Timber merchants say they can't keep up with demand for wood products and fill vacant positions as the material ''crisis'' deepens.
The forestry industry is also grappling with softening markets in China and huge shipping costs. One told NZME about 50 per cent of logs were exported as the timber wasn't suitable for structural lumber and can't be processed in New Zealand.
PukePine general manager Jeff Tanner said the company could not satisfy all the needs of the businesses they traded with.
It was trying to allocate materials to loyal customers it had dealt with for years, in a fair manner.
''There are people that will come and give you an order but they never really trade with you so we have had to say 'sorry, we can't supply'.''
''We are allocating as best we can so we can be fair and while we can't give them everything they want we are trying to give them a reasonable share.''
He said customers were ''crying for help in many cases'' and there were no surpluses of material.
"It is a crisis."
In Tanner's view, the ''boom to bust'' scenario was already pre-determined by activity overseas. Prices had plummeted in the United States and wholesalers in Europe with full warehouses had noticed demand dropping off.
The New Zealand industry had tried to be responsible and introduced incremental price increases three times in the past 12 months, Tanner said.
''So we hope that avoids a major bust. We are probably less concerned in the short term because there's a shortage of housing and there's a need for public housing. So the cycle is going to continue for some time.''
PukePine employed 180 workers but was still looking for labourers, forklift drivers and timber machinists.
Red Stag Group chief executive Marty Verry said the market was still tight and he did not expect volumes to increase until winter.
He said timber supplies in Australia had dried up as they relied on imports from Europe for about 20 per cent of framing timber.
''The logistics of it all and the costs means the Europeans are sending it to America, Great Britain or using it locally.''
Verry agreed the industry had avoided the rollercoaster ride that was happening internationally.
Timber increases of about 25 per cent for 2020/21 - compared to steel, which jumped by 48 per cent over the same timeframes - had avoided price gouging.
Red Stag was also continually recruiting and looking for skilled operators, semi-skilled operators and apprentices.
Hancock Forest Management NZ Ltd general manager Kerry Ellem said it had additional demand for domestic processing.
''We are providing all we can but the main grades that go to export aren't suitable for the local market.''
Congestion at ports in China, shipping rates that had jumped from US$35 ($50) a tonne to $60 ($85) and softening markets, were a concern.
''So there is a lot of moving parts to it and it's very complicated. The return to forest growers today is not as good as it was.''
He said Hancock had a positive, long-term outlook but a farmer with 60 hectares or a small woodlot only got one chance in 26 years to harvest their crop.
''They want to make sure they try and get it when the economics are the best. We are constantly harvesting and replanting so it's a continuous cycle for us.''
''We experience good times and not so good times but we take a long-term view of the future.''
Hancock Group harvested about five million cubic metres of logs a year and more than 50 per cent was sold domestically.
''We would rather sell more domestically, if we could because it is so much easier but it is a different grade of wood. Exporting is very complicated with a lot of risks.''
Ribbonwood NZ director Pete Smith said he did not see the spike in domestic demand lasting forever and the industry had faced volatility for years.
''You have no control over demand and it's hard to gear up and introduce capital on the basis you'll always have a thriving industry. That does curb people's enthusiasm.''
Smith said he could not supply more wood to the mills as they were taking everything they could get and couldn't process low-grade timber.
''I would sell more domestically if I could get it into the mills but I can't. The wood is a lower grade and has big knots in it and as a rule, it's not up to structural and quality standards.
''Over the years a lot of the processing capacity has been lost because it wasn't economically viable.''
Ribbonwood was gearing up for its busiest time of the year - summer harvesting - but the workforce was ageing.
''As an industry, it is getting tougher to attract young people. Harvesting has become more mechanised so to be more productive people need to jump onto machines and have the skill base to operate them.'
''Twenty years ago you'd start on the ground with a chainsaw so in terms of staging the training it's a lot more limited now because of the mechanisation.''
Borne from fire business, a big blaze
When John Webster first started setting fence posts and sleepers on fire with a blowtorch in his carport, he had no idea it would flare into a successful business.
Through ''trial, error and heartbreak'' the 48-year-old is now charring timber cladding products, looking to move commercial premises for the second time and he will need to take on more staff.
The concept for his venture started about three years ago when Webster was marketing New Zealand-grown California redwood. A client bought a large volume of their best timber ''and then he set fire to it all''.
''He did all the artisan charring himself so that is what sort of put it on my horizon.''
As good fortune would have it Webster had a trip to Japan planned - where the ancient form of Yakisugi charring began.
''So I refocused my tourist holiday to travelling around and talking to locals about Yakisugi. As a timber professional, it really resonated with me because it looks stunning and it's also a natural process without using all the nasty chemicals.''
Fire could improve the longevity and durability of timber and improve its characteristics, he said.
''The Japanese have been doing it for 500 years and they weren't doing it because it looks pretty but for the practical aspects.''
When he returned home Webster started experimenting in his carport on the back of his section.
''I initially used what you would call landscaping grade timber like garden fences and sleepers. It allowed me to do a lot of charring to get it right and it wasn't so sensitive if you got it wrong.''
He quickly went from blowtorches, to fire kiln bricks, to different styles of gas and burner heads until he had an engineer custom-build a machine.
That was scrapped within three months and a new model was designed and although he is reluctant to go into details, he "discovered a way which is far more technologically advanced to char timber''.
In January this year, Webster moved into commercial premises in Rotorua and hired two full-time staff.
He is set to move again and expects to take on two more workers in the next six months.
Production-wise Webster said his company The Blackwood Project was capable of producing 2000 to 3000 linear metres of wood a day with a turnaround of eight weeks on some timber.
New Zealand thermally modified radiata, Japanese cedar and Siberian larch were the woods of choice and business was growing.
Architects were particulary interested in the cladding as the timber evolved with time.
''It's the love and appreciation for the permanent inperfections of nature.''
Despite initial ''trial, error and heartbreak'' Webster said it felt awesome to see his dream come to fruition.