As both a woodworker and an environmentalist, it can sometimes be difficult to reconcile how I make my living with the harm it causes a dwindling resource. In the case of the oak I use to make kayak coamings and ribs, it's estimated that 99% of the oak savannah that once blanketed the Willamette valley is now gone. Some people accept this as inevitable, and some people, like my friend Ben Deumling of Zena Forest Products are working to make things better.
Originally belonging to a German-born sustainable forester, in the mid 1980's Ben's family purchased the 1300 acres he sustainably manages in the Eola Hills. Ben started Zena Forest Products in 2007 at age 25. He wanted to find a better outlet for the logs from the Zena forest then the big industrial sawmills where prices were low and good management practices were not appreciated or rewarded.
As a wood junkie, it's a pleasure to visit Ben's operation every year and enjoy the process of selecting and cutting the oak for my kayaks guilt free. As sawyer, salvager, and micro-logger myself, I'm envious of Ben's mechanical aptitude and I'm always interested in the old machinery that Ben rescues and rebuilds. This small mill with it's labyrinth of gears and pulleys is called a Mobile Dimension and is one of the most ingenious little sawmills I've ever seen.
The jealousy doesn't stop there though, Bens large electric bandsaw mill slices easily through the hard white oak. Definitely a step up from my 084 stihl chain saw!
Working together we carefully select the very best cuts to make into bending stock.
Nothing is wasted here, off-cuts will be resawn, dried, planed, and milled into FSC-certified white oak flooring, which Zena produces more of than anything. Maple, fir, oak, or walnut, when a log is truly exceptional, Ben will cut and dry specialty lumber and slabs as well.
Truck loaded with more oak than is probably a good idea for a 1/4 ton pickup I head back home to fire up my own saw and planer, the next step in the journey from forest to kayak.
An avid paddler, builder, and teacher, I'm passionate about sharing the strength, lightweight, and beauty of skin-on-frame boat building.