The incense of cut cedar fills the air; motes of sawdust drift through the sunlight that streams through large windows. The high-pitched whine of the saw makes conversation difficult as the four-man crew cuts, sorts, squares off, and packs.
Trenary Wood Products is in full production, crafting custom shingles and shakes from Upper Peninsula-grown white cedar logs. Their merchandise takes advantage of northern cedar’s unique properties: insect and moisture resistance.
Owners Steve and Sharon Boyer have been Alger Delta Electric Co-op members for all 36 years of their marriage. Sharon’s mother, Ruth Niemi Kaukola Holmquist, was born on the family farm where the Boyers also live, and remembers when they first got electricity in North Delta back in 1938.
“They were one of the first Alger Delta members around here because their house was so close to the road,” Sharon explains.
The Boyers are also proud of the homegrown tradition of their business: they give full-time employment to eight Trenary residents, purchase only local cedar from area loggers, and have perfected a product for their customers that is made to survive harsh, snowy conditions. Their shakes and shingles can be seen on buildings in many U.P. state parks: Fayette State Park in the Garden Peninsula, Fort Wilkins in the Keweenaw, and Fort Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City, among others. They were surprised when their cedar shingles found national appeal, too. “I never know who’ll be on the other end of the phone when it rings,” Sharon says.
“Most of our shingles go to the U.P. or Wisconsin, but we’ve taken orders from all over the country—New Jersey to California,” Steve says. Their biggest job so far was a stave church—a replica of a Norwegian church—built in Moorhead, Minn. “Those were custom cut 6-inch shingles,” Steve remembers. The order called for 55 squares (275 bundles of 6-inch shingles), and the customers placed the order a year in advance.
“We can do anything—long as we have enough time to do it,” Steve says.
The Boyers’ operation is a study in utilizing every scrap of a natural resource. They prefer to buy older cedar logs that have rotted in the center because the outer edges of these trees don’t have knots. “That’s the stuff they can’t get rid of,” Steve explains. “And yet, that’s the clear [knot-free] wood—we can’t get that from the younger cedar because of the branch growth. The old wood is what makes the good shingles.”
Trenary Wood Products sells three shingle grades in custom sizes ranging from 3 inches to 8 inches wide. But that’s only the beginning: the trimmed-off scraps are sold in kindling bundles, and also used to heat the family’s sawmill and home. The sawdust is baled and sold as animal bedding, spread on muddy farm paths, and used as bow targets. “An arrow won’t go through it,” Steve says. Any leftover scrap is then trucked downstate to be converted to cedar mulch. “The only thing we don’t make is the mulch. We don’t throw anything away from this operation—everything gets used,” Steve says proudly.
If they could just bottle that woodsy cedar scent and sell it, they might find their biggest market yet.
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