A group of trainees meet on Thursday to examine a piece of timber cut at a portable sawmill workshop on the Schwab / Buford property near Solon. (Savannah Blake / The Gazette)

A portable sawmill cuts a log Thursday at a workshop near Solon. Portable sawmills present another solution for using fallen trees in addition to making firewood or mulch. (Savannah Blake / The Gazette)

John Castle of Solon sets up the sawmill during a demonstration Thursday for training portable sawmill operators on the Schwab / Buford property near Solon. (Savannah Blake / The Gazette)

SOLON – When a cherry tree fell on an Iowa City home during the August 10, 2020 derecho, Paul Koffron got the call.

Koffron, 65, owner of Koffron Hardwoods & Cabinets in Tiffin, used his portable sawmill to cut the fallen tree into planks which the owner then turned into a dining table, Koffron said.

“So many people don’t know what to do with a log,” he said. Often the log ends up being cut into firewood or transported to the landfill to be passed through the wood chipper.

After the derecho, thousands of felled trees in Cedar Rapids were turned into mulch because it was the fastest way to clear debris from the streets. But included in that cleanup were quality hardwoods that would have made beautiful planks for furniture, art or housing materials, said Aron Flickinger, forestry program specialist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The Iowa DNR held a workshop on small sawmills near Solon on Thursday. About 20 people attended the workshop, which was funded by a grant from the US Forest Service and included instructions given by Harry watt, a value-added wood products specialist with North Carolina State University Wood Products Extension.

The workshop covered log selection and sourcing, sawing with band and chain saws, air drying, kiln drying, sterilization of wood to kill insects and marketing of boards. over, among other topics. Participants also watched a demonstration of cutting a straight log and a curved log on a portable sawmill.

“I expect to learn more about the oven drying aspect,” said Scott Webb, 57, of Cresco. “I need to convince that this is something we want to do.

Webb, who operates the Webb sawmill with his wife, custom mills wood with a Lucas sawmill and band saw.

Portable sawmills typically have a 20 to 30 foot long bed for logs and a saw blade suspended on a rail to guide the top of the log to make cuts. The mills can cost anywhere from $ 3,000 to $ 50,000 depending on size and features, including hydraulics to move heavy logs, Flickinger said.

Flickinger said custom millers can earn anywhere from $ 50 to $ 85 an hour. Some may take the mill on site to cut the logs, but most prefer the logs to be brought to them.

Contract milling is physically taxing and requires business and corporate skills to maximize profits, Webb said. noted. But he also doesn’t have to meet a boss and enjoys working, sometimes even on Sundays.

“For the right person, this is exceptional work,” he said.

Koffron and his wife, Pat Koffron, tried to get the word out about turning fallen residential trees, or urban timber, into planks for reuse. He’s working with the Iowa DNR to sell urban lumber to Habitat for Humanity for use in some of its homes, Flickinger said.

Urban wood presents challenges, including the potential for metal parts from bird feeders, panels, or clotheslines hanging from trees. The Koffrons use a metal detector on logs to try and catch the metal before it ruins a blade.

“Often the tree is worth it,” he said of a damaged blade, which costs less than $ 100 to replace.

The hardest part of the job is cleaning up the sawdust, Koffron said. They use sawdust from their mill in a wood-fired boiler that heats the house.

The Iowa DNR wants to compile a list of Iowa sawmill owners so they can make this information available to Iowans who want to use their services, he said. His site on the use of urban wood already has some basic information about the process.

The workshop was held on the Schwab / Burford property, 132 acres purchased by Johnson County for $ 3 million in 2019. The land includes 74 acres of lumber, four round barns, a railway museum and a sawmill. that former owner Dick Schwab used to cut boards. be used for the roofs of the property’s round barns, Flickinger said.

“It’s ideal for this workshop,” he said of the property. “The whole history of its construction from the trees of the property.

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