Think Out Loud

New lumber mill in Philomath aims to market Oregon hardwoods

By Sage Van Wing (OPB)
Nov. 15, 2023 5:19 p.m.

Broadcast: Wednesday, Nov. 15

Oregon’s timber reputation is largely built from softwoods like Douglas Fir. But a new lumber mill in Philomath aims to take advantage of the many hardwoods available on the western side of the state. Patrick Lumber aims to mill Oregon white oak, Pacific maple, tan oak, madrone, chinquapin, myrtle and Oregon ash trees from lots that are being thinned for fire protection. David Halsey, CEO of Patrick Lumber, joins us to tell us about their strategy for this new mill.


This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: From the Gert Boyle Studio at OPB, this is Think Out Loud. I’m Dave Miller. Oregon’s timber reputation is largely built on softwoods like Douglas Fir. But a new lumber mill in Philomath aims to take advantage of the many hardwoods available on the western side of the state. Trees like white oak and Pacific maple that are being cut down as forest managers try to make the landscape more resilient to wildfires. David Halsey is the CEO of Patrick Lumber. He joins us now. Welcome to the show.

David Halsey: Thank you.

Miller: The Patrick Lumber company has been around for 108 years. Is that right?

Halsey: That’s correct. 1915.

Miller: How would you describe the bread and butter of the business over the years?

Halsey: It’s changed dramatically from office wholesale broker model to now really a secondary manufacturer that processes wood from a number of sawmills up and down the west coast.

Miller: So at this point, getting logs that have already been cut and then refining them into different kinds of products, for whom?

Halsey: Companies that are distributing for a wide variety of uses – furniture, flooring, windows, doors, cabinetry, that kind of thing.

Miller: Have softwoods like Douglas Fir been the majority of the wood that you’ve dealt with over the years?

Halsey: Yeah, the softwood species you’d see growing on the west coast, like Doug Fir, hemlock, red cedar. That’s what Patrick’s primarily sold, yes.

Miller: So why get into the hardwood business as well?

Halsey: Well, there’s a resource base that’s either being burnt, being chipped into pulp, or just rotting in the forest, and we saw an opportunity to convert some of that into lumber, which we feel is a better use for the product.

Miller: What kinds of trees are we talking about here?

Halsey: Maple, madrone, oak – there’s multiple oak species. Walnut grows in Oregon. It’s not native to the state, but it does grow. Ash. There’s probably a dozen hardwood species that could be commercially processed into lumber.

Miller: Commercially processed, meaning there is enough of them that could be cut down to actually ensure the viability, say of a product line for you?

Halsey: They’re already being cut down, we’re just trying to divert some of the resource into lumber instead of it being burnt or chipped for pulp, in some cases, it just goes into firewood, or it goes into landfills. So there’s an abundance of hardwood lumber in the state of Oregon that is not going into lumber. That is far more than we can produce with the new mill, but there’ll be enough to make a difference.

Miller: And we’re talking about some lovely trees here, right? I mean, that have grains that furniture makers or other folks would actually like, that they value, being burned or just turned into pulp?

Halsey: That’s correct. Some of the wood is absolutely beautiful. The maple that grows in Oregon – there’s a demand for musical instruments. There’s a grade called fiddleback that literally goes into fiddles, violins, cellos. So that lumber, that wood, the logs can be found, some of them are blown down in the forest, some of them are being harvested for fire mitigation, safe road passage. The forest managers have a number of reasons why they need to thin the forest.

Miller: You mentioned fiddleback. So it might end up in instruments. Where else might this wood be used? Who are your likely customers?

Halsey: Probably the biggest customer base is distribution around the US that would typically sell eastern hardwoods. So just think of if you went to a retail store and they had hardwood lumber they might have poplar or oak or maple, but it’s certainly going to be from the east coast. And those are products we can produce in Oregon and take some of that market share away from the eastern production.

Miller: So that’s who your competitors are then, mills largely on the east coast?

Halsey: That would be one way to look at it. It depends on what sizes we cut but that certainly some would say that, yes.

Miller: Do you have a favorite wood among these various hardwoods?

Halsey: Well, the maple is incredible – the figured maple – you see these trees everywhere. The grain patterns are phenomenal. They look almost like marble or granite. But personally, I love walnut. I think that the deep dark color, the richness of it is really fascinating. Every tree’s got its own story and its own potential use, color, grain patterns. You see these slabs being cut that have live edges for countertops and tables. Those are amazing pieces of artwork, really.

Miller: I understand that part of the reason that you went down this path is because there was an illegal marijuana operation near you. Do you mind telling us that story?


Halsey: Oh, that’s interesting, yes. The site we’re on was last occupied by Mary’s River Lumber which cut western red cedar. We purchased it in 2016 primarily because there were kilns here to dry the lumber. And adjacent to the property, there was a 10-acre parcel, and we didn’t know much about it. But a couple of years ago, a bunch of DEA agents showed up and arrested this organization that was illegally growing. Six months later, we were able to buy the property and that’s where we’re putting this mill. So, yeah, it’s a fascinating little tidbit of information.

Miller: Am I right that you did a kind of trial run of this on a small-scale basis?

Halsey: That’s correct. Yeah, we’ve got a small Wood-Mizer. It’s not a very big kind of portable mill. And we’ve cut a few species and just to test the water, make sure that what we think is possible is, and that we can dry the lumber. It’s difficult to dry oak especially, it takes a long time in certain conditions. But we’ve determined we could do it. We’ve been successful doing it, [we’ve] sold the stock that we ran. So we’ve moved forward with this.

Miller: Is it very different? So you mentioned one difference in terms of the drying of lumber. Is it very different to mill hardwoods than say Doug Fir or cedar?

Halsey: That’s a good question. We mostly sell the lumber rough and I’m not technically knowledgeable enough to be able to tell you that for certain. I’m sure there are unique differences.

Miller: What’s the time frame right now? I mentioned that you’re getting this underway but how long before you’re fully operating?

Halsey: 2025 we should be in full production with the new mill. It’s gonna take us a year to get it built.

Miller: When we were in John Day earlier this year – or maybe it was last year – but we talked to a mill manager at Malheur Lumber who was excited about a restoration logging contract. But one of the biggest issues he was dealing with was the challenge of hiring workers. He had some colorful stories about just how hard it was to find able bodied, willing people who were able to drive, had access to a car, didn’t have their license removed because of DUIs, and on and on, or who weren’t lazy. He had a whole list of reasons. It was hard for him to hire people these days for what he was saying were pretty well-paying jobs.

What’s the employment situation for you like right now in Philomath?

Halsey: We’re proud of paying a family living wage. We’re right next to Corvallis with Oregon State University and their forestry program, Ag program. Philomath is a timber town so there’s a kind of a culture here that supports this kind of work. Our rates have gone up over the last five [or] six years, but we haven’t had problems, so to speak. I mean, we have been able to run the plant since we took it over in 2016. So I would say not a significant issue.

Miller: Can you give us a sense for how many more people you’re going to be employing once this new mill is fully up and running in 2025?

Halsey: I think we have 30 employees now and maybe we’d have 35 or 40 in a couple of years from now. Part of it will be in the mill and then part of it will be in the drying and processing part of the business. The mill itself may only add three or four or five people, but there’ll be an equal number that will be resawing and drying and packaging the lumber on the other side.

Miller: It’s a smaller number than I was expecting when I heard about a new mill. Is that just a question of the technology that you can use these days, that you need fewer people to operate a mill than you would have needed, say 30 or 40 years ago?

Halsey: That might be part of it. We’re only gonna start this mill up on one shift and so a lot of times you’ll think about mills that are running three or four shifts. So then you’d multiply that number of employees by three or four. That’s how a site the size of ours that’s got 40 acres would end up with 150 employees if you’re running 24/7.

Miller: You recently moved your company headquarters, I understand, from Portland to Philomath. Why?

Halsey: Well, primarily because the core of our business changed, we changed from a broker wholesale company to a secondary manufacturer, and this is where we’re doing the majority of the work. And we have maintained a presence in Portland. We have an office there as well as in North Carolina and in Colorado. So, the employees are where the work is. And I guess a big part of it also was with the pandemic. It became very clear that remote work works. And so we’ve really leaned into that and built an office building here in Philomath to be closer to our supply base, to Oregon State with their forestry program, and the other lumber companies.

Miller: Does that mean that you moved as well?

Halsey: Yes.

Miller: What’s that like for you?

Halsey: Well, I graduated from Oregon State and I live in Corvallis so it’s, it’s a joy.

Miller: After living in Portland?

Halsey: Yes.

Miller: Nothing you miss?

Halsey: No, not really. Not right now. I can drive up. It’s not a very far drive. So I visit all the time.

Miller: How do you think what you’re doing in Philomath with this new mill fits into the larger picture of logging and timber products statewide?

Halsey: Well, I think it fits in beautifully. I mean, you really see this movement to biophilia. Look at the Portland airport and the exposure that wood has there. We have a lot more species to offer than Douglas Fir. The state is rich and in wood and sharing that with the rest of North America and the world is I think a message that all Oregonians can be proud of.

Miller: Dave Halsey, thanks very much.

Halsey: Appreciate you having me.

Miller: Dave Halsey is the CEO of Patrick Lumber Company. They recently announced that they are building a new hardwood mill in Philomath.

Contact “Think Out Loud®”

If you’d like to comment on any of the topics in this show or suggest a topic of your own, please get in touch with us on Facebook, send an email to, or you can leave a voicemail for us at 503-293-1983. The call-in phone number during the noon hour is 888-665-5865.