One of my all time favorite client inquiries went something like this:
George Goodwin is still our company sawyer. He personally examines each and every log and has his own ritual for creating the beautiful antique wood flooring you enjoy in your home and/or office. It’s George’s process, so he tells the story best. Enjoy!
The Art of Sawing River-Recovered® Logs
Sawing River-Recovered® logs is more of an art than a process. When a load of River-Recovered® logs arrives at the sawmill, the first thing we do is measure and ‘scale’ them to determine how many board feet each log will yield. There is an industry log ‘scale’ that gives the board feet based on the diameter and length of the log. Sometimes there are significant internal fractures or other issues that affect the board footage that we take into account.
We often take the largest and best-preserved logs back to our giant log pond, where they remain in water until the right project comes along. Once I determine which ones to saw, I examine each log and decide where to mark and cut the logs for the best yield. A 36’ log might make an 8’, 12’ and 14’ sections depending on where the crooks and bends are in the log. This is called ‘bucking’.
The logs all need a power wash to remove the sand and grit off the remaining bark and exterior of the logs before they are sawn. Sand will damage the large, expensive saw blades. When I bought a large headsaw and carriage several years ago, I assembled the most equipment we could possibly afford. The River-Recovered® heart pine is dense, resinous and heavy, while the heart cypress is huge, requiring heavy-duty equipment. Read more
“One of the most picturesque trees of the American forest is the full-grown cypress. It is slow growing tree, and reaches its best development in tidewater swamplands. Trees well over a thousand years old, towering to heights of over a hundred feet, were common in virgin stands. The mature cypress develops a swelled butt of 8 to 10 feet in diameter and is surrounded by so-called knees, which are really offshoots of the root. It is believed they serve the double purpose of respiratory organs and anchorage.”
American Bald Cypress grows in a belt along the southeastern coastal plain, mainly along rivers and swampy areas. Much of the finest and largest cypress timber grew where the land was submerged most of the year. Horses and mules could not work under such conditions and machine equipment was impractical. An early solution to the problem of making these stands accessible was to build canals through the swamps, so that large pullboats could drag the cypress logs out where they could be made into rafts and towed to the mill.
Preliminary to logging the cypress forests of the 1800’s, the trees to be felled were marked and girdled a year, or several months an advance. Girdling was done by cutting a notch three inches deep around the circumference of the trunk and about three feet above the ground with an ax. Thus, the tree was killed and the wood was allowed to lose part of the moisture, so that when it was cut, the logs would float.
Today, all the millennium giants are felled and gone. Second growth cypress is almost like a different specie. Minus the saturation of cypressein oil that takes several hundred years to develop, second growth cannot stand up to the elements like the virgin growth tree you see here.
See the table being made by Michael Doerr for his brother the owner of Auteur Winery (photo at right).
I spent a lot of time fishing the Suwannee River during the summer of 1976. During this time I kept noticing deadhead logs (The term, “deadhead log” came about because the small end of the log floats like a head bobbing in the water). Something about them genuinely intrigued me. I had an antique business in Micanopy and a friend, Jerry Moore, was helping me source the antiques. He told me he could also bring up some of the logs. Now I was more than intrigued, I was interested!
Jerry recovered the logs and we took them to an old sawmill nearby. From the moment I first saw the life and light in the ancient wood, I knew people would fall in love with it. So, instead of fishing, we spent our spare time pulling logs and having them sawn into beautiful, durable historic lumber. We soon acquired our own sawmill and began sawing these treasures ourselves.
Every summer, when the water was warmest, Jerry and I made a pilgrimage to a different river area to search for ancient sunken logs. Since many of these logs were “lost” near old sawmills, we found local libraries and archives to be a good resource to research old sawmill locations. Logs were often stored in the water next to the sawmill and the densest and best often sank. Sometimes we got lucky and found a bend in the river where an entire raft had sunk. The rafts were generally 15 or so logs across and a couple of logs for cross members. There might be 20 or so such raft sections connected with chains or ropes.
We learned the best ways to search the river bottom by using a grid. And, we inevitably would find a lot of ‘second growth’ logs that were downed from storms or floods. Second growth aren’t worth pulling up as the wood is neither dense nor durable. Plus it’s commercially available, whereas the ancient logs are rare and valuable.
We searched riverbeds in NC, SC, GA and AL. I had a hand drawn map from 1881 of Florida’s forests, so of course we traveled all around Northern Central Florida and the Florida Panhandle. What we ultimately learned after years of research is that the spring fed Florida rivers held the most and highest quality ancient logs. The best heart cypress comes from the Panhandle and the best heart pine from the Suwannee, Withlacoochee and St John’s rivers. The St. John’s also has a lot of heart cypress waiting to be discovered. More on that later…
By: George Goodwin
Goodwin Company owns the Federally Registered Trademark for the term ‘River Recovered®’. I registered it after realizing recovering logs was more than just a love…it had become a lifestyle.
I began pulling River-Recovered® logs from the Suwannee River in the mid 1970’s. About a decade later, others started following in my footsteps. Many of the loggers used public landings, which aggravated the fishermen and folks who were also trying to enjoy the rivers. I also noticed they were not, in my opinion, taking a sustainable approach when harvesting the logs. The need for some sort of protocol designed to protect the environment became very apparent.
As a result, I visited politicians and suggested ways the State of Florida could regulate river log recovery in an environmentally sound manner. I requested meetings in Tallahassee (Florida’s Capital) with the Department of Submerged Lands and the Department of Environmental Protection. I also reached out to environmental organizations including the Sierra Club and the Nature Conservancy. We offered to demonstrate the appropriate way to recover ‘deadhead’ logs, which are so named because the small end of the log floats like a head out of the water.
The demonstrations were organized on the Suwannee River near Live Oak, Florida – about 40 miles from Goodwin – and also on the Apalachicola and Choctawhatchee Rivers in the Panhandle. There were a few river loggers in a boat and State officials in another boat. We showed them how to tie off both ends of the log so it did not drag on the river bottom. We explained how there were a lot of logs on the river bottom; however, most were second growth downed by storms and not worth recovering. We demonstrated how to tell the difference by examining the density of the growth rings on the end of the logs. We then helped organize the curriculum for a Master Log Recovery Class that all river loggers in the state of Florida are required to pass.
By the mid-1990’s, we succeeded in helping create an environmental permit program proposal to present to the Florida Legislature. Part of the permit required providing an archeological survey of the area of river that you want to log to prove that you are not disturbing any ancient sites or endangered species. Governor Lawton Chiles signed the permit into law in 1998. Governor Chiles loved the environment and was one of our biggest supporters.
Governor Chiles’ son, Ed Chiles, has a River-Recovered® Heart Cypress desk in his office on Anna Maria Island, Florida. Ed recently told us, “Dad was always very passionate about protecting old growth cypress. These giants speak to our history and to the critical balance that must be retained if we are to protect our watersheds and our precious environment. Goodwin Company’s work is a direct result of some of the work Dad did as governor when he and the Florida Cabinet approved the reclamation act allowing the treasures that were buried throughout parts of our state as a result of the logging operations in the late 19th and early 20 century.”
We sure do miss the Governor, but are very grateful for his son, Ed, who is proudly carrying on the environmental mission of his father.
River log recovery is often called ‘brail’ diving by the river loggers. Injun Joe Collins worked at Goodwin in the early 1990’s. He started river logging a few years after the permit was passed and then went on to star in the “Ax Men” television show for a couple of seasons. Today, Joe is Goodwin’s Production Manager and can be found diving in Goodwin’s log pond on the sawmill property whenever we need a special log.
We’ll talk more about river log recovery and how the logs are perfectly preserved after we talk some about the history of the heart pine ecosystem in future articles.
I consider it both an honor and privilege to not only provide you with the highest quality wood available on the market, but also share my experiences with you. Thank you for your confidence, time and trust. You, my valued customers and friends, make this journey all worthwhile!
My best always to you and yours,