Shelby business is creating a buzz with its saw

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Sawmill faces zoning issues, but it is flourishing for now

By Todd Martin

The Triple S Planning Commission is embroiled in a lawsuit with Bagdad Lumber Sawmill & Kiln about the company’s ability to operate as is at its location at 2932 Christiansburg Road in Bagdad.


His mill is located on a parcel zoned Agriculture, which Triple S officials say isn’t appropriate for this business.

But owner/operator Ron Harris claims in his suit that he had approval before opening the doors to his company. The courts will decide, and while they are, Harris is able to continue work while the courts decided the lawsuit.

But what does a sawmill do?

“Basically, we take logs, and we saw them into furniture-grade lumber,” he said.

And that’s what sets this facility apart.

“The biggest difference with us is a lot of places are doing what we call green cutting,” Harris said. “That means it’s not as good a quality. It’s for barn siding, fences, trailer floors, that kind of stuff. Occasionally we’ll have some of that stuff, but our focus is on the higher-end woods – cherry, walnut, hickory – things you’ll want to make furniture out of.”

It was working with wood, Harris said, that led him to this job.

“I just enjoyed working with wood, and I started to look at the process of where it came from,” he said. “I thought it was fascinating. Then I started checking into it, and thought I’d really enjoy it.

“It’s taken off, really. We’ve done really well. There are larger operations out there. We’re just a little guy, but we’ve shipped orders all over the country. We’ve done a lot for people around here, too, but we’ve put together orders for Winter Park, Fla., and up into Canada.”

Most of the work has been done for individuals and builders, he said.

“A lot of people are going back to real wood in homes, and they’re working with wood and building furniture and custom cabinets again,” he said.

With a staff of three, Harris said his company doesn’t go out and cut down much of its own wood for the sawmill.

“Sometimes a landowner will bring in a trailer load of wood, and then we’ll cut it into two-by-six’s for him or whatever he wants, and then dry it,” he said. “We have a lot brought in from local landowners, stuff they’ll either want cut up for them or they’ll sell the logs to us. Sometimes we even work something out where they get half in what they want and let us keep the rest.”

The process is fairly simple on the face.

The logs are put through a large band saw that pulls off the bark and rough edges, and then Harris and his crew try to achieve the maximum amount of lumber from one tree.

“It just depends what they [customers] want or if we’re buying it,” Harris said.

From there, the wood either goes to storage or to the kiln to dry.

“If it’s a custom order, we’ll get it in the kiln, but if it’s just for us, then we’ll wait until we have some time to get it,” he said.

What look like sheds back behind the mill, the kilns are really just small buildings with large industrial heaters.

“It’s pretty much nothing but an electric heat pump with dehumidifier,” Harris said.

The temperatures used depend on the type of wood and the types of cuts.

“To get furniture grade wood, we have to get it down to about six or eight percent moisture,” he said. “And every type of wood is different. Oak, when it’s cut, can be as high as eighty percent, and you have to dry it slower, but not too slow or it will stat to mold. Poplar, you can dry it really fast.”

Although his crew deals mostly in lumber cuts, Harris said during the past few years, as he has started this business, he has learned there is beauty in all sorts of cuts.

“We do a lot of live-edge stuff [in which the contour lines of the wood and bark make up the sides],” he said. “I had seen a lot of stuff like this all over the country, so we started looking into it.

“Now I have two or three regulars from Louisville and Lexington that buy them. They’re artists working in wood like this. It’s changed the way I look at every piece. Ten years ago I would have looked at this piece [with a fork in it and knots on the side] and thought, ‘Ah, this is just firewood.’ Now that I’ve seen what a real artist can do with it, I’m a lot more careful about how I look at things.”

As his attorneys work on the zoning issues through the courts, Harris said he’s happy to keep working the sawmill.

“We have a lot of fun out here. We all enjoy what we do,” he said. “I think we’re good for the economy, too. We’re selling out sawdust to folks in the horse industry for their stalls, and we’re selling our scraps for firewood.

“We don’t waste anything.”