ROUGEMONT, North Carolina – Avery Earwood makes custom furniture using wood from trees that are removed in urban neighborhoods. He saws the logs with a Tru-Cut portable band sawmill and finishes slab with a Wood-Mizer MB200 Slab Flattening Mill.
However, some of the most important equipment he has in his business are the five iDRY dry kilns.
The tree-to-table movement – cutting logs into slabs and ‘live edge’ slabs to make tables and other furniture – is a growing focus and opportunity for those in the forestry industry.
Utilizing these trees instead of simply mulching them or using them for firewood can provide tremendous value.
Trees that are removed or salvaged from urban areas can be repurposed, noted Avery, whose business is named Wild Edge Woodcraft. His company is located on his farm in Rougemont, North Carolina, which is just under 20 miles north of Durham. Valuable lumber can be recovered from those trees and put to good use by entrepreneurs like Avery.
Most of Wild Edge Woodcraft’s wood comes from the urban forest: trees that are taken down in neighborhoods for development, those diseased or damaged by storms, and occasionally trees that need to be taken down for safety reasons.
However, there is a bottleneck in this cottage industry: drying the slabs and lumber. Expanding a network of kilns for drying the material adds value to the wood, allowing it to be put to good use and helping small businesses like Avery’s,
“It opens doors for small entrepreneurs like me to participate in an industry that is otherwise dominated by very large players,” said Avery. “So there are huge logging companies with millions of dollars of equipment and very large sawmills that are fully automated, and here I am, just one guy with a sawmill and a kiln, able to participate in that industry and compete effectively with much larger players, and I think that’s fabulous.”
For small tree service businesses that may be repurposing urban wood and other entrepreneurs like Avery, having the ability to dry slabs and lumber increases production, efficiency and quality by eliminating year-long air drying storage. The turnaround time from a tree that needs to come down to a table in someone’s home can be as short as six weeks.
Avery invested in an iDRY kiln. Kilns from the Vermont-based company use vacuum technology, which drys lumber five to 10 times faster than a conventional lumber dry kiln.
He bought the single iDRY Standard primarily because it’s all he thought he could afford. “One of the reasons I chose iDRY, as opposed to some of the other kilns on the market, was the price point and the size,” he said.
He also thought it would be large enough to handle his own wood volume, but he quickly realized the pent-up demand for drying as a service. As soon as Avery’s first kiln arrived, it was already full and booked with other people’s wood, a trend that continued for several months.
It got to the point where Avery decided he needed a second kiln because he had established drying as a service, and he didn’t want to tell the customers “no” because that’s bad for business.
“Originally, I wasn’t really thinking of them as a revenue stream,” said Avery. “I was thinking of them as a piece of equipment necessary for the manufacturing process to turn my green slabs into dry usable lumber. But the more I researched it, and the more other people approached me about drying their lumber, it became its own revenue stream.”
Avery took advantage of the ability to sublease his kiln. He currently has five iDRY kilns. The more he got into it, the more he realized that it could be a fairly lucrative part of the business. The kilns have enabled him to diversify his small business and provide a mix of products and services.
Similarly, for tree service companies, the ability to offer kiln-dried lumber and provide a product to other woodworkers and custom furniture makers could be a way to weather low demand time for tree services while expanding products and services to a whole new audience. Drying slabs and lumber as a service, even if a company is focused solely on tree services, can synergize with a business.
iDRY kilns sterilize wood to U.S. Department of Agriculture standards, so they can be used to add value to firewood and target high-end customers, like hotels or restaurants.
“Filling the unused portions of the kiln with firewood-size pieces opens up another potential revenue stream for selling seasoned, sterilized, ‘cured’ firewood for restaurants, offices, hotels, and other places that use firewood and really can’t afford to have bugs crawling out of it,” said Avery.
With five iDRY kilns, Avery obviously is pleased with the performance of the units and the company’s service. “I think it’s an incredibly well-built piece of equipment. I wouldn’t be shelling out this kind of money to buy junk.”
“I also really admire iDRY for not price gouging,” added Avery, “considering how high the demand is for these kilns. I mean, they really have priced it to be affordable for small businesses like mine. I think the value, price, and income you can generate with one kiln is significantly higher than the cost of that piece of equipment, even if you amortize it over a short period of time.”
“I would encourage anybody who wants to explore it to reach out to the people at iDRY or reach out to owners like myself for advice. Most of us in this community are happy to help others who are investigating or who are learning and trying to build their businesses as well.”