K-P & Sons operates a small, sustainable mill in Humboldt County
by Susan Nolan
ISF is a big supporter of small mills. We were really disappointed when last year’s trip to the K-P & Sons mill had to be cancelled, as the corona virus crisis deepened. But when things opened up this year, we were able to reschedule for June 18.
There was a great turnout, including curious and supportive friends and neighbors, potential customers, young people looking to get into the business, and a couple from our kindred group, Roots of Motive Power in Willits.
A log’s journey through the mill begins with getting trimmed to usable lengths and then being brought to the 1972 debarker. As the log is rotated, bark gets ground off, leaving spiral grooves. KP’s debarkers can handle up to 36” logs; anything bigger is debarked with a backhoe. KP is one of the few mills left that can still handle really big logs.
They also use a mobile dimension saw to cut the really large logs that do not fit on their other mills. This saw can also produce slab materials. The mobile dimension saw makes two cuts in one pass, with a vertical blade and a horizontal blade both running at once. Here it is slicing out 2 x 8s. Good lumber is stacked to the operator’s left, and offcuts to his right. Defective boards can be directed to other uses. This happens at each machine. Every stick gets processed into marketable product as much as possible.
From there it goes to a Wood-Mizer resaw, which cuts the 2 x 8s into 1 x 8s, producing one of the mill’s main products, fence boards.
The Wood-Mizer EG200 edger puts a nice clean edge on both sides of a board in one pass:
At the very end of the line, 1” boards with defects that won’t make good fencing are cut into 1 x 1 lath using a five-blade gang saw, and then banded in bundles, salvaging as much useable product as possible.
Of course, much material can’t be made into lumber: the rounded edges of logs, bark, sawdust, trim ends, etc. The Paines are trying to find responsible uses for all their waste. Their sawdiust and ground bark get processed into “forest peat” and mixed with bat guano, worm castings and chicken manure by NorCal Gold, and sold in bulk at the mill. It’s a new prodcut this year; “we’re getting good reports from users, “ Kelly notes. Finding a use for their woody waste is a work in progress. They’re considering chipping it, if they can find a market for chips, and making biochar.
A variety of machines power the mill. Many are older. The debarker dates back to 1970. One runs on an old VW motor. As their business grows, he Paines are reducing their need for “muscle and diesel” by upgrading to more efficient electric machines.
Redwood is the KP Mill’s mainstay, as it is the market that they have focused on. Douglas fir and hardwoods require different saw blades. Buying logs is a challenge—“that’s the rough part,” Kelly observes. They prefer sustainably produced trees, and will be buying 600,000 board feet this year from the Redwood Forest Foundation, with whom they have a good relationship. They also sustainably harvest a small amount from their own land.They don’t do grading, drying, or planing, but there’s a steady demand for the products they do make. “Not quite two truckloads a day” go out, with 16, to 18,000 board feet per truck.
The Paines started milling on their own property, then moved near Garberville, and are now working at the old Coombs mill site in Piercy, a great site with old mill buildings and plenty of room. Recently they’ve opened up a retail outlet in Santa Rosa, KP & Sons Custom Redwood, which offers fence boards, 1 x 1 x 8’ lath, slabs, timbers, beams, custom orders and more. The family’s two oldest sons, Levi and Jayden, along with Levi’s fiance Caitlin, run the store. This is a new project for the the Paines, and they are enjoying teaching their kids the trade and the ins and outs of running a retail store.
To learn more about KP and Sons Custom Redwood, see https://kpcustomredwood.com
We had a great time with the Paines, and learned a lot. ISF intends to visit more local mills. If you are interested, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org