I was talking to a contractor and somehow the conversation turned to the lumber yards in the town where he lives, Santa Cruz, California. He told me that one of them, Big Creek Lumber, has its own sawmill. The mill processes redwood and is located in Davenport, a small town about 20 miles up the coast from Santa Cruz. I said I'd always wanted to see the inside of a sawmill so he put me in touch with someone he knew at the company and we set up a visit. The following week I made the two-hour drive to Davenport and was met by my tour guide, Alex Walker, the operations manager of Big Creek Lumber's mill. Before we got started Walker gave me the following overview of the company.

Big Creek Lumber was founded in 1946 by members of the McCrary family. Their original mill was located several miles up nearby Waddell Creek Canyon. In 1964 they moved the operation to its current location next to Highway 1 and overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It's a privately owned business and is now being run by the third generation of the family. Between 50 and 60 people work in the mill, which produces 70-100 thousand board-feet of lumber per day. Some of the lumber is distributed through the company's five retail lumber yards; the rest is sold to other lumber yards around the state. Some of the logs processed at the mill come from company's own forestland, but most are supplied by private landowners. Big Creek Lumber was an early practitioner of selective harvesting : Instead of clear-cutting or taking out all the best trees, they take individual trees from throughout the forest and leave the largest most significant trees alone. The company's forestry department manages the process; done properly it leads to a forest with trees of varying age from which timber can be continuously harvested (maybe every 15 years) for an indefinite period of time.

You can see the inner working of the mill by clicking on the slideshow on the left side of this page. Be sure to check out the captions, some of which contain links to video shot in the mill.

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Zoom in or out for a better look at the mill and the surrounding area. Courtesy of Google Maps.


Here's a video that shows how logs are processed.