When we tell people that Iowa is a major producer of some of the world’s most beautiful hardwood, they think we’re nuts. After all, we live in the corn state, where it’s possible to drive a hundred miles viewing only crops.
“Iowa is the sweet spot for the highest quality walnut lumber. Further north it’s too cold for the trees to get big enough and down south they grow so fast the logs contain much white sapwood and wide growth rings. Local walnut is of the highest quality, and it’s beautiful and abundant,” said Thomas Hunt as he led us through the Kendrick Forest Products Mill in Edgewood, Iowa.
Black walnut has been a favored hardwood for paneling, cabinetry, furniture, and gunstocks for hundreds of years. Its dark heartwood has a complex grain pattern that glistens with beauty. It is easy to work with, holds finish well, and is used to create furniture prized for generations.
Walnut trees are abundant in Iowa, especially in the tightly wooded valleys of the Driftless Area. Trees grow relatively quickly and produce annual nut crops that squirrels bury by the thousands each fall. They only find some for winter snacks. The rest sprout into new trees. When carefully logged walnuts, along with oaks, hickories, ashes, and basswoods produce crops at long intervals and just as sustainably as well-managed farm crops.
Logs are shipped to Kendrick’s mill and sorted by species. During our visit, workers were transforming sugar maple logs into boards. No doubt some will end up flooring beautiful and resilient basketball courts.
Logs enter a huge machine that removes the bark and any dirt clinging to it. They then enter a powerful bandsaw. We watched Zippy operate hand and foot controls that fed each log into the blade that squared off a side. He then flipped it over and cut three more times to create a massive squared-off hunk of maple that next moved to another saw. It cuts the log into one of many things. Sometimes they make railroad ties. We watched the saw create inch-thick lumber.
Boards then go to the “green chain”, a room where workers sort them by grade and stack them up. From there they are cured in the open air and eventually in a kiln that removes moisture.
Finished products are shipped to customers far and wide. Walnut is especially valued overseas. Anyone who loves finely-crafted cabinetry, paneling, or flooring may have Iowa-grown wood processed at Kendrick Forest Products. Iowa’s more than a corn state!
Want to see the mill in action? Kendrick’s offers tours. Information is on their website at kfpiowa.com/take-a-tour/. Can’t get to Eldridge? Enjoy a video tour on their website. And, learn about Monday Mulch!