlot and found that making lumber evolved into a profitable business. Today, in the midst of the climate change discussion, portable thin kerf saw mills are increasingly being recognized as inherently making positive environmental contributions while profitably producinglumber.

While there may be much controversy and sometimes contentious debate regarding human activities impacting the global climate, everyone agrees that when emissions can be easily and economically reduced they should be.

Improved Natural Resource Utilization

Since they were first introduced nearly 30 years ago portable lumber mills have been reducing carbon emissions as they meet the need for lumber products by processing materials that otherwise would be wasted or underutilized. The mills have proved a great asset to landowners like Indiana’s Dan Cassens who purchased a Wood-Mizer LT40 bandsaw to process logs from his 200-acre woodlot that were commercially unmarketable due to size, quality, and quantity. These firewood trees are now made into lumber.

Similarly, portable lumber mills are being employed in urban areas to generate lumber from trees removed for public safety, during the course of land development, or for other reasons. Simon Petree, founder of Greenleaf Forest Products near Bellingham, Washington says, My portable mobile sawmill allowed trees removed for a 100-acre housing development to be converted into lumber that was then used in the construction of the homes. Simon also salvages logs from the forest floor that have been left behind from previous logging operations. From the logs that had been left to rot he produces high-quality siding and flooring.

Near Salem, Oregon, Pony Gilbert uses his portable mill to produce lumber from logs left behind by arborists. He explains Homeowners are given the option of paying the arborist to haul the logs to the landfill or to leave them behind. In many instances, I can make lumber from those same logs for less than it would cost to have them buried. The homeowner gets lumber, the logs are put to their best use, and space in the landfill is available for real garbage.

Portable lumber mills also are used to produce lumber from recycled wood. Pony’s LT15 thin kerf bandsaw has been used to re-manufacture timbers and beams for reuse in repairing covered bridges. Others like Ruth and Ken Gee of Hubbardston, Michigan are employing thin kerf bandsaws to anchor their barn lumber recycle/remanufacturing business. Ken says the thin kerf blades are perfect for processing used wood because hitting metal poses no safety hazard and blades can be inexpensively re-sharpened or replaced.

In the inner-mountain West, where large volumes of timber are standing dead because of beetle infestations, individuals like Chip Turner of Wasatch Timber Products are using portable sawmills to produce high-quality timbers and beams from the dead trees.

In each of these instances, portable thin kerf bandsaws are being used to produce durable lumber products that sequester (trap) carbon within the wood rather than allowing it to be released into the atmosphere. In the absence of these band saws much, if not most, of this raw material would be buried, left to rot or burned, needlessly contributing to atmospheric emissions. Instead, portable mills provide the means to improve the utilization of a valuable natural resource and reduce emissions.

Expanded Forestland Stewardship Options

In the past, woodlot and forestland owners have had limited options. Either a large number of trees were removed in commercial logging operations or smaller volumes of logs became firewood. When the choice is limited to making firewood or leaving a tree standing, landowners often choose to leave the tree standing even though the goals for their timberland would be better served by removing some trees. The availability of portable sawmills expands the options.

In Indiana, Dan Cassen says he improves his timber stand’s value by selectively removing diseased, damaged, or otherwise undesirable trees because his portable mill makes it possible to garner valuable lumber rather from the removed trees rather than just making firewood. Sean Sheehan of Basin, Montana combines logging and sawmilling services for landowners of 5-40 acres to remove standing dead pine trees that pose a severe fire hazard. Because his portable mill can produce timbers and beams on-site for use in the construction of custom homes, landowners can have the trees removed at little or no cost to them.

No matter what the landowner’s goals, portable lumber mills provide landowners options to selectively harvest trees and to put the resultant logs to good use. In New Mexico, the National Rifle Association manages its 33,000 acre Whittington Center hunting reserve to maximize wildlife habitat. Today they use a portable sawmill to produce lumber from the trees and construct structures on-site such cabins, lodges and shooting ranges. Similarly. Pine Haven Christian Camp in Montana and Dunes Bible Camp in Washington State are using portable sawmills as a forest management tool to accomplish their goals. Being able to make lumber from removed trees allow management plans to be freely implemented.

Portable sawmills provide expanded options for forestland management, enabling timberland owners to make the best, and most financially profitable, use of the available fiber on their woodlot while they execute their timber management plan. Options are no longer limited to commercial harvest or firewood.

Reduced Timber Harvest Related Emissions

Using portable sawmills to convert logs into lumber reduces atmospheric emissions related to timber harvests and lumber production in several ways, including eliminating the need to transport logs as well as, oftentimes, the lumber that is produced. Simon Petree’s LT70 sawmill is, like many portable sawmills, equipped with a trailer package allowing him to pull it behind his pickup to the log location. He says, I literally process truckloads of logs that never have to be hauled anywhere. Often times the lumber is used on-site and does not have to be hauled either. This means that lumber is produced from the logs without the cost and emissions from the fuel typically used to transport logs to the mill and the lumber to the market.

Additionally, as portable sawmills meet the need for lumber by processing under-utilized materials or those reclaimed from the waste stream, there are cascading benefits to the environment as the need for harvesting timber from healthy forests is reduced. Reducing the number of trees needing to be harvested results in a corresponding reduction in emissions from timber harvesting equipment. Furthermore, growing trees left standing in the forest contribute to environmental health by removing carbon from the atmosphere.

Multiplied Environmental Benefits

Portable sawmills fall into two categories, circle saws and band saws. Among band saws, many of those in operation utilize an ultra-thin blade to produce lumber. Dave Poppert, owner of Poppert Milling in Wasilla, Alaska, operates two thin-bladed sawmills. He explains The thin blades remove only 1/8th an inch of fiber with each pass so we get more lumber from each log than if we used a circle mill or even a traditional band-saw. Many who use thin kerf bandsaws claim increases in yields ranging from 30-200% over log scale, depending on species. Increases in yields equate to better utilization of the natural resource and serve to multiply the benefits of using under-utilized materials and reducing harvesting needs.

Another environmental benefit from thin kerf saws is that they consume less energy to convert the logs into lumber. Drew Outlaw who produces as much as 200,000 board feet of lumber annually using a thin kerf sawmill equipped with a 28 hp gasoline engine in Alabama elaborates, I saw lumber all day long and burn less than 5 gallons of fuel. It simply takes less energy to move a thin blade through the wood.

Still another environmental benefit is realized when the lumber produced with thin kerf blades are destined for secondary processing such as planing or moulding. Dave Poppert says because the blades yield smooth and consistent boards we are able to produce lumber with tighter tolerances and reduce the amount of material that the planers or moulders have to remove. This means higher yields from logs, less waste in secondary processing and secondary processing equipment not having to work as hard. These factors also multiply the environmental benefits of thin kerf saws.

Enhanced Profitability

Portable sawmills, especially thin kerf bandsaws, defy the common perception that environmental gains come only through financial sacrifice and reduced profits. In many cases exactly the opposite is true.

David Lindsay, founder of Spotted Owl Timber in New Mexico is but one example of thin kerf sawmill operations that are actually profiting because of people’s concern for the environment. He says, Our customers buy lumber from us precisely because we can demonstrate they are actually getting wood produced in an environmentally sensitive manner. By processing trees removed for cause and using a thin kerf mill to produce lumber, Spotted Owl has developed a customer base among those who want high-quality wood products and are concerned for the environment.

Although those concerned for the environment are often willing to pay more for products that are produced in environmentally conscious ways, operators of portable sawmills frequently are able to sell their quality products at prices that easily compete in the open market without sacrificing profitability.

As the public conscience is increasingly informed and concerned about environmental issues, those operating portable thin kerf bandsaws can easily demonstrate the environmental contributions they are making and are poised to financially benefit from the preferred status these businesses have.

Thin kerf portable sawmills offer one significant way to reduce atmospheric emissions easily and without additional costs. By employing them, small woodland owners benefit by being able to economically produce high-quality lumber from trees that would otherwise be underutilized and they meet the need for lumber in ways that make positive environmental contributions.