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Leaving nothing to waste

Former aerospace contractor Rob Durfos picked up a chainsaw eight years ago and began to experiment with ways to make use of discarded wood. At the time, Durfos says, he had no idea his 20-acre ranch near the summit of Tule Peak in Southern California would one day be seen by many as one of the most efficient, environmentally significant wood-processing facilities in the West.

Rob Durfos uses the shop's Mini Max T-130 shaper.

Today, Tule Peak Timber, a company purposefully limiting itself to the use of wood milled from insect-infested, storm- or fire-damaged or otherwise effected “standing dead” trees, or from reclaimed wood, is a firm sought out by leading architects and designers around the nation because of the quality and beauty of the company’s products. Equally important to Durfos is the fact that every board foot of recovered wood used at Tule Peak Timber replaces the need to harvest from healthy forests.

Because of Durfos’ unique approach, Tule Peak Timber’s raw material supply chain is significantly different than that found in most shops. Durfos has to be constantly on the lookout for wood others might waste that he can turn into lumber.

Tule Peak recycles hand-hewn Douglas-fir beams, cedar ceiling panels and black oak window trim to create a Tuscan look in this custom home.

“I obtain a lot of my wood from companies that do forest fire cleanup, clearing of beetle-kill trees that are dead standing or have contracts to remove urban wood,” he says. Other wood is saved from being chipped or underutilized when cleared for residential or commercial development.

Tule Peak’s wood often has a story. Asked about a particularly large set of slabs, Durfos says, “I was driving down the road and saw a gigantic piece of wood at the bottom of a canyon. I contacted the land owner for permission, then rented a crane and pulled it out.”

Tule Peak recycles hand-hewn Douglas-fir beams, cedar ceiling panels and black oak window trim to create a Tuscan look in this custom home.

Thin is in

Durfos enjoys working with wood that traditional mills won’t take. Beetle kill, for example, might have color stains that, when properly handled, can be turned into an advantage. Durfos says that a significant percentage of his product includes beetle-kill lumber and the clients’ reception is overwhelmingly positive.

On delivery, raw wood is staged in a log yard. Because the wood comes from a variety of sources, it must be checked with a metal detector before processing begins. When metal is found, Durfos removes it through a procedure he calls “going metal diving,” chooses a different log for the project or simply cuts through it.

Processing into lumber is primarily accomplished using a Wood-Mizer LT30 hydraulic portable band saw mill or, in the case of oversized logs, a walk-along “Alaskan” chainsaw mill. Tule Peak’s Alaskan mill consists of a Husky 3120xp chainsaw with a custom 63” bar and rail guides allowing Durfos to slab very large diameter logs with natural edges or trim to fit the Wood-Mizer for more efficient work. The very thin blades used in the Wood-Mizer allow Tule Peak Timber to achieve the company’s goals for environmental enhancement because as much as 30 percent more lumber is produced out of a log than comes from the same log sawn conventionally. Sometimes blades are set for a wider cut, but the result is always more lumber than conventional methods provide.

Durfos says his band saw mill is also advantageous when cutting recovered wood because the blade is able to cut through nails or other foreign objects safely. Either way, he explains, wood can be cut on demand to standard or custom dimensions without having to wait for custom orders at a lumberyard.

Tule Peak's inventory includes staves from log ends. Dufos wastes nothing.

More than a lumberyard

Once the wood is cut, it is dried in a Wood-Mizer dry kiln. Drying the wood in a kiln rather than air-drying the fiber not only allows for time savings, it assures that fungus or undesirable insects present in the wood are killed.

While Tule Peak’s finished-product and service list is long, Durfos says the firm is best known for its “solid wood creations.” Custom countertops, tables, entry doors and passage doors in sizes as large as 6 feet wide and 16 feet in length are commonly produced to order. Tule Peak is gaining renown as a manufacturer of custom entryways and solid wood doors.

“We not only create works of art for our customers, we create them within a time frame that an architect in a bind can appreciate,” says Durfos.

Durfos says his engineering background has been valuable as he’s built Tule Peak into a specialty woodshop combining new technology with old wood. Tule Peak’s secondary shop contains mostly Mini Max and SCMI equipment with Rangate tooling. He also points to the flooring machine center he fabricated and says, “It’s not very fast, but it can make very accurately processed long and wide plank flooring.”

Dufos loads a log on Tule Peak's Wood-Mizer LT30 hydraulic portable band saw mill.

Durfos says the flexibility the machine offers is important in creating truly custom flooring. His machine allows Tule Peak to replicate the look of an old floor, in high demand by some customers, while providing the tight tolerances necessary in a modern home. “We are able to give architects and designers exactly what they want,” he says, noting that Tule Peak gets many requests for small flooring runs and customized interior packages. An old millwork pattern might need to be reproduced for one job, while the next job might require Durfos to “age” the wood by hand to match older flooring that has been damaged by water or fire.

A much-desired look, Durfos says, is a distressed appearance replicating what a floor or a door might look like after decades, or even centuries, of use. The ability to provide the look of high-figure old-growth wood that isn’t mass-produced anywhere is something that sells itself to the discriminating customer, he says.

Tule Peak cuts wood that other mills turn down, such as this pile of fire-damaged logs.

“Any aspect of a job can be customized to the needs of the client,” Durfos says. “Right now, for example, custom weathered outdoor style trim for use inside the home is popular.”

Whatever the product ultimately desired, Durfos says his clients appreciate the ability to purchase uniquely designed and crafted doors, windows, floors and other individualized products, but they also enjoy the knowledge that each product was created in a way that preserves the environment, from the sourcing of raw material to the environmentally friendly finish.

“Nothing here is treated as waste. Sawdust is composted on site and used in our garden for growing cedar trees to give as gifts or for use in replanting projects. Larger scraps are donated to the local high school woodworking program. At Tule Peak, we always strive to use wood for its highest and best use. Our customers value that approach.”

Contact: Tule Peak Timber. Tel: 951-763-1750.

This article originally appeared in the June 2011 issue.

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