Farming to Custom Sawmilling in Alberta

By: Tony Kryzanowski, Wood-Mizer Contributing Author

When the chance to purchase a custom sawmilling business in Southern Alberta fell into Dave Slingerland’s lap, he didn’t hesitate. He was looking for a change from his 24/7 farming occupation to spend more quality time with his family and after more than a decade in the sawmilling business, he has no regrets.

Slingerland’s company, HC Forest Products, was established along busy Highway 3 in Cowley by two retirees in 2007. It was originally their retirement plan but the growing success of the sawmill business was more work than they really wanted.

That’s when he visited the business looking for leads to purchase a small firewood manufacturing company in the area. On the day of his arrival, the former owners had been talking about selling the business and the opportunity evolved from there. “We thought that cutting timber was better than cutting firewood, so we jumped in with both feet and started swimming,” said Slingerland. “You miss all the chances that you don’t take.”

When Slingerland purchased HC Forest Products, the sawmill was processing only about seven truckloads of logs annually. Now, they are up to about 30 truckloads and produce about triple the volume of wood products. To date, he and his wife, Calinda, are the sole owners of the business.

HC Forest Products manufactures custom timbers and lumber, timber frame material, post and beam construction products, mantles, decking, trailer decking, wind fences, and ranch gates exclusively from Douglas fir and cedar. Up to 80 percent of their product line is timbered. “We do basically anything that you can’t get in a lumber yard but the backbone of our business is Douglas fir timbers pretty much in any size,” explained Slingerland. “Douglas fir has a lot of the same oils and tannins in it that cedar has. The strength is better than cedar and it should last almost as long, but it is way, way cheaper. It’s been a really great alternative to cedar and cosmetic-wise, it’s a beautiful wood.

His main source of logs is from area loggers. They arrive tree length and are then bucked and sorted in the yard for the best potential recovery, depending on their quality. Dave supplements his wood supply with a Commercial Timber Permit (CTP) he has acquired from the provincial government.

Slingerland now owns a second sawmill across the border in Hosmer, British Columbia. It operates a larger and longer Wood-Mizer LT70 Hydraulic portable sawmill. “It’s an amazing sawmill,” he said. “We’ve replaced every moving piece, roller and bearing on it multiple times but it still cuts as true as the day it was made.” The building where his sawmill and twin-blade board edger is housed is ideal, offering interior working conditions and plenty of room to both operate the equipment year-round and to store inventory.

HC Forest Products tends to fill orders as they arrive, delivering products usually within two weeks. They never operate the bandsaw mill just to stockpile lumber. Their lumber inventory simply develops from edged timber sideboards. This allows Slingerland to maintain a small lumber inventory for walk-in traffic and quick sales.“Dimensional lumber comes off the side of each timber so we always have anything from a 1 x 6 to 2 x 12,” he noted. “We can cut up to 26 feet long here and we have cut up to 20 x 20 timbers.”

They also manufacture a lot of 8 x 8 timbers as they are in high demand. In terms of log dimensions, the largest log they can process is 36” in diameter and the smallest they prefer is 10” in diameter.

The most unique product we make is probably live edge fireplace mantles,” Slingerland said. “A lot of times we can get the bark to stay on, so people can put up mantles that have moss and lichens still stuck on the bark. It makes an absolutely gorgeous mantle.”

Currently, HC Forest Products are air-dried as needed but they have plans to build a custom dry wood kiln using their sawdust as the fuel to provide the heat.

What they have noticed, particularly in their neck of the woods a couple of hours south of Calgary, an hour west of Lethbridge, and a half hour from the British Columbia border is a trend towards building with timbers because wood is environmentally friendly and a renewable resource. “It’s about the greenest material that you can build with,” he declared. “I think as people are becoming more Earth-conscious, they are finally realizing that the best way to build is to cut trees and replant them. I think it is a trend that we are going to see for quite some time.

Tony Kryzanowski is a contributing journalist with more than 35 years of experience focusing on writing about alternative energy, forestry, biological sciences, business, and government policy.

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