We can grow a wider range of timber species than just about any country in the world, says Bulls farm forester Denis Hocking. So why does New Zealand have such a narrowly based industry, with 90 per cent of forestry plantations in radiata pine?

Hocking doesn't disregard radiata - well grown, pruned radiata has been a good earner on his family farm - but the NZ Farm Forestry Association stalwart is well known for his plantations of diverse and sometimes experimental plantings of exotic timber trees.

An appreciative crowd of over 80 people arrived at the Hocking farm last Saturday to watch more than 20 exotic timber species milled. Three portable sawmills were in operation and about a dozen sawmillers on hand to offer their opinions. The event was hosted by the NZ Farm Forestry Association's very active Middle District branch and attracted people from around the North Island.

Saw logs were donated by Farm Forestry Association members, many felled especially for the event. Many came from Denis Hocking's diverse plantations but others travelled longer distances, such as a redwood grown by the father of Rangitīkei District Councillor Angus Gordon, which travelled down from Taihape.

A number of eucalypts were put to the mill, with E. muelleriana being a stand out performer. Eucalypts have a reputation for being hard to mill because growth stresses and internal tension can cause the log to move. However, the 35-year old muelleriana log milled extremely well and produced high quality timber ideal for flooring or decking. Ross Greenbank called it the best behaved eucalypt he'd encountered in his 40 years of sawmilling.

E. saligna (blue gum) produced an attractive red timber but was more problematic to mill, with significant movement in the sawn timber. There was agreement that older saligna mills much better and that the log on the saw was too young to mill.

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The softwood logs were sent to the Wood Mizer bandsaw, operated by Taupo-based sawmiller Alan Coyle. Coyle prefers his older LT15 model, which lacks hydraulics and other options found on more highly featured mills ("less things to break") and he is adept at repositioning logs with a cant hook. He milled macrocarpa, cypress hybrids (C. ovensii and C. lusitanica), several poplars and a hickory wattle (Acacia falciformis). He produced 250mm square posts from macrocarpa heartwood on request for a visitor who arranged to buy the green wood straight off the saw.

Ross Greenbank, sawmiller for Whanganui's MacBlack Timber, is shown operating the company's Lucas mill, which has a circular swing blade. This is a Eucalyptus microcorys log, commonly known as tallowwood. This 37-year-old tree was grown by Denis Hocking, despite the species being frost-tender when young and traditionally regarded as a tree for Northland.

"This is an extremely durable and stable timber, regarded as the best hardwood of eastern Australia," notes Hocking. "It was another top milling species on the day, though its density made sawing hard work."

Like muelleriana, tallowwood grows very well on Hocking's sand country.

Kris Allen's team also arrived from Whanganui with his bandsaw mill, which was put to work resawing four inch flitches off the Wood Mizer into 4x2" lengths.

Hamish Randle (left) and Ross Greenbank with a slab of NZ-grown oak grown by Hocking, showing the highly figured heartwood. It was very hard and slow to mill but extremely stable. It drew a big crowd around the mill, as did the black walnut log. But nothing compared to the Himalayan cedar (Cedrus deodara); rugged rural men lined up to sniff the planks as they came off the saw. It's a true cedar and has a beautiful smell when cut.

Part of the line up (from right) macrocarpa, Tasmanian blackwood, macrocarpa, radiata, ovensii, lusitanica, black walnut, oak sp., Canary Is pine, Himalayan cedar, cypress sp. and Corsican pine.