COVINGTON, Ohio – Find a way to make it work. That’s what the owners of Tuscarora Wood Midwest, LLC do with great success.
Rod Long and Cody Long, the father and son team members who co-own Tuscarora Wood Midwest, established their company in 2006. “We are a custom reclaimed woodshop,” explained Rod. “We are totally custom. Orders are processed one order at a time.”
Wood salvaged from barns serves as the raw material for the Tuscarora Wood Midwest (TWM). “Repurpose” is the word Rod likes to use to describe the way his company breathes new life into salvaged wood.
Rod is candid about how he got into the wood products business. “I was motivated by the economy,” he said. “I was a customhome builder for 34 or 35 years.” Then, there was quite a slump in the years following 9/11. Cody also had worked in construction.
With an economic downturn for builders, Rod and Cody sought a new business niche. “I grew up on a farm and there were barns all around me,” said Rod. But the Ohio native concedes he did not think about repurposing empty barns at that time.
Rod explained the idea to establish TWM came in part from his son-in-law, who at the time owned a business (since sold) named Tuscarora Wood Inc. in Pennsylvania. “We adopted Tuscarora as name recognition,” he said.
In the summer of 2017, the company made an important addition to his equipment roster, a 9000 bf kiln from Kiln-direct headquartered in Burgaw, NC. The Kilndirect small standard lumber kiln has a bifold door.
The Kiln-direct small standard kiln is used to dry all 4/4 and 8/4 lumber to between six and eight percent moisture. It is also used to heat-treat wood to kill insects.
The kiln from Kiln-direct uses propane as a fuel source. “We would use natural gas, but we are in a rural setting,” explained Rod.
Deciding to go with Kiln-direct began with a deliberative process. “We researched a lot of different companies,” said Rod. “We liked the configuration. We spoke directly with Niels Jorgensen.”
Discussions with the owner of Kiln-direct, Niels Jorgensen, are what ultimately tipped the decision in favor of Kiln-direct, explained Rod. He points to Niels’ expertise, as well as the in-depth information – on everything from schedules to theory — available on the Kiln-direct.com website.
The purchase was the company’s first from Kiln-direct. The kiln has met all expectations. “It’s been a very wise investment,” said Rod.
TWM runs with seven employees in addition to Rod and Cody. The company is situated on five acres and has 21,000 square feet under roof. The space had been a John Deere dealership before TWM purchased it.
“All older, refurbished equipment – cast iron instead of steel” fills out the mill, said Rod. Cast iron makes the “most stable” match for the big boards reclaimed from barns.
“Our biggest go-to vendor [for equipment and parts] is RT Machine out of Pennsylvania,” said Rod. RT Machine Company is located in Hughesville, Pa.
Refurbished equipment prevails throughout the facility. TWM searches for equipment via the web and through vendors and buys what he considers a good machine. A large industrial planer, straight-line saws, and a large industrial moulder were all purchased that way.
The home base for Tuscarora Wood Midwest is Covington, Ohio, a town of approximately 2,600 in Miami County. Covington is part of the metropolitan Dayton area.
All grading of wood is done visually. And all wood is sold unfinished. Oak predominates among the wood species coming from barns. “We are heavy on oak,” said Rod. But hickory, beech, elm and maple are also in the mix. “We work with hardwoods.”
A custom project often begins with a prospective customer visiting the company’s showroom. That’s where someone considering custom flooring – or another building component – made from repurposed wood can get a firsthand and three-dimensional view of the possibilities.
“We are not a production shop,” said Rod. “Our focus is not on production as much as custom.
Making the most of wood fiber extends to remnants. “Every product and byproduct has a home,” said Rod. Sawdust, for instance, is sold to a local farm retailer that then sells it for livestock bedding. And scraps are used to fuel a boiler that heats the under-roof facility in winter.
In the earliest days of TWM, the company did its own dismantling of barns. That is no longer the case.
“We ourselves do not do the salvage,” said Rod. “We subcontract out. [The contractors use] telehandlers and track-hoes. They start at the top and try to keep damage to a minimum. We also purchase a lot of wood from salvagers.”
Nails and other metal present the greatest challenge in repurposing wood. “Every board has to be metal detected,” said Rod. “We use hand-held scanners set on high intensity.” A variety of scanners are in use, but the majority of them are from White’s Electronics.
The detection is just one part of the metal-removal process. The real work is in “de-nailing” because all metal is “hand-extracted” using a hammer and chisel to get the “labor-intensive” job done, explained Rod. In the effort, those doing the de-nailing must retain their focus on ensuring that the wood is not damaged.
The good news is that de-nailing provides many entry-level jobs. And Rod is able to find young people who are interested in summer and after-school jobs.
“Both Cody and I are hands-on owners and operators,” said Rod. They are also big believers in the importance of team members being able to run most or all machines. For his part, Rod could not claim to enjoy operating one machine more than any other because he genuinely relishes every aspect of the work he does.
Rarely, new-growth material is used for raw fiber. “[We are] pretty much 99 percent reclaimed,” said Rod. The exception might be for someone who wanted a wood species, such as dead standing ash.
Customers span the United States. “We do a lot of local retail [in the Dayton area],” said Rod. The company also has a large wholesale market that includes the West Coast and Colorado, as well as a presence in New England.
TWM relies on LTL [less-than-truckload] freight transportation to move its products to buyers. In addition to wood flooring, the company produces beam work and custom products, such as farm tables.
Wood for beams is not kiln-dried or heat-treated in kilns. Instead, it is chemically treated.
‘Options in customization’ is one way to sum up the efforts at Tuscarora Wood Midwest. Rod and Cody enjoy hearing the ideas that would-be builders have and talking about how they can help make it happen.
A single home in Russia, Ohio, incorporates a wide range of TWM reclaimed wood in exterior and interior spaces. TWM worked closely with the homes owners and with Urb Drees Construction to get the perfect outcome – a blend of rustic, spacious and quiet beauty.
Leaving one industry after more than three decades to enter a new industry requires flexibility. Yes, Rod misses construction sometimes. “I do miss the good people,” he said. “But we work for good people now [in a different setting].”
Moreover, Rod is guided by the same philosophy that he has always had. “We try to build good working relationships [and] live by the golden rule.” He emphasizes that treating others as you would have others treat you has carried him well through his entire life.
Achieving a good fit is certainly what Tuscarora Wood Midwest is all about doing with its custom products. The company has found a solid match with the choice of a kiln from Kiln-direct.
Kiln-direct offers many choices in its product line so that a customer gets an optimal solution. Not only does Kiln-direct offer a wide range of sizes and options for small lumber kilns, it also endeavors to understand the scope of a customer’s business and the requirements the customer has for drying and heat treating. In addition to lumber drying kilns, Kiln-direct also provides kilns for drying firewood and for heat treatment of pallets.
“I do recommend Kiln-direct,” said Rod. “They are very helpful. Their phone line is open to us at any time.” The people at Kiln-direct also believe in “good, oldfashioned hard work” – and in that he sees a strong tie with those at his own company.
“I enjoy creating a product with my own hands and the relationships we have with customers,” said Rod. And he is gratified that “word-of-mouth” is the primary driver of new customers to his company. “It’s just the satisfaction of creating a product and having satisfied customers.”
In free time Rod and his wife enjoy traveling. His two favorite destinations are the mountains of Montana and the coasts of Florida.