Sawdust flying at independently owned sawmills

·3 min read
Sawdust flying at independently owned sawmills
Sawdust flying at independently owned sawmills

Randy MacNichol, owner of MacNichol Landscaping near Salisbury, said he's seen an increase in his lumber sales every year since he got into the sawmill business four years ago, but this spring and summer were off the charts.

"We were starting to get low on stocks as far back as mid-May," he said.

MacNichol looked at his lumber pile with dismay, especially the bare spot where he'd normally stack his two–by–fours.

"You could mill a hundred of them and the next day you could mill a hundred more," but he said he just couldn't get ahead of the demand.

Tori Weldon/CBC
Tori Weldon/CBC

MacNichol also sells topsoil, crushed stone, mulch and wood pellets for pellet stoves, but he says it was the lumber that had him running off his feet.

"I saw a peak here, one day here, I know for a fact we took 74 phone calls," said MacNichol.

Saw dust has to fly

So he hired a full-time employee to help him out, running the sawmill five days a week, while MacNichol mans the controls on Saturdays.

"Sawdust has to fly," he said.

Dwayne Carson's happy to have work, after not getting called back to his old job because of pandemic cut backs.

"It's a fairly friendly operation," said Carson.

"It's all hydraulically run, it turns your log and loads it, so it's fairly easy that way."

But even with the mechanical help, it's still physical, outdoor work.

Tori Weldon/CBC
Tori Weldon/CBC

The mill only deals with one log at a time. Carson lines up the log with the saw to remove the bark and square it up while making sure he gets as much out of each tree as possible.

After the lumber is cut, he removes it from the mill by hand.

MacNichol said in past years he's dealt mostly with contractors, but this year it was homeowners who came calling.

"We've seen a lot of new faces this year over any other year," he said.

Some people just wanted to get a better understanding of what MacNichol has to offer, because the lumber he mills isn't used to build most homes.

"If you're borrowing the money for a mortgage to build a house, they're not going to let you build with rough sawn lumber," he said.

While his lumber is ungraded, it's also thicker and wider. MacNichol is particular to Hemlock, which is well suited to outdoor constructions, like decks, sheds and flower and garden boxes.

John Kilpatrick, a carpenter with EnerGreen Builders Co-operative in Sackville, said he's had more customers request wood from small mills than usual.

Tori Weldon/CBC
Tori Weldon/CBC

"I've used the cedar mill several times this year, and some years we don't," said Kilpatrick.

He said some customers prefer lumber that hasn't been pressure treated, and this building season it's been harder to get what's needed at hardware stores, so he's had to look farther a field.

MacNichol said even his customers are having to wait as long as three weeks to get their orders.

But, they do, and part of the reason might be that a sawmill like MacNichol's has a bit of old world charm.

"I've had a lot of comments about people seeing us out here working and doing it because it's not something you see every day anymore," said MacNichol.

He said the calls have slowed as the temperature drops, but he doesn't feel that's necessarily a bad thing.

MacNichol plans to run the mill all winter to catch up as much as he can, because he doesn't know what spring could bring.