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October 2007 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal

MILL OPERATIONS

Squandered potential?

New Brunswick has tremendous potential in its hardwood forests, but it is a potential that is being squandered as wood is being used to produce low-value commodity products, says mill operator Clement Arpin.

By George Fullerton

Sawmill operator Clement Arpin can see the future of forestry in New Brunswick and he doesn’t like it one bit. Arpin is deeply concerned that New Brunswick’s forest policy— particularly with respect to the province’s hardwood resource—is misdirected and short sighted.

“In New Brunswick, we are resource rich and knowledge poor,” says Arpin. “We have a unique and valuable hardwood resource and we are exploiting it very carelessly. Essentially, we are cutting our hardwoods at an immature stage, making chips and using them to manufacture low-value commodity products.”

The province’s hardwood resource is being wasted, he says, through poor forestry practices. “We are shortchanging future generations by not providing them with a high-grade, high-value hardwood resource with which they can achieve prosperity. We need to sustain the hardwood resource so that there is a wide variety of manufacturing opportunities for future generations of New Brunswickers.”

Arpin is the founder and chief executive officer of Les Ateliers Arpin in Kedgewick in northwestern New Brunswick, and has developed a reputation as a skilled craftsman, an entrepreneur and a bit of a visionary for forestry and industrial development. Arpin is a compassionate advocate for his native province and the opportunities offered by its forest resources. He developed his passion and commitment through nearly sixty years working with wood in the forest, sawmilling, manufacturing, construction and cabinet and interior finish work.

“We have a unique and valuable hardwood resource in New Brunswick and we are exploiting it very carelessly,” says Clement Arpin (left).

He illustrates the opportunity available through hardwood value-added manufacturing. A maple log, valued at $50 roadside in the woods, can be manufactured in his shop into a fireplace mantle piece worth $3,500.

Arpin has come to understand the unique value of the hardwood resource through the operation of his cabinet and finishing work shop, established in 1977.

The shop includes a sawmill, kiln and a lumber dry storage warehouse. Arpin established a reputation for high quality craftsmanship and has built a remarkable market for custom work across New Brunswick and into the New England States.

The business had an interesting start. Arpin set up his own millwork and cabinet shop after being continually disappointed with the available interior finishing he purchased for the houses his residential construction company was building. “The quality was very poor and I knew that I could successfully operate a shop that would produce a far superior product,” he explains.

The shop was built and he began importing kiln-dried hardwood lumber from Quebec and New England. “It didn’t take long for me to ask the question: ‘Why am I importing this lumber when I am in the middle of this forest?’”

However, efforts to purchase native hardwood lumber revealed that the industry lacked the milling and kiln capacity to provide a consistently high quality product. That led directly to a decision to mill the logs and dry the wood himself, and the purchase of a small mill and kiln. “We were pleased to find that we could produce very high quality hardwood lumber.”

Currently, Arpin’s hardwood logs are purchased through an 800 cubic-metre Crown timber allotment, which represents the smallest sub-licensee allotment in New Brunswick. In addition to sugar maple and yellow birch, the mill also secures some ash and beech logs.

Logs are debarked with a Morbark rosserhead debarker and sawn with a sixinch double cut Heartwood band sawmill. The edger was custom built. The entire mill operation, as well as a 20,000 boardfoot dry kiln, is on the ground level of his woodworking shop. A large dry storage warehouse for sawn lumber is located adjacent to the mill and shop operation.

Once they are debarked with a Morbark rosserhead debarker, logs are directed to a six-inch double cut Heartwood band sawmill (below). The mill’s planer equipment (left) is the first step towards high value-added production.

Arpin points out that having his own sawmill and kiln facility allows him to cut wood and have lumber available in a wide variety of dimensions to serve customers’ needs. The shop provides a wide variety of finish products including glued panels, so the operation utilizes lumber down to very small dimensions.

The high quality chips generated in the milling operation are shipped to the Uniboard plant at Matane, Quebec. While some waste wood is packaged for campfire wood and sold in the region, the residual bark and waste wood is chipped and burned in a boiler to heat the shop and provide energy for the kiln.

Arpin developed a market across the province for his custom milling and cabinets and extended his manufacturing to high-end furniture pieces, flooring and even complete interior staircase installations. The shop’s reputation for quality work has led to producing highend creations such as curved staircases and unique furniture pieces, including tables and chairs. The shop’s work graces the Federal Court chambers in Fredericton and the Federal and Provincial Court in Bathurst.

These types of projects are a specialty, if not a labour of love. “We are small but very knowledgeable and we have production flexibility,” Arpin explains. “When a historical property in St Andrews was damaged by fire and the decision was made to restore the 200-year-old trim work and doors, we were able to carry out the work.”

A client from Boston had constructed a new house that featured a library with curved walls and fireplace, and had approached a large number of woodworkers in New England to build the solid wood paneling and trim work. “They said that it could not be done. I went and looked at the job and said that I could do it. I took the measurements and returned home and laid out the room pattern on our shop floor, manufactured the components as panels, shipped them and assembled it perfectly, including a curved mantle piece for the fireplace.“ Employment at the Arpin operation ranges from eighteen to 25 people.

Employees live in and around the Village of Kedgewick and come with various backgrounds, some with formal training in woodworking and manufacturing, and some trained on the job in the Arpin shop. Arpin comments that his employees are highly motivated and are committed to producing excellence. He adds that his workers quickly gain an understanding for the strength and beauty that northern hardwoods have and a tremendous satisfaction in functioning as a team to produce highly crafted products from their native region, using a locally available resource.

Arpin’s market in New England, specifically around the Boston suburbs, began by supplying cabinets and other millwork for a cousin’s new house. The finely executed work caught the attention of another American cousin. The second house project lead to a job to provide cabinets and millwork for a new golf and country club at Brockton, Massachusetts.

“That first country club was very significant for us. The club membership included a number of wealthy individuals who wanted the same level of quality and craftsmanship for their own homes. The first golf club led to a number of contracts for finish work for high-end houses and to other large projects for country clubs, restaurants and offices,” says Arpin.

He takes special pleasure in noting that one of his projects was to provide the finish work for former Boston Bruins star Ted Donato’s house. Additional Boston area projects include the Ritz Carlton Hotel lobby and condo in the centre of Boston, and several country clubs.

Although the strength of the American dollar has recently reduced US work, Arpin will supply the finish work for another country club in 2006. But he is concerned about the supply of wood for such projects in the future. “Historically, when we started exploiting the forests in New Brunswick, it was seen as an endless resource. There was a philosophy that we could take as much of the forest as we wanted because there will always be more.

“Well, we have taken too much, our cupboard is becoming bare. And still we keep doing the same thing. We are cutting the trees when they are too small and turning them into chips. We need to leave more of those good young trees and allow them to grow into large valuable trees that we can use to make products that employ more people, use our people’s talents and bring more prosperity to New Brunswick.”

Proper forestry utilization should be taught in the province’s education system, Arpin adds.

“We need to teach about forestry and wood products manufacturing for the future prosperity of the province. We have had a mentality that to export is a success, but we export our forestry resources and export our people. Too often, people measure the success of our young people by their success in landing jobs and employment outside New Brunswick.

“We need to create more manufacturing opportunities here and export the finished products—and use the talents of our people to create wealth right here.”

There has to be a strong focus on value-added manufacturing, he believes. The provincial forest management philosophy that promotes chipping hardwoods for commodity products has to be changed. “We have to move to a strategy that allows our best quality trees to mature so our young people will mature with them and create industry, enterprise and business that builds prosperity from our excellent and renewable wood resource.

“Today we have a wood processing industry that increasingly is operated by computers and robots, and controlled by big industry. The benefit of our forest resource is not benefiting our people to its potential.”

Additional Info


People who work in the forest have a rare appreciation for trees.  If you've ever used a tree to build a tree house with a tire swing, then you already understand.  Remember climbing a tree when you were a child?  That's what we're talking about.
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