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MILAN – For Nick and Angie DeVolder turning trash into treasure is much more than a hobby. Their “small” business, Stella Sawmill, is rooted in a commitment to sustainability on such a massive scale it might be hard for Quad Cities home recyclers to get their heads around it. But for cabinetmakers, woodworkers and others, 850 Second Ave. West has become THE place to find beautiful dimensional lumber and one-of-a-kind live edge slabs once hidden in the fallen urban trees as big as 60 inches wide that the couple rescue from the scrap pile and wood chipper. The growing interest – spread via word-of-mouth and Stella Sawmill’s engaging digital presence – helped the DeVolders outgrow their existing buildings, which house its sawmill and kiln along with the existing crowded space the sawmill co-opted from the busy next-door business Redstar Roloff and Disposal, which they also own. So, in December, the couple began planning the new 3,200 square feet of climate-controlled space that doubles as an inviting showroom for its kiln-dried lumber. Construction was completed last month and on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 16-17, the community was invited to a ribbon cutting and grand opening for the latest addition to their full service custom milling and kiln drying operation with hardwood sales. The new showroom features beautiful tables and seating crafted by Mr. DeVolder made from urban lumber as well as an ever-changing inventory of beautiful carefully milled and dried live edge wood. The company typically stocks walnut, maple, ash, oak, hickory, cherry and maple, or whatever else comes out of the latest kiln load. It also keeps dimensional lumber for cabinet makers and builders and it tries to keep a lot of cookies – sought-after crosscut round sections of wood used for things like landscaping – in supply. Also among the slabs of project-ready wood available are hardwoods often ignored by carpenters and builders. They can include sycamore, dogwood, hackberry, locust, cottonwood and cypress. Their hidden beauty is brought to life through the efforts of Mr. DeVolder and a pair of part-time employees who work to bring out the unique and beautiful grains. Because many heavily grained woods are routinely classified as junk wood, Mr. DeVolder said it was a challenge at first to get the tree companies to think beyond oak and other sought-after hardwoods. These days, the DeVolders have found it easier to source urban trees from those seeking to recycle wood to avoid paying the high cost to dispose of it. Fittingly, given the nature of the business, Stella Sawmill’s evolution has occurred organically. “No, I didn’t graduate from high school and say ‘I want to be a sawyer,’” Nick DeVolder said with a laugh. Woodworking was just a hobby then, he said. (Among the projects he created before opening the sawmill for business, Ms. DeVolder said, was the family’s dining table.) Later he bought a Lucas sawmill with “no interest” in turning it into a business. Then, the mill needed a building. And when Mr. DeVolder struggled to find a place to dry the milled wood properly, he added the kiln and the seeds of the family’s second business were sown. The expense led the family to start thinking about how to pay for it all. Even Stella Sawmill’s name reflects their business’ family focus. “Stella was Nick’s great aunt from Belgium who held a special place in our hearts,” Ms. DeVolder told the QCBJ. “We kicked around a few names for the sawmill, but Stella Sawmill just stuck.” The business’ website and Facebook page also invites customer-friends to share photos of the projects they make from Stella Sawmill’s handiwork. And the couple’s two daughters, who are budding entrepreneurs, have started their own business within the business. They use Stella Sawmill sawdust to create and then sell fire starters, Ms. DeVolder said. Focusing on sustainably sourced urban lumber was a no-brainer for the DeVolder family who, through their rolloff dumpster business, often found themselves dismayed by the useful things that ended up in landfills. To help reduce some of that waste, Redstar began to provide dumpsters and recycling for products including concrete, asphalt and trees. And from the beginning, at Stella Sawmill, instead of letting trees waste in a landfill or go to the chipper, the couple chose to gather them from municipalities, businesses and homeowners and give them a second life. The sawmill also works to reduce waste in its own processing of the wood; for example, offering firewood for sale and providing scraps for skilled turners to search out pieces of wood for their lathes. Why? Urban lumber has a significantly lower carbon footprint and sequesters carbon by repurposing fallen or damaged trees into long-term products or furniture, the company says. Once milled and vacuum kiln dried and conditioned, each slab is ready to be used for your custom wood project. In addition, the company’s website said, taking donated trees also helps companies, nonprofits, area municipalities and others. “Working with local, salvaged trees we pride ourselves in growing our business within our community,” it said. “Once milled and vacuum kiln dried, each slab is ready to be used for your custom live edge wood project.” Mr. DeVolder also works with customers to help salvage wood from fallen trees that once had been important to them and their families. Recently, for example, he said a customer helped to mill the wood taken from a beloved tree with a long family history. Stella Sawmill also offers customers a wide variety of milling services to help them quickly move their project from wood to the next phase. They include flattening, which is the process used to completely flatten a rough-sawn slab as well as “smoothing down the rough sawn marks from the mill, which removes any warping or twisting that occurs from the drying process and saves a ton of time during the finish sanding process.” Stella Sawmill’s hours are 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Monday through Friday, and by appointment by calling (309) 740-0198.
What goes into Stella Sawmill wood?
- The company uses a Lucas sawmill on location.
- After the logs are slabbed or cut they are stickered and are left to dry in an air-dry building to allow for the moisture to naturally escape. The process can take up to a year.
- Stella Sawmill uses an I-Dry Vacuum Kiln which dries wood at rates of up to 10 times faster than traditional kilns while limiting cracking, cupping, and the discoloration.
- The company starts with rough sawn, green lumber and finishes with rough sawn, dried lumber. Without drying, green lumber can continue to move or twist overtime. Kiln-drying also removes bugs from the wood.