Meander Valley Gazette

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Tailor-made Tassie timbers

BusinessJoanne EisemannComment

MAY 2018 | Lorraine Clarke

TASMANIA LOSES the talents of many young people to the lure of the subtropics, but Nelson Bird went against the tide when he relocated from Woombye on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, to Elizabeth Town.

Nelson worked in construction in Queensland, specialising in building stairs. He had always loved timber, and especially appreciated the unique species we are blessed with in Tasmania. For years, he had been buying our native woods to use in his business, and when prices rose dramatically, the obvious solution was to buy a Tasmanian sawmill where he could cut his own timber.

With his parents, Rob and Helen, he searched for years for the right opportunity until 3 years ago, the Elizabeth Town sawmill was advertised on eBay. They flew down to inspect it, and fell in love with the beauty of the natural surroundings, and the potential for developing the business by milling specialty native timbers for niche markets.

Helen and Rob return north each winter, taking a load of milled Tasmanian timbers with them for sale from their Queensland property. Nelson remains in Tasmania, working the mill with his trusty offsider, Ollie the chocolate Labrador.

“I hate the winter, but this is where all the nice timber is, and I like the people down here,” he said.

He now has 3 mills – a New Zealand Mahoe Minimax, a new Wood-mizer bandsaw, and a Slabmaster from Yass Engineering in Queensland. This is an overhead router, which puts a flat surface on both sides of slabs.

Wood-Mizer recently sent their Public Relations officer Chase Warner, from Indiana, USA, to write an article on Nelson’s mill, illustrated with photos taken by our own Jade Hallam. The advantage of this bandsaw is that it minimises sawdust and maximises recovery of valuable, increasingly-rare timbers such as Huon Pine.

Nelson and Rob are committed to sustainable sawmilling. All their timbers are ethically sourced. They make good use of trees culled from farms, such as macrocarpa hedgerows that have outlived their usefulness, or trees removed from the path of travelling irrigators. They are always interested in purchasing sawlogs.

“Availability of logs is a problem. Myrtle is very hard to get,” said Nelson. “We mainly buy blackwood and stringy bark from farmland being cleared. Our Huon Pine is all fully salvaged from the West Coast.”

The Birds have recently built a kiln to dry sawn timber. A wide range is stored in their huge shed, a veritable wonderland for woodcarvers joiners, musical instrument makers, woodturners and furniture makers, whether professional or hobbyist. Figured woods, burls, fiddleback, sassafras, celery top pine, blackwood, silver wattle and numerous minor species are available to suit every purpose, from massive slabs to pen blanks. Macrocarpa, a naturally rot-resistant timber, is cut into bee box lengths for apiarists. A gallery showcases fine timber products for purchase, crafted by local woodworkers.

Nelson’s love for his business is obvious, and he intends to expand into producing custom furniture. “We just finished making a nice burl table from blackheart sassafras salvaged from farm forestry operations.”

Clients travel from as far as Hobart to purchase quality wood from what is, so far, a well-kept secret nestled in the bush high up above Elizabeth Town. Interstate tourists are delighted to find this treasure trove of unique timber. But once having seen the quality and variety of wood available, all are certain to become return customers.

The sawmill is located at 91 North Street, Elizabeth Town (call before visiting 0406 910 148);

Photo | Mike Moores