Wisconsin Man Takes Forest to Finished Floor

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Logosol Planer-Moulder Lets Timbergreen Forestry Control Entire Manufacturing Process

SPRING GREEN, Wisconsin — In today’s world, where specialization is accepted as the key to market success, it is unusual to come across a businessman who succeeds by doing the opposite.
Jim Birkemeier’s Timbergreen Forestry business sells and installs wood flooring. However, Timbergreen Forestry does everything from planting the trees and harvesting them — and making and installing the flooring.
Affordable modern technology has made his approach to forest products and forestry both possible and profitable, according to Jim. But mostly, he seems to enjoy doing it all himself — and not having to share the profits with middlemen.
“Every time I touch a board, I double its value,” explained Jim. “Half of that jump in value is the machinery and labor and the cost of producing it, and the other half is just the middleman profit.”
Jim keeps the profit and spends the rest on energy, equipment and distribution. The money adds up because he does not pay a middleman. He handles each phase of the lumber manufacturing process, from logging to installation of the finished flooring. “It just makes forestry so much more fun,” said Jim.
Jim bought 200 acres of forestland about 35 years ago while he was still working as a consulting forester after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It was while he was consulting for landowners, helping them to market their timber, that he realized the wood could be marketed in a much different way — benefiting the landowner and the forest. He calls his approach ”Full Vigor Forestry”, which is also the name of the book he published to teach others how to use the same methods.
In addition to sharing this information through his book and an informative Web site, www.timbergreenforestry.com, Jim also invites landowners who want to start a similar business to visit him for a few days. He also does ‘house calls’ and enjoys visiting others around the country in order to help co-operatives get started.
“By controlling the whole process, from forest to finished flooring, and eliminating all the brokers and middlemen, we can earn $10 per board foot from even our lowest grades of salvaged timber,” said Jim. At the same time, the forest is managed to produce high value timber; he removes the worst trees first and allows the best ones to continue growing.
Changes in wood processing technology in the past 15 years or so has made ‘homegrown’ wood processing an affordable option. The Logosol four-sided moulder is a good example.
“I had wanted a moulding machine for 20 years, but they were all too big, too expensive, too complicated, and took too much electric power for our rural location,” said Jim. “The day I saw a Logosol working, I bought it.”
The Logosol PH-260 planer-moulder helped Jim gain full control of the manufacturing process. The machine paid for itself in less than a year, running just part time, according to Jim, even though it is designed and built to withstand heavy, continuous use.
The Logosol PH-260 planer-moulder, which can be used with materials other than wood, has an adjustable speed from 11 to 52 linear feet per minute. It is available with 3.5 hp single phase motors or 4 hp three-phase motors. The machine is particularly stable because of a two-sided suspension. The planing frame is manufactured from cast iron, which helps maintain its shape and settings. The Logosol PH-260 is relatively small and completely mobile, so it can be moved around a workshop or easily transported to an outside work location.
The maximum planing depth of the upper horizontal milling cutter is 8 mm, which allows the woodworker to correct sawing mistakes or imperfections in the wood. Combined with the planer’s lateral milling cutter, the Logosol PH-260 is a flexible, versatile machine.
The four-sided planer can surface all four sides of a board in one pass. The capability has made a big difference to Jim. When he made flooring for his log home, before he bought the Logosol, it took 11 steps to make each board.
Jim installs tongue and groove flooring and millwork direct to homeowners and businesses. He does the installation work himself. He takes jobs throughout the U.S. and has traveled as far as Texas and Florida.
The Logosol PH-260 planer-moulder has enabled Jim to expand his product line. Now he can make mouldings and other trim components. That adds more profit to every job. His finished interior work also looks nicer; he didn’t like to put store-bought trim in a room with a custom wood floor.
Attention to every detail is very important to Jim, who gets nearly all his business through word-of-mouth and referrals. His specialty is wood floor of mixed species; customers choose which kinds of wood they want for their floor.
This approach has two benefits. One advantage is the unique natural beauty of the mixed species. “It turns out to be so much more beautiful and more interesting than a standard floor,” Jim said. “Eight of 10 customers love this blended floor.” The floor in his house includes every species of wood from his own property plus others from different parts of Wisconsin.
The second benefit involves economy. “It’s reduced my need for a huge warehouse of inventory,” said Jim. “It lets me sell what I have.” He can mix in the odd species and get full value for every kind of wood. For example, hickory and elm are nearly worthless in the commercial market, but they are a gold mine for Jim’s business. “I love those little odds and ends now. And I don’t have any scrap piles any more,” he said.
Before he started making his own flooring, Jim took his lumber to a flooring mill. However, the waste factor was about 35%. Now, manufacturing the flooring himself, he has reduced his waste factor to 10%. “What industry wouldn’t kill for a 25 percent savings in their waste?” he asked.
A Wood-Mizer portable sawmill also has been critical to Jim’s success. He bought his first Wood-Mizer, an LT-40, in 1988. He recently replaced it with a 2005 model. He decided to invest in a new model because he wanted to improve his operations and reduce the amount of manual labor. The new Wood-Mizer, which Jim expects will be paid for in about a year, has more automated and hydraulic-powered functions.
More tools and equipment now are available to make the various tasks less demanding, Jim noted. The work is less physically demanding than one might expect, he added. He uses a farm tractor with a winch for a skidder; he added a radio control system to it so he can operate the tractor and winch remotely. A ‘fetching arch’ from Future Forestry Products allows him to skid the logs while keeping them off the ground — so the logs are clean and free of mud and debris, and the ground and residual trees are not damaged or disturbed.
Jim dries his green lumber in one of three solar kilns that he built himself. The first one, built in 1988, was based on plans he obtained from the University of Wisconsin-Madison forest products lab. Hobby woodworkers, and propeller and instrument makers around the world have found his specially dried wood very appealing. Information about building a solar kiln is on Jim’s Web site.
Another tool he has found indispensable has been the Internet. “Anybody anywhere can find state-of-the-art information online,” he observed. “There’s no excuse for ignorance.” Jim’s Web site includes about 25 pages of free information because he is an advocate for timber management as much as he is using the Internet to market his business. He has helped inspire others who have started similar wood products businesses around the country, Jim said.
“The key to my success is that I’ve got all of the machinery to take all the wood from the forest to the finished product, and it’s not that much,” Jim said. The cost of the equipment is affordable even for someone who only is interested in a business to generate a second income, he said.
Jim works with a partner plus his father, the only full-time employee. The 200-acre managed forest supports them with a good living. He has actually scaled back the business. At one point he employed six full-time workers and had annual sales of about $500,000, but he decided that smaller is better.
In 1976 Jim’s 200 acres held a volume of about 350,000 board feet, which had a stumpage value of about $14,000. Today his forest contains about 1.4 million board feet, and the market price of the timber is about $500,000.
Jim is managing his forest to continually produce wood and increase in value. He harvests one 400-board-foot tree per acre annually with “arthroscopic logging” methods.
“One person could do it all on 40 acres and have a good, full-time business,” Jim said. The equipment can be tailored to the size of the business. Most of the equipment he uses today was not available 20 years ago, he noted.
Jim believes his way of growing and harvesting timber saves money and produces more board feet per tree. His management goal is to grow high quality trees to maximize the long-term income from the timber. Trees are harvested on a “worst-first” basis, and the forest is thinned properly in order that the most valuable trees get the most space and light they require.
“It’s just a wonderful business with a very valuable profit that’s easy to work with,” said Jim, comparing himself to neighboring farmers. They control every part of the growing and harvesting process just as Jim does the same thing with trees.
He also likes the sustainable forestry aspect of using every kind of wood to its best potential — not just focusing on a few of the most valuable species. “We’re making $9,000 per thousand board feet on wood that other people consider firewood,” said Jim, referring to a birch floor he was preparing to install. In his region, birch is considered firewood or pulp. “We’re getting a thousand times its commercial value,” he said. “It’s so much fun to do it for the low-value wood.”
Wisconsin’s nickname is The Dairy State. Jim pointed out that agriculture brings in $6 billion each year in Wisconsin, but the economic impact of the forest products industry totals about $28 billion. He wonders why Wisconsin isn’t called The Timber State, but he figures the dairy industry has a much better public relations campaign.