There's more to forestry than truck loads of pine logs heading for the wharf. A very wide range of high-quality timber species can be successfully grown in New Zealand.

On June 22, portable sawmills will go head-to-head, milling dozens of high-quality locally-grown logs.

It's a rare chance to see how to saw various species, compare different timbers, hear about their properties and discuss the potential for alternative forestry models in our region, says Denis Hocking, of the Middle Districts branch of the NZ Farm Forestry Association (NZFFA).

Field days are usually for members only, but this month's event is open to the public and free.


It's being held at the Hocking farm near Bulls. Hocking is a second-generation farm forester who has experimented widely with alternative timber species—a surprising variety thrive on his sand country farm. Among them are various eucalypts, including naturally ground-durable species that will be milled during the demonstration.

Other logs are being provided by NZFFA members from around the region. At least two mills will be running. Alan Coyle is bringing a Wood-Mizer bandsaw down from Taupo, where he's been offering a portable milling service since 2007.

A Lucas mill is coming from MacBlack, a specialist timber yard in Whanganui owned by Richard Thompson. The MacBlack sawmillers work around the district, principally sawing macrocarpa from farm shelterbelts, but also on occasion Tasmanian blackwood, redwood, poplar, silver wattle and eucalypts.

All these species plus various cypress, acacia, black walnut, cedar, oak and redwood, will all be put to the sawmill's blade throughout the day. There won't be any native timbers in sight.

"The emphasis is on exotic species that can produce quality timber in a 20 to 40 year rotation," says Denis.

Pines won't be completely disregarded: Canary Island pine and Corsican pine will be milled, alongside a radiata log for comparison

There will also be plenty of discussion about the properties of different timbers and how to grade them, with input coming from forest owners, harvesters and marketers, as well as the experienced sawmillers.

"Some of the eucalypts in particular have a reputation for being difficult to mill, or not being stable timbers to work with," says Denis. "Techniques to minimise growth stresses and other sawing problems will be demonstrated. People can expect informed discussion about the best uses for the various timbers.


"We'll see the strengths and weaknesses of the different mills too. For instance, the Wood-Mizer is famously efficient. Its 1mm kerf means little wood is wasted and it can quarter-saw as well as flat-saw. But it's slow in comparison to the Lucas, which also handles bigger logs."

MacBlack sawmiller Hamish Randle joined NZFFA two years ago and he says it's offered an incredible education.

"I've learned so much on field days and at the weekends away, and seen some very impressive forests. There's so much knowledge to tap into among the members," he says.

That advice has proven valuable as he and his partner plant up a 28ha alternative species forestry block near Whanganui.

The field day will be held on Saturday, June 22, 10.30am-4pm at 370 Parewanui Rd, Bulls. BYO earmuffs (and hi-viz if possible) and lunch.