A VISIT WITHNew life for unwanted trees in the Florida Keys.
by Paul Mosteller
Recently I went on a vacation trip to the Florida Keys. Like any dutiful woodworker, I prepared for the trip by scoping out interesting woodworking destinations in that corner of the world. I got a lot of good suggestions from the WoodCentral gang, including a note to visit a fellow named Mark Butler, who owns a small sawmill business called Urban Forest Recyclers, in Tavernier, FL, just south of Islamorada. Mark was featured on the cover of the Sept '97 Woodshop News
When I visited Mark, he told me how he got started in this unusual business. He was working for a tree trimmer and found out they were grinding up Cuban mahogany in the chipper. In the Keys, you must have a permit to cut down anything, and it costs a fortune to take wood to the dump. The foreman told him that there was no money to be made cutting the logs into boards.
Despite the tree trimmer's discouraging comments, Mark set up a Wood-Mizer sawmill in his back yard and started sawing lumber. He has done a nice job of screening the sawmill off from his neighbors. He gets his wood from local tree services; it helps everyone and is good for the ecology. In a way, the foreman was right: Mark said he doesn't make a profit doing this; he does it as a hobby.
The species that Mark cuts are virtualy unknown outside this tiny corner of the U.S.: Yellow poinciana (yellow flower), red ironwood (darling plum), Jamaica dogwood (fish fuddle/fish poison), black ironwood (leadwood), crabwood (oyster wood), Cuban mahogany(Swietenia Mahagoni), buttonwood, black olive, tropical almond, Norfolk Island pine, lignum vitae, Spanish lime, red mahoe, joe wood, prince wood, wild plum, black mangrove, wild tamarind, white ironwood, ficus, acacia, gumbo limbo, avocado, sea grape, blue mahoe, coconut palm, mastic, ink wood, woman's tongue, sapodilla, Java plum...the list goes on and on.
The trees don't grow as big in the Keys as they do in most other areas, so the board sizes are generally smaller than what we see at the lumber yard. He would be a great resource for box makers, carvers and turners. I saw a few great-looking samples, very highly figured, with lots of color. I drooled the whole time I was there.
Mark air dries everything under roof in his yard. He uses "DuraSticks" from David Bane, plastic composite stickers with U-shaped grooves that allow air to circulate. This way he avoids problems with mold and mildew where the stickers touch the wood.
Mark had 8 or 10 species of wood waiting to be sliced; but, since time and space is limited, he stick to 2 or 3 woods at a time. This way he produces more boards of the same type for customers to choose from. This makes selling a lot easier. He also has to educate customers about his limitations and tell them how they can work together. He has customers that have standing orders for specific wood, and he calls when he has a shipment ready.
Lately, Mark has been concentrating on cleaning up the yard and rebuilding his two small buildings and his drying racks from storm damage. In the Keys, a bad storm makes a real mess of his operation.. . . Paul Mosteller
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Urban Forest Recyclers is a WoodFinder member. Click here to visit Mark's listing page.]
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