Log home builder buys Ashland sawmill

Posted Feb. 16, 2009, at 9:35 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 11:01 a.m.

OAKFIELD, Maine — When other log home manufacturers see disaster, David Gordon finds customers.

President of one of the nation’s largest log home manufacturers, Katahdin Cedar Log Homes, Gordon purchased the former SWP Maine Inc. sawmill in Ashland for an undisclosed price on Thursday.

When the mill restarts in April, it will increase his company’s sawmill capacity from 80,000 to 160,000 board feet of rough-sawn cedar lumber per week, he said. The Ashland mill purchase expands the company’s payroll by 10 workers, with hopes to increase that number to 25 by 2012. The 10 additional workers — including two who had worked at the SWP mill — bring the company payroll to 80 workers.

Gordon frankly admits that the closure of other log-home manufacturers and designers during the current national housing recession has helped his company to grow.

“We are very financially sound, which is probably the No. 1 issue in our industry right now — financial stability. A lot of other companies have gone out of business due to the slowdown in the construction of new housing,” Gordon said Monday.

“Our sales right now are actually ahead of last year at this time in housing and fencing, and we think it will be at least a normal year in sales this year, if not a little better,” he added.

One reason why: Katahdin Cedar rescues home buyers who have made and lost deposits to bankrupt log home manufacturers, said Barry Ivey, the company’s vice president of Log Home Operations.

The company also saved about $400,000 this winter by converting its oil-burning heat and wood kiln systems from oil to wood waste, Gordon said. The new mill also will halve the company’s need to outsource its mill work.

Ivey places Katahdin among Ward Log Homes of Houlton, Moosehead Log Homes of Greenville and Town and Country Log Homes of Michigan as the largest national producers. It provides the finished materials — mostly cedar planks and finished logs — to about 180 homes annually for construction companies to build, Gordon said.

Home prices range from $18,000 for a simple camp to an 18,000-square-foot steakhouse restaurant in Kentucky the company is helping country music star Eddie Montgomery build for $850,0000, Ivey said. The company sells nationally and has helped build homes in Canada, France, Israel, Scotland and Trinidad.

Most log homes the company helps create cost about $120,000 and are built on Katahdin Cedar’s own designs, with modifications by homeowners. They average about 2,400 square feet and feature three bedrooms and two bathrooms.

The company also produces cedar fencing, lawn and garden furniture and parts for wood playground equipment, Gordon said.

Gordon opted to buy the Ashland mill, he said, because it’s near the private logging roads and cedar forests the company needs. He expected that the Ashland purchase and expansion will have at least one positive trickle-down effect. The supply of wood the company buys from independent contractors will rise from 6,000 to 12,000 cords of cedar, he said.

The company has also expanded its national network of sales outlets from 70 to 80, Gordon said.

Katahdin Cedar found its growth fueled by an unlikely source: the TV show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” Three years ago, the company built a home in Wells for a Maine family that had won a makeover,

“Ever since then, our sales have been increasing,” Gordon said. “That show gave us a tremendous boost. We have averaged a 15 percent annual sales increase just from that exposure.”

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