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Sawdust flies . . . John Fairweather and his assistant Wayne Neale of Rangiora, push the butt end of the 130-year-old cedar through the Rimu saw to break it down into flitches. Photo: Robyn Bristow

By ROBYN BRISTOW

Sawdust flies as the butt end of a huge cedar is pushed through a Rimu break down saw at Harleston Road, near Leithfield.

The three metre butt, which is 1.5 metres in diameter, emits a fruity smell as it is slowly broken down into flitches at John Fairweather Specialty Timber Solutions, before being cut into lengths 6 x 1 boards on a Wood-Mizer portable saw.

The cedar, which is about 130-years-old, is from the St Thomas’ Anglican Church on South Eyre Road, and is the largest saw log John Fairweather has ever worked on in his 25 years working with trees and in forestry.

Forestry and sawmilling were once a part time occupation for John, a Professor of Rural Sociology. He worked fulltime at Lincoln University and spent all his spare time on his lifestyle block at Harleston Road, planting eucalypts and milling logs.

“By nature I am a quiet guy and a problem solver,” says Mr Fairweather.

But for the past five and a half years the roles have been reversed with sawmilling and forestry now John’s fulltime occupation – with a little bit of academia thrown in.

Normally he works entirely with eucalyptus for flooring, decking, furniture and internal lining and tongue and groove for walls and ceilings.

“I tend not to get into other species because life gets too complicated,” he says.

But Cedar is a much better proposition than other specialty woods as it is naturally durable and can be used internally and for weatherboards, says Mr Fairweather.

After an approach from the church, Mr Fairweather decided to buy the tree, have it felled, cut it into three metre lengths and carted to his Harleston Road mill by a local contractor.

“It (the butt end) was heavy even then for his crane and he couldn’t get the grapple around it. He had to use a chain. He slid it on and off.”

Once cut into lengths, the boards are stacked to dry and as cedar dries quite quickly and easily. Mr Fairweather says within a few months it will be down to 15 to 20 percent moisture. However, wood to be used internally will be solar kiln dried to bring it down to the 12 percent moisture content required, if it is to be used internally.

Mr Fairweather says each of his two kilns works with a solar collector on the roof. In the larger of the two, air is blown down into the kiln chamber underneath and comes back up and gets heated again.

He has now moved from growing trees to processing them and while he mainly deals in eucalyptus he does process other species to fulfill demand and does contract sawmilling for farmers and others. He can pick up logs, truck them to his site and mill them to the farmers specifications for things like sheep yard rails.

“If they are made out of poplar or eucalypt, they don’t have to be treated and last for 20 to 30 years.”