April 15, 2013

Friends resurrect Mercer wood mill

Bjarki Gunnarson and Josh Saltmarsh own Wood Idea and The Wood Mill of Maine, sister companies that make pine flooring and cedar paneling and planks

By Rachel Ohm rohm@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

MERCER — Bjarki Gunnarson and Josh Saltmarsh brush wood shavings off a plank of freshly cut pine as it comes through a machine that smoothes the board.

click image to enlarge

Nate Lesperance, 31, left, and Josh Saltmarsh, 24, back, plain wood at The Wood Mill of Maine on Mercer Road in Mercer on Friday.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

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Josh Saltmarsh checks the moisture content of lumber in the dehumidification kiln at The Wood Mill of Maine, on Mercer Road in Mercer, on Friday.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Additional Photos Below

They measure the plank, check it for imperfections and place it on a growing stack of boards that eventually will make its way into homes and building interiors around the country.

The two friends, recent graduates of Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, are the new owners of Wood Idea and The Wood Mill of Maine, sister companies that specialize in select-grade pine flooring as well as pine and cedar paneling and planks.

They are also young entrepreneurs who have found their way into one of Maine's most important industries and are learning the trade by working with a veteran in the business.

According to Maine State Forester Doug Denico of the Maine Forestry Service, forestry — including timber harvesting, flooring and related activities — comprises the largest industry in Maine's environmental-based industries.

"It's huge in the natural resource sector. No one but tourism reaches what we contribute to Maine's economy," he said.

Forest industries are responsible for 30 percent of the state's gross domestic product, according to the Maine Forestry Service.

It is also an industry that has a potential for job growth, as many of Maine's forest industry employees are nearing retirement age, Denico said.

In December, Gunnarson, 25, and Saltmarsh, 24, came across the mill while looking for a business opportunity.

Neither one said he had ever had experience with wood or the flooring industry.

Gunnarson, who is originally from River Vale, N.J., studied finance and the German language in college. Saltmarsh, originally from Wayland, Mass., was a finance major with an environmental science minor.

Both said they had worked different jobs, including insurance sales at New York Life in Boston for Saltmarsh and managing the Manhattan Sailing School in New York for Gunnarson, before deciding to do something different.

"We just put our heads together and said, 'What are we capable of doing?'" Gunnarson said. He said he had gotten tired of life in the city and knew he wanted to move to either Vermont, New Hampshire or Maine.

"I wanted to live outside of a major city. I was just kind of over the city and the kind of people I had to deal with. Here I met a lot of people I liked," he said.

Among them were Sue and Mychael Bartholf, who sold the mill to the two friends, rented them a house in Mercer and have served as mentors in the business.

Mychael Bartholf, who started Wood Idea 23 years ago and bought the Wood Mill in 1999, said he was retiring and looking to sell the business when the two friends came along. Wood Idea specializes in wood pine paneling and floors and sells products across the country, while the Wood Mill of Maine has a more local customer base. It sells cedar and pine planks and also offers finishing services for rough-cut lumber mostly in Somerset and Franklin counties.

"I liked their energy and enthusiasm," Bartholf said of the two friends. He sold the businesses to them and agreed to act as a mentor as they transitioned into ownership.

Most of the winter was spent learning the business as the friends prepare for the summer, the busiest time of year for the companies.

A typical day starts around 7 a.m. and might end around 9 p.m., Saltmarsh said — that is, unless they are traveling to select wood.

The mill is best known for its 20-inch-wide pine planks that are made from trees harvested all over New England. The planks' width makes them unusual and highly desirable for floors and paneling, Bartholf said. He said the company originally started to produce replicas of the kind of planks found in New England homes that date to the 1800s or earlier.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Nate Lesperance eyes the crown on boards before he runs them through a planer at the The Wood Mill of Maine on Mercer Road in Mercer on friday.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

click image to enlarge

Josh Saltmarsh, co-owner of The Wood Mill of Maine on Mercer Road in Mercer, stacks wood as it comes off a planer on Friday.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

click image to enlarge

Bjarki Gunnarson, 25, inspects a stack of finished lumber at The Wood Mill of Maine on Mercer Road in Mercer on Friday.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

click image to enlarge

Josh Saltmarsh, co-owner of The Wood Mill of Maine on Mercer Road in Mercer, stacks wood as it comes off a planer on Friday.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

click image to enlarge

Bjarki Gunnarson sits in front of some of the specialty wood products that his company, The Wood Mill of Maine, which he co-owns with his friend, Josh Saltmarsh, on Mercer Road in Mercer.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

 


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