Full Cycle Woodworks, Inc.
Full Cycle Woodworks

The following article appeared in the December, 1998 Issue of FINE WOODWORKING MAGAZINE

All too often, lumbering ends up a purely extractive enterprise, especially from a local perspective. Teeming forests of mature trees are clear-cut down to the stumps, or the best timber is selectively plucked, leaving behind shivering stands of weed trees. Even when whole forests aren't laid to waste, the harvested saw logs might be whisked away to some distant land or city, their impact on the local economy no better than the cheap price paid for standing timber. The real money is made, and the fullest economic benefits felt, thousands of miles away, where the logs are sawn into lumber, kiln-dried, milled and crafted into furniture, flooring or some other value-added product. It's an old story, and a controversial one -- a tale environmentalists have been telling for decades now. What's refreshing, if not exactly new, is Ron Highsmith's approach to the matter.

In 1986, Highsmith began Full Cycle Woodworks as a logging and sawmill operation. Located in Rogersville, Tenn., the family owned business now includes kiln drying and the manufacture of flooring, paneling and custom mouldings. Each step in the cycle of tree to finished product now benefits the local economies of Hawkins and Hancock counties, which reap the full value of their own resource base. In addition, Full Cycle Woodworks uses Best Management Practices ( voluntary guidelines recommended by the state), works with second-class species, such as maple, hickory and beech, and sponsors educational workshops for local landowners and woodworkers. " When logs leave the area," bemoans Highsmith, " jobs go with them."
Full Cycle WoodWorks, Inc was also mentioned recently in an article entitled "A Clearing in the Forest" in the Nov/Dec issue of NATURE CONSERVANCY MAGAZINE. This article is too lengthy to post in it's entirety, but we would like to share an excerpt.

"Compatible forestry goes hand in hand with the ecologically compatible development that the Conservancy and others have worked to promote in southwestern Virginia in recent years. Wallace (Lou Ann Wallace, a print shop owner born & reared in southwestern Virginia) - who serves on the Russell County Vision Forum, a citizen's group whose goal is economic vitality and a healthy environment -- and other community members believe they must encourage more local processing of timber to help promote sustainable logging. If more timber-related jobs and economic activity are generated locally, they say, the interest will be in keeping forests in place for years to come.

That's where people like Ron Highsmith come in. Highsmith, president of Full Cycle Woodworks Inc., is interested in the forest bank and wants it to succeed. From an old school building in Rogersville, Tennessee, Highsmith's company engages in the full spectrum of timber management and processing: helping landowners develop harvest plans, cutting timber, drying wood, making hardwood flooring, even building custom homes.

Highsmith believes that his business goals are in line with the Conservancy's timber philosophy. For one, he subscribes to Kittrell's (Bill Kittrell, manager of The Nature Conservancy's Clinch Valley Bioreserve) ideas that all grades of trees can be harvested and used from a given site, rather than simply "high-grading" the finest oaks and other traditionally valuable species. Harvesting only the biggest and best trees can alter the structure and species composition of a forest, making trees more susceptible to disease or changing the resident bird life.

To illustrate his point, Highsmith displays bookcases made of tulip poplar, a wood not thought to be showy enough for furniture. He plans to market the bookcases via an Internet web page. From Highsmith, Wallace purchased flooring that the timber-products industry might consider low-quality because of it's knots and other imperfections. But she believes it has more character-- and it was less expensive.

"We can make products that are environmentally friendly and still compete," Highsmith says. "We want to take better care of the natural resource. If we waste it, we're history." Because he adds value to wood products locally, Highsmith embodies the type of partner the Conservancy will seek in the future, says Kittrell."
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