Many Tennesseans don’t realize it, but Tennessee is an international leader in the hardwood industry, ranking second in the nation (behind Pennsylvania) for hardwood and lumber production. That means a plethora of hardwood products, from flooring to furniture, are manufactured in the Volunteer State, often from Tennessee timber.
“Tennessee is largely a hardwood state with a lot of oak, hickory, maple, ash and tulip poplar. A smaller percentage is softwood, which is used more for construction and paper making,” says Tim Phelps, information forester for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s Division of Forestry.
There are 14 million acres of forestland in Tennessee, with forests covering 52 percent of the state.
“Hardwood lumber produced in Tennessee is exported to markets all over the world; its popularity is derived from its color, grain and quality,” Phelps says. “More and more foreign buyers want to purchase wood from sustainable sources, so they can continue to depend on us for it. The Tennessee Wood Products marketing campaign aims to promote Tennessee’s tremendous woodusing industry that utilizes this sustainable resource, creates jobs and provides an array of products we use on a daily basis.”
Wood manufacturing is a huge industry in Tennessee and there are two types of manufacturers. Primary manufacturers are those who make lumber from the logs, cut them into boards, and sell them to secondary manufacturers, who make them into flooring, chairs, molding and other wood products.
Lumber is measured and sold by the board-foot. The National Hardwood Lumber Association in Memphis standardizes the grades for hardwood lumber buyers and sellers worldwide. The NHLA also offers a 14-week training program for people interested in learning the trade of inspecting lumber.
Thompson Appalachian Hardwoods
“Tennessee is a significant state for the hardwood industry, both for the quantity and quality of hardwood lumber produced here,” says Nordeck Thompson, who owns Thompson Appalachian Hardwoods in Huntland with his wife, Mary Claire. The couple bought an old sawmill and started the company in 1993, and today they have 95 employees, including four of their six children. The company buys timber from landowners, loggers and timber brokers, and then manufactures it into lumber that is shipped all over the world. About 40 percent is sold in the U.S., and 60 percent is exported overseas.
“The wood we manufacture is primarily used in the visual components of a building, such as hardwood flooring, molding, trim, cabinets and furniture,” Thompson says. “Tennessee timber is known for its quality, color and texture.” Thompson grew up in the hardwood industry – his dad started a lumber company in Georgia in 1956. Thompson’s children are the third generation in the trade. “The best quality of the hardwood industry is the people,”
says daughter Claire Getty, who serves as executive director of the company. “From our skilled employees who manufacture high-quality lumber to the landowners who grow premium forestlands, no matter the size, each person in the process makes the industry rewarding.”
Middle Tennessee Lumber
Jesse Joyce, vice president of Middle Tennessee Lumber in Burns, is also committed to the landowners, loggers, customers and employees. That’s how it is in lumber business, says Joyce, who owns the company with his father. “It’s hard work, commitment to quality and to people,” he says.
A diversified company, Middle Tennessee Lumber is best known for its unfinished flooring, including a specialty grade rustic product that shows the natural characteristics of the wood. “It all begins with good quality timber,” Joyce says. “We harvest Tennessee timber and then kiln dry those domestic species including oak, hickory, hard maple, walnut and ash. We’re in a really good area for hardwood growth and quality. Each board we produce has its own unique characteristics and shows off the natural beauty of the Tennessee trees.
The company does a lot of business in Tennessee selling its products to contractors, but it also has customers across the nation and the globe.
Since 2010, Middle Tennessee Lumber has doubled in size and grown from 61 employees to 115. In that same time period, sales have grown from $19 million to $42 million.
“We have great people here,” Joyce says. “It’s really amazing to see how hard they all work. You can see that hard work in every piece of wood.”