27 November 1998

He came, sawed and conquered

BUY a large log destined for the firewood pile and, after sawing it into rails or posts, increase its value by up to 30 times or more. Sounds a good deal if you can do it.

And Cheshire farmer, Philip Booth reckons he can – and does.

Based at Higher Smallwood Farm, Scholarly Green, Stoke on Trent, Mr Booth farms some 130 acres on which the main enterprise is dairying – he has 75 cows. But a lifetime interest in timber production and processing recently culminated in the purchase of a mobile saw mill.

"With farm incomes as they are, an opportunity to improve matters is not to be ignored," he says. "I have for some time offered a timber contracting service – thinning and clearing – and it seemed a logical move to process some of the larger waste timber into posts and rails."

Mr Booth took delivery of his Australian-built Lucas Mill six months ago and, despite seasonal pressures from his normal farming duties, has managed to produce a significant amount of sawn timber.

The first point to note about the Lucas Mill is that it is a mobile mill, capable of being transported on a trailer and set up on site – near the wood. Mr Booth says that he can be up and running with the mill within about 15min of arriving.

The unit comprises two vertical frames separated by two aluminium rails – the rails are used to support and guide the cutting unit. The cutting unit itself has at its business end a blade capable of cutting to a depth of 215m (8.5in). Power is provided by a 20hp petrol engine with drive transmitted via a centrifugal clutch and twin belts.

One bout of saw

As with other units of its type, the Lucas Mill is capable of cutting both horizontally and vertically – a lever swings the blade through 90 degrees. This means that a cut can be made as the unit is pushed and pulled manually in each direction to produce a rail or post with just one bout of the saw.

Saw height adjustment – depth of cut – is achieved by lowering the ends of the guide rails by the required amount, a graduated scale is placed on each frame upright.

All of which enables timber with a diameter of up to 1.5m (5ft) to be reduced to useful – and potentially profitable – rails or posts.

"Just how much processed timber is worth depends largely on the type of wood," explains Mr Booth. "A good trunk of oak is clearly going to have more value than beech for example. And if you can get a piece of wood with an interesting grain in it – the value increases accordingly.

Long-lost nail

"The other point to remember is that when processing timber, losses can be as high as 30% – particularly with awkward shaped logs. And if there is a long-lost nail or staple hidden within it….."

Mr Booth also recognises that just sawing wood does not guarantee an income – it needs to be marketed effectively. But even before that point sawn green wood needs to be air dried for the best part of a year.

"After the rails or posts have been cut we need to stack and store them to reduce their moisture content down to about 24%," he explains. "Which is about as low as you can get it. Timber destined for the furniture business needs to be kiln dried down to 12%."

And on this score, Mr Booth already has plans to install a drying kiln to achieve this.

Recognising his business is still in its infancy, he believes with correct marketing it could eventually be responsible for a sizeable part of his farms income. &#42