Features

Repurposing wood

The owners of Buffalo Coulee Wood Products bring lumber to life near Cummings, N.D.

By

Kevin Fee

on

September 17, 2019

Jared Johnson is a self-proclaimed scavenger. He says business partner Matt Weaver is cut from the same cloth.

Instead of drywall, hiding some of the insulation inside their shop at Buffalo Coulee Wood Products near Cummings, N.D., are gymnasium bleacher benches discarded from an area school. They were offered to those who wanted to pick them up, complete with gum in tow.

Attached to one of the benches-turned-wallboard is a poster of a scene of Jules and Vincent from the movie, “Pulp Fiction.” Johnson snagged that off a berm during spring cleanup in Grand Forks.

Johnson and Weaver have a way of repurposing just about anything. Both arborists, their specialty reclamation projects involve wood and trees. They collect and cut a large variety of wood for their sawmill, including walnut, box elder, spruce and ash, white oak, red cedar, sycamore, pecan, sassafras and Osage orange.

From it, Buffalo Coulee makes live edge slabs and rough and reclaimed lumber.

The company receives its electricity to run its sawmill from Nodak Electric Cooperative, one of the 11 member-owners in the Minnkota Power Cooperative system.

While some wood comes from North Dakota and Minnesota, Buffalo Coulee travels to such states as Kansas, Nebraska and North Carolina for products not common in the Red River Valley. Johnson used to live in Kansas and North Carolina.

In addition to having contacts in other states, the business has a strong Facebook presence. It has helped the company meet people who have wood for sale or are searching for wood.

“We meet people all over the Valley,” Johnson said.

Clocks and other decorative items can be made from pieces of red cedar. (Michael Hoeft/Minnkota)

Buffalo Coulee offers professional woodworkers and hobbyists willing to craft their own furniture a place to buy their wood supplies. The business is located on Weaver’s farmstead a mile west of Cummings and just off I-29 in Traill County.

Buffalo Coulee uses several different types of tools to perform its work, including a band saw, drum sander and planer. The sander and planer are in the shop, while the large band saw is outside the east side of the shop.

Before they recently bought a used skidsteer loader, Buffalo Coulee would manually move logs for cutting on the band saw with a cant hook. A cant hook is a traditional logging tool consisting of a wooden lever handle with a movable metal hook called a dog at one end.

Several yards from the band saw on the farm is a solar kiln Buffalo Coulee uses to dry the wood. Thanks to its thriftiness, Buffalo Coulee didn’t pay a lot for the kiln. The company acquired a carport and some greenhouse plastic for free and paid about $20 for other kiln materials.

Two solar fans were the biggest cost, at about $100 apiece.

The kiln, which will leave about 6-8% of moisture content in 1-inch wood after 30 days, allows the different varieties to dry a lot faster than the 10-12% moisture content left through an air-dry process. On this day, it was 136 degrees inside the kiln.

The band saw is just one of several tools Buffalo Coulee uses to process beautiful slabs of lumber. (Michael Hoeft/Minnkota)

Johnson and Weaver, who have three and five children, respectively, and work full time, don’t do a lot of custom woodworking. Most of their time is spent milling wood for others’ projects, including a Grand Forks man who built a beautiful bar out of red cedar. One of the recent exceptions was building a bar to auction off at the Crawl 4 the Cure fundraiser.

While the partners continue to cut wood, some projects have been placed on the back burner. They still haven’t been able to fire up a Howell & Co. circular sawmill they bought a few years ago. The sawmill was built in the early 1900s in the Twin Cities.

When they get it running, they will have another tool to help others create custom woodworking magic. Benches, tables, floating shelves, poker tables, you name it – Buffalo Coulee can scrounge up the materials for you to make it happen.

"And if we don’t have it we’ll try to get it, no matter where it is,” Weaver said.

Main image: Jared Johnson checks out a slab of red cedar in his shop. (Michael Hoeft/Minnkota)

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