Saturday, March 17, 2018

Rajala Forestry at Bluebill Pond and Rajala Mill Planer March 2018

Ivar the Timber Dog and I made a final inspection of the completed harvest south of Bluebill Pond.  This was a combination harvest.  On the higher ground point, we harvested quite a few large White Spruce and a few big Red Pine.  We left the mature White Pine and a few mature Red Pine as legacy trees and to provide the partial overstory which creates ideal conditions for new White Pine regeneration.  We will be supplementing the natural regeneration we will get with some scattered planted trees in May 2018.  The planting will be 75% White Pine and 25% mix of Red Pine and White Spruce.  In the adjacent lowland hardwood area, we did a significant thinning of the 40 & 80 year old timber.  We left most of the older trees to keep getting bigger and to continue to give us some age class diversity.  We thinned the 40 year old pole timber to create optimal spacing, species diversity, and future quality.  We took out most of the large Black Ash as a precaution due to the immanent arrival of the Emerald Ash borer.  We can't risk losing the economic value that we have in these trees today, knowing that we won't be back harvesting in this stand of timber for at least 20 years, and EAB could certainly make the jump from Duluth or Thunder Bay to Itasca County sooner than that (hopefully not).

You'll see from the video that we left components of the forest that retain biological diversity and ecological value.  Namely, we left coarse woody debris on the ground, dead standing snags, and we left the biggest and healthiest trees as legacy trees.  The Pine that I call out as a legacy tree is roughly 150 years old, and my future plan for this stand calls for retaining it indefinitely.  It is big and it is growing vigorously, which means that it should stay healthy for a long time and will continue  to absorb and sequester climate changing carbon.

Ivar and I then checked on the planer mill at Rajala Mill Company in Bigfork, where we were planing the very type of Pine lumber that comes from trees like the one that we left.  I was more than satisfied.  After 40 years of watching and handling lumber like this, I am still thrilled at the beauty of the product and the quality work of our team.  This lumber is headed to another northern Minnesota multigenerational family business (one of our oldest and best customers) to be turned into the world's best windows.

I hope you enjoy this as much as Ivar and I did.  

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Advanced Regeneration at Wolf Lake Camp Harvest Site

Ivar the timber dog and I went looking for regeneration to bud cap at the recently harvested site between Wolf Lake and Hwy 38.  Bud capping is a laborious but effective manual method of protecting the terminal bud of a tree from deer browse (known as herbivory).   

I knew that there was advanced (meaning that  it was already in place at the time of harvest) White and Red Pine on the site, which I had inventoried prior to the harvest.  What I didn't know was how much new Red Oak would show up this early in the game.  

Some of the best and fastest growing Red Oak regen is that which originates from the stumps of freshly cut trees.  The trees need to have some vigor otherwise the stump sprouting won't happen.  Usually the youngest trees have the most vigor, but the really healthy larger trees will sometimes produce sprouts also, like the one shown above.  What I really like about this one is that it originates from low on the stump, which produces a higher quality tree.  

It sure is a good feeling to switch from harvesting in the summer to tending to regeneration that same fall.  The logger part of me knows that a carefully planned harvest not only produces timber products, but it also mimics natural disturbance that prepares the site for new growth.  But the conservationist and sawmiller parts of me become really eager to see the new growth start fast.

We still need to encourage new germination of White Pine, Red Pine, Red Oak, Maple, and Birch in the highly disturbed areas.  That will begin to show as early as next year and the year after.  But in the meantime, we will be helping the advanced and the early regeneration get a leg up on the competition.   

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Growing Up

Our son Ethan and his Long Lake White Pines.  It's been a joy to watch them grow together.

Planting site in background that had recently been harvested (thinned) in preparation for planting.

Planting the trees with Grandpa Jack.

Bud capping in the early years

Bud capping with Grandpa Jack  -  2011

Bud capping with his hunting buddy Ivar - October 2015.  Not too many need to be capped!  Ethan is now 6' tall.  Some of the trees are over 10'.  

These trees and Ethan have a bright and long future.

Friday, October 23, 2015

New Product at Rajala Millwork - Northern Red Oak Timbers

This week we embarked on an exciting new product.  Northern Red Oak Timbers.  This program is patterned upon our existing White Pine Timber program.

Northern Red Oak of this quality is more difficult to grow than White Pine.  But we've been working on the forestry part of this for a long, long time.  So fortunately we have a sustainable supply of nice big Red Oak ahead of us in the forest.

Following is a depiction of the process to date.  The timbers we cut this week will be dry and available in the next year.  So it's not too early to begin designing for using them if you have a project in mind.  We have some excellent friends who are builders and know how to turn our Red Oak and White Pine timbers into a great project for you.  You can always reach us through .  

We time our selective harvests in Red Oak areas with the Acorn crop, which only occurs periodically.  The tracks of the harvester and the tires of the skidders help stir up the heavy leaf duff and put the acorns in contact with mineral soil.  Blue Jays and Squirrels do the same thing through collection and burying.

In approximately 5 years or so we'll have an abundance of young Red Oaks like this one.  If there was advanced regeneration present at the time of harvest, we'll have a number of young trees even taller than this.

If things go well and if we're able to keep the deer off the trees, we'll have a full stocking of young Red Oak.  The deep reds of the young Red Oak trees are my favorite fall color.  I think they are absolutely breathtaking.

Just like White Pine, if we want to grow straight and high quality trees, we need to keep the deer from chewing on the tips at a young age.  I developed the process of paper bud caps for Oak and have worked on perfecting it with my father, Jack.  We are quite pleased with the results - although admittedly it's an intensive undertaking.

Here's Jack with friends of ours from Minnesota DNR reviewing Red Oak regeneration and explaining the new bud capping process.

One of my favorite woods photos of the thousands I've taken over the years.  Here's our daughter Claire and dearly missed woods partner Ike, standing by a perfect young Red Oak tree that she has just pruned. Red Oak responds beautifully to pruning.  The pruning helps it to continue to grow straight and eliminates limbs and knots from what will ultimately be the butt(bottom) log from the harvested mature tree.

This video shows a prime Red Oak log being sawn into high quality boards and a large (8" x 12") timber.  The sawyer is being careful to keep the pith (centerline) of the log centered in the timber.  This helps it remain straight as it dries.  This log is 115 years old (I counted the rings).  Because of our northern climate, Red Oak grows relatively slowly.  That's an obvious disadvantage for us in this business.  However, the slow growth results in tight growth rings, which increases the strength of the timbers.  

Finished timbers in the pile at the Rajala Millwork sawmill in Bigfork, MN.  These timbers will air dry for a period of time, and then will be finished off in the dry kilns.  They need to be dried low and slow to keep them straight.  Most of our competitors sell unseasoned (green) timbers.  Our customers have come to depend on us for dry timbers to reduce the cost and complexity of construction.

Here's just one example of how Red Oak timbers and flooring can be put to use.  Red Oak has deep, elegant tones, resulting in timeless beauty and value.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Story Behind Rustic White Pine from Rajala Millwork

In the process of nurturing and growing some of the world's finest and healthiest Eastern White Pine trees, we lose quite a few along the way.  But they are not lost completely.  The dead standing or downed trees will remain sound and intact for many years, continuing to provide aesthetic, ecological, and wildlife value.  

The images and video below depict the story of dead White Pine being utilized and turned into fantastic products.  You can search the world over for unique and high quality products, and you won't find any better than what Rajala Millwork produces right here at home in Northern Minnesota.

Tree hugger, industrialist, author, and owner of Rajala Millwork, John Rajala, shown with one of the thousands of monster old growth White Pine growing on Rajala timberlands.  The many areas on which we grow these big trees are logged infrequently, and thus a number of them partially or completely succumb to old age.  

A partially dead standing White Pine

A completely dead standing White Pine alongside a healthy White Pine.  We typically will harvest the dead and leave the healthy.  

 A White Pine that is in the advanced stages of decay alongside of two healthy Birch trees.  These were harvested in a thinning at Sugar Hills south of Grand Rapids, MN.  This White Pine was actually down and on the ground for a number of years before we could get this area into our logging schedule.  By the time we got to it the outer portion of the tree was unusable, but most of the interior of the tree could still be salvaged for lumber. 

Sawing a log harvested from a dead standing White Pine tree in the Rajala Millwork sawmill in Bigfork, MN.  Production Manager / Master Sawyer Ron Rooker is doing the sawing in our historic and highly effective sawmill.  Rooker, Saw Filer Greg Powell, Millwork Plant Manager Darren Romans, and owner John Rajala work closely together on the sawing patterns for each species and quality of log.  Having a skilled and seasoned team that understands the forestry, manufacturing, and marketing process is a huge asset to our organization. 

Raw White Pine lumber all graded and sorted as DeadWood.  Kiln drying and handling this grade is quite tricky and requires special care.

White Pine Tongue & Groove Paneling from Rajala Millwork.  Our End-Matched T&G White Pine is second to none.  This photo shows a few pieces of "Rustic" grade mixed in with the Premium healthy pieces.  This mix or even straight "Rustic" is a customer favorite.  The "Rustic" grade is made from DeadWood.  Learn more at   .

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Tribute to my brother Nik Rajala.

I walked in your path today, Brother Nik.
I remember the comfortable late summer afternoon when you guided your harvester so skillfully and gracefully through this dense stand of Red Pine at Freestone Road. I remember the quiet hum of your well maintained diesel engine powering the machine, and the quick clean cut of your well sharpened saw head. I remember as you carefully harvested each mature tree, a little more rich sunlight found its way to the forest floor.
We needed this job done right, to take a few large trees in order to increase sunlight, to save an abundance of the young White Pine which had been so carefully planted and cared for underneath, to minimize impact on the soil, and to process the harvested trees into excellent logs for the family sawmill. Not an easy task.
3 years later I followed in the path of your harverster - your path - and admired the result of your work, and tended to the young trees you so carefully protected. It was a pleasant afternoon in a lovely forest, but cold. Cold because the warmth of summer was gone. But mostly cold because now you're gone. Gone in an instant with your bride, Teresa. Too young.
The young White Pine at Freestone have and will continue to grow beautifully, with just the right amount of added sunlight but still the protection of the over-story you left. But of course here in January, the days are cold and short, and the forest is dormant. But the warm days of summer will come again soon. And we will see you and Teresa again soon.
Until then, keep your saw sharp my brother, my friend.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Rajala Mill - Big Old White Pine sawn into Wide Planks and 8" x 8" Timbers

It takes a special log and a special mill to be able to produce 4 big timbers and a bunch of wide planks from a single log.  (It also takes 250 years of growth, a big old windstorm, and a seasoned logging crew.)  This mill may be 111 years old (really, it is) but it's as capable as any modern mill in the world of doing quality work.

Hats off to the logging crew and sawmill crew at Rajala - you make this look way easier than it is.  I'm proud to have you as employees.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Fish On! Guest Post by Brian Janssen

“FISH ON!” I screamed, much to the chagrin of my host and good friend John Rajala, and even more so to the shock of my son Hayden (12) and John’s son Ethan (14).  You see, while they were helping set up the boats, I snuck to the back of mine and made the first cast into the pristine dark waters that I hadn’t fished in over 20 years.  My lure was instantly devoured by a beautiful 3 pound largemouth bass.   With $1 on the line for first fish, I thusly taught my son an important fishing lesson that John taught me 25 years ago:  if your line isn’t in the water, you’re not going to be catching fish.  Thus began another unforgettable day at Wolf Lake camp.
25 wonderful years ago, freshly graduated from college in New Hampshire, my college roommate and I decided that the perfect way to celebrate would be to drive cross country, with a key en route destination being Wolf Lake camp in the wilds of northern Minnesota for a bit of fishing with John and a few other great friends.   The competitive juices were flowing and we caught an amazing number of large bass and even larger northern pike.  After 3 days of fishing and playing hard in such a magical playground, I didn’t think that any fishing trip could ever compare.    Fast forward 25 years and I can honestly say that it is more fun to have your child experience what you did when you were young.  Few people are able to recreate some of the magical times of their youth with their children.  We did.  We caught (and released) hundreds of fish.  We talked smack, we fished intensely, but mostly we relaxed and enjoyed the magnificent wild. 
When I was a kid, my summers in Idaho were spent at a rustic A-frame cabin, catching toads, building tree forts, fishing, being awakened each morning by chipmunks and building beach fires with a seemingly endless supply of driftwood.   Today our cabin has been replaced by a large home, surrounded on each side by even larger mansions; their docks stuffed with huge boats and jet skis and every type of floating plastic toy imaginable.  The wildlife is gone.  Driftwood is virtually non-existent.  The natural experiences I enjoyed aren’t available for my kids.  I compare this to what the Rajala family has done with their properties.  Wolf Lake Camp is a throwback in time and a model of conservation and sustainable forestry.  The magnificent trees are even larger.  Multiple species are carefully balanced.  What used to be an airstrip now is a forest of Red Pine.  The wild lakes are beautiful because the lands surrounding them are beautifully managed.  My personal mantra for living is to leave things better than you found them.  The Rajala family has done this remarkably well.  They are able to selectively harvest their forests and provide products that are truly unique in quality, and truly unique in care.  When the 74 year old family patriarch spends his time cutting brush, capping saplings so the deer won’t chew their tops, and reveling in the knowledge that he and his family have done things right and created something really special, you know that you have found magic.  We saw white tailed deer, bald eagles, and numerous hawks.  We were serenaded by loons in absolutely perfect stillness.  And we caught fish….lots and lots of fish. 
Thanks for an unforgettable weekend of fishing, but more so thanks for leaving your part of the world a better place for future generations.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Winter is officially over.

We made it through.  This Oak budcap held on just long enough to protect the bud from our 4 legged overgrown rabbits (deer).   By the end of the day this young tree will have budded out. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

My BPB (Best Pruning Buddy)

Daughter Claire helping me prune hardwood trees this afternoon, along with Ike of course. A beautiful young tree and more beautiful young girl. I thank the Good Lord for both.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Northern Minnesota Hard Maple

There is a common misperception that high quality Hard Maple can't be grown in Northern Minnesota.  Not true.  These are mature Maples which we harvested late this spring.  In this case, we performed a thinning of the single-aged northern hardwood stand in 1990, and subsequently underplanted White Pine along the lakeshore.  The driving management objective of this stand was the White Pine, with less thought given to the future quality and value of the northern hardwoods.  In fact, we may have been slightly guilty of high grading the hardwood stand by taking the quality Basswood and Birch, and some of the highest quality Hard Maple - leaving the poorer quality Hard Maple as the overstory needed for the White Pine underplaning.  In the ensuing years, the health and productivity of the remaining Maple appeared to improve as a result of the reduction in competition, and we began to become increasingly positive about the value of the Maple which we would someday harvest.  From the picture below, you can see that the mineral centers of these trees stayed relatively concentrated, the frost cracks are minimal, and rot is not apparent in the butt logs.  The new growth after the 1990 harvest is sound and of generally very good color.

If  you're familiar with the diameter and mass of a mature Hard Maple crown, you're probably wondering what kind of damage we did to the 23 yr old White Pine understory (and the other northern hardwood natural regeneration) during the harvest of some of the mature hardwood overstory.  We're happy to report that only a small percentage of the White Pine were lost in the harvest.  My father Jack and I marked this stand with a clear vision of how the Timbco (tracked feller buncher) would travel in confied strips/areas to reach the harvest trees.  We were not after every mature northern hardwood tree in this stand, as we wanted to maintain a minimum basal area of mature northern hardwood for its own silvicultural purposes, and a certain amount of mature overstory for the benefit of the White Pine understory.  We are still concerned about blister rust, tip weevil, and pine grossbeak.  The negative impacts of each of those on White Pine understory of this age are mimized by continuing to maintain some mature overstory.  Our Timbco operator, Ross Barret, did a masteful job of cutting and lifting the big hardwoods and laying them down carefully in the cutting path for limbing and skidding in concentrated areas.  It really doesn't get much better than this.

As always, there is room for improvement in forest management, usually based on the practical lessons learned over a long period of time and having your "boots on the ground" before, during, and after the harvest.  We're learning that our good northern hardwood sites are not so different than those of the classic Hard Maple producing regions of neighboring Wisconsin and Michigan.  True, we are on the very northwestern fringe of the range of Hard Maple, and as a result on our lands this species grows under more stressful average conditions.  But properly managed, we can still grow high quality trees to produce high quality products.  The color may not be "perfect white", but then our customers aren't necessarily seeking "perfect white" Maple.  They like the natural color variation, the knots, and the mineral deposits that result from moderate stress on  the tree.  But they do want it strong and long-lasting.  In both cases that's true Minnesota character showing through.  I guess it's in our nature.

Select Hard Maple Natural Color T&G Paneling

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

How Old to Let Them Grow?

I pushed through waist high snow yesterday afternoon to prune a number of good looking hardwood trees that I'd noted on earlier walks in the woods.  See photo at left of a very nice young Red Oak after pruning.   It's a major commitment to identify potential crop trees, improve their growing conditions, remember where they are to keep improving them.

Ironically we all tend to want those best quality trees to become "old growth".  Why?  For some it's because they equate massive trees with a healthy environment.  For me, it's also because the bigger the tree is, the more valuable it can be.

But at what cost do we let our highest quality trees grow to super large diameter?  The photo at right shows what can happen when wind comes along and destroys a 120 yr old Red Oak tree.  This tree developed a visible weak spot at the point it snapped.  There is a lot  of valuable lumber in the logs below the snap point.  But the task of mobilizing a salvage harvest effort for this particular tree or group of trees is immense.  By the time we get around to harvesting in the area of this tree it will be too late to capture its highest lumber or veneer value.   What a shame.  Time after time I'm reminded that we need to capture our value from our best value trees before they get too old, when we're organized and in the area harvesting according to a sound plan.  I will continue to struggle to square this with society's and my own desire to grow super big trees.  But I think the more we ponder this the smarter we will get about how to accomplish both goals.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Februay 2013 - Missing Summer

Old Man Winter is reminding us this year that he still exists.  That's a good thing.  But I miss summer nonetheless.    Here's a photo from June 2011 of  a White Pine thinning that we did along the shore of Wolf Lake.  This young White Pine stand preceded our planting program.  It is one of our first opportunities at managing a young White Pine stand which has just reached commercial size.  Note that we  have already begun to budcap the natural regeneration.  We're getting some decent Red Oak in with White Pine regeneration, too.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Paper Birch Pre-Commercial Thinning

The 2 photos below are typical examples of unmanaged Paper Birch regeneration.  Paper Birch will grow in a clump from stumps of harvested, stressed, or dead trees.  The more stems there are in the clump, the greater the tendency of the stems to grow away from each other, resulting in a number of small, crooked, low value trees.

Shown below is a single stem Paper Birch which I manually released 2 years ago by cutting down a half dozen or so stems from the same stump sprout.  I also pruned the lower branches.  It is growing fast and straight.  This will ultimately be a large, straight, high value tree.

Single stem Paper Birch originating from seed tend to be much higher quality than the stump sprout Birch.  But they still  benefit from early pruning, so as always there is manual work to be done to promote the highest value tree.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Oak Budcap Update

Well, I thought that we had finalized the Oak budcap method (see earlier posts).  However, the results from late winter 2011/2012 and early results from fall 2012 have caused us to reconsider.

The photo on the left shows 3 budcaps.  The bottom one was from last year and luckily stayed in place.  The second one  from the bottom is a failed budcap from this year.  The staples didn't hold - probably due to rain and early wet snow.  The top budcap is a new one for this year using our new method.

The photo above to the right shows the new method, basically the same as the one we last settled on, except driving two staples through the stem rather than one.  This appears to do a much better job of holding the budcap in place.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Still Recovering from Wet Spring Snow Damage

The pruning crew is busy propping up young White Pines which were severely and permanently leaned over by the late spring snows.  We'll never get to them all but we'll try to recover some.

It doesn't take very many days for the tree to stiffen back up in a vertical position, but it won't straighten out on its own.  The method we use is to scavenge the forest floor for strong poles which have crotches or stub limbs which will hook the branches of the White Pine somewhere at mid-height.  Then straighten the White Pine tree and jamb the butt end of the pole  into the ground,  securing it with a solid downward kick.  It works amazingly well.

This particular bending damage to the White Pine is different than the frequent and temporary bending of the young trees due to moderately heavy and wet snows.  In frozen ground and normal to heavy snow load conditions, the White Pines lean over and then straighten back up quickly.  But in "once in a decade" type of heavy wet snow, along with wet/thawed soil conditions, the roots will loosen and the tree will lay over permanently without assistance.  Even if the roots don't pop,  the stem of the tree is deformed beyond natural recovery.

The same snowstorm(s) affected the Paper Birch.  (see photo to the right)  We didn't attempt to recover many of those, although I'm sure the same method we used on the White Pine will work on the Birch.

Monday, June 4, 2012

2012 Forest Tent Caterpillar

A predictable but unwelcome guest has arrived.  Actually it's been here for a few weeks, but it's just become noticeable over the past few days.  The forest tent caterpillar (FTC), commonly but incorrectly called "army worm", is upon us.

Here's a link to a good page published by the Minnesota DNR which describes the FTC outbreak cycle and its effects:

And another from the University of Minnesota Extension:

By the way, much thanks to these two great institutions for the practical information they work hard to provide to our forest based communities!

The photo above and to the right shows a fully grown FTC consuming a Red Oak leaf.  According to U of M Extension and Minnesota DNR, the defoliation of these trees will not hurt them unless it occurs repeatedly and in the presence of other stress factors (drought, off-site, over-mature).  However, loss of foliage does of course negatively impact growth, and we're into growth these days!  So it's a frustration, but one which is predictable and we have to live with it.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Red Oak products from Rajala

You may be wondering why we go to so much trouble to grow high quality Northern Red Oak trees in our forests.  We are on the very northwestern fringe of the range for this species, which requires that we invest significant and intentional effort to grow trees that produce high quality products.  But the results are worth it.

Our relatively short growing season results in smaller growth rings than the Oak produced by our neighbors to the south and east.  This means that it takes more years for us to grow a large tree.  (It's a good thing we're patient.)  Believe me, we are working hard to maximize the growth of individual trees that have been selected as crop trees.  But even our fastest growing trees are considered to be relatively slow growing.

Fortunately the slow/tight growth rings offer some distinct and important advantages over the Oak from faster growing regions.   First and most important - appearance.  There is no substitute for the classic look of a finished product made from tight growth ring Northern Red Oak.

A short growing season also means that northern Oak has a high ratio of late wood to early wood (or summer wood).  The late wood portion of the annual growth is produced at the end of the growing cycle, which is characterized by slower growth.  The dark small line that is visible to the eye in the annual growth ring is the late wood.  The slow growing, dark late wood is denser than the lighter colored early wood.  It contains a  higher percentage of cellulose than the early wood.  This resulting high density makes it stronger- which is especially important for users of industrial products which come from the center of the trees.  (Wooden trailer decking, for instance.)  It also means that it stores more carbon per cubic inch, which is becoming increasingly important in a world where we look for ways to remove and store excess carbon from the atmosphere.

Friday, December 2, 2011

White Pine Sawtimber is a Long Term Commitment

November 2011: Ethan Rajala (age 12) bud-capping White Pine trees that he planted 6 years earlier with his Grandpa Jack.  Maybe some day he'll harvest these trees and they'll go to the mill in Bigfork which will be nearly 200 years old by that time!!

It all starts with the trees...