SUMMITVILLE, Ohio — Back a desolate road in southern Columbiana County where some people would never consider going because the area is just so remote, is a modern business with a tie to agriculture.
The economy may be in a slump, but one Summitville family is taking this downturn and using it to find a way to keep cash flowing into their operation.
The Coldwell family, Dave, Jed and Jared, know that to stay afloat in today’s economy, diversification is needed in almost any business. Theirs is no exception.
“It’s all about not getting over-extended and taking those baby steps,” Dave Coldwell said.
The Coldwell family operates a certified tree farm on the family’s 600 acres in Summitville. In addition, they are timber consultants in good economic times.
When the economy slowed dramatically, the family decided they needed to develop another part of their business. The youngest of the family, Jared, branched out in a unique way about a year and half ago — selling salvage lumber on eBay.
Jared and his family operate Ohio Woodlands, an Internet store on eBay. They take salvage lumber — wood from a tree that has been damaged or has fallen — and decide what cuts of wood can be taken from it.
Then, the family uses the sawmill at their home to cut the slabs of lumber from the tree.
Since the family cuts the boards themselves, they can be creative with it and make cuts that other sawmills would not or could not consider, Jared explained.
The salvage lumber is inventoried in the eBay store according to the type. Several species are listed, including Osage orange, wild apple, sassafras, cucumber magnolia, black cherry, red maple, elm, black gum and black oak.
A solid board of black cherry can run anywhere from $16 to $65. A slab of black walnut will cost between $18 and $62 and a piece of red maple is on the Web site for between $15 and $210. Each is priced depending on the size of the board and its distinguishing markings.
Some trees have been down a year and the family gleaned quite a supply of downed trees from this year’s windstorms like the one experienced when the remnants of Hurricane Ike rumbled through Ohio last September.
These trees have something to give to the creative mind, though. Because of the damage by the storms or age, many have unique markings that the family spotlights when it cuts the trees into boards.
The Coldwells recycle wood remnants that are not salvageable for boards into mulch to be used in flower and vegetable gardens and bedding for the family’s pets. In addition, other pieces are hauled to the building where the kiln is housed for use in an outdoor wood-burning furnace.
The kiln, housed a little over a mile away from the sawmill on the Coldwell property, can dry 15,000 board feet at one time.
A wood-burning furnace outside of the building is the heat source for the radiant floor heating, which eventually raises the temperature in the kiln to 120 degrees. The drying process does not happen overnight. The heat must be constantly increased until it reaches the ultimate 120 degrees. Rushing the heating process can make the wood dry out too quickly and will cause problems for the person working with it in the end, Jared explained.
Fans are used in the kiln to keep air moving and one single fan is positioned near a window to flush the humidity outside.
The brothers designed the entire operation. They did use a contractor to help construct the actual building, but it was a plan all of their own.
The brothers also went to work creating and then constructing a kiln inside of the building. The duo also have their own planer.
Up above the kiln is where the computer work is completed.
That’s where Jared, who majored in forest resources management and marketing at West Virginia University, goes to work. He is constantly checking his e-mail for questions from customers, auctioning off items and placing new boards on the site.
“People think you cut the wood and that’s it. I wish it was that easy,” Jared said.
Once he has cut the board and it has dried, he takes it to his office. He uses mineral spirits to bring out the grain in the wood pieces and then he takes several pictures of the item and places them on the Internet site.
“The secret is to show buyers the wood grain in products and the natural oddities,” Jared said.
Woodworkers from all 50 states and the United Kingdom have purchased his products and have sent pictures of their creations.
“You are their eyes. They can’t come here most of the time, so we have to be able to express what the wood grain and individuality it has,” Jared said.
Some of the woodworking artists have made coffee tables or end tables. Others get more involved and make a table or chairs. They may take the board and use another type of wood board to give a table legs in a rustic look or they make it modern and place metal legs on the table.
Coldwell said he is never surprised by what artists create — there are no limits as to what can be created with the salvage wood.
The next step
Jared is now working on creating a Web site for the salvage wood. He wants to move his business from eBay and make it so that visitors can shop a Web site and find exactly what they are looking for with ease.
It would help customers to be able to buy a slab of lumber instantly instead of waiting for it to be auctioned off. In addition, the business would not have to incur the costs of having online auctions on eBay.