Northern Kentucky Cedar, in Maysville, Ky., is one of the largest operations in the Eastern Red Cedar market, operating from a 15-acre facility. Since this photo was taken, the company has added about 7,000 square-feet under-roof operations.
NORTHERN KENTUCKY CEDAR Sustains 20-year Commitment To Distinctive Species
By M.A. Wallace
Maysville, Ky.–When the wind blows past Northern Kentucky Cedar, townspeople here know that Dan Reeder is still doing what he loves best – milling and manufacturing Eastern Red Cedar also known as Aromatic Red Cedar (ARC). The aromatic scent and its natural ability to repel insects is one of many traits that Reeder loves about this challenging species.
“I’m more or less immune to the aroma anymore, after all this time,” said Reeder, who is company president, chief salesman and a dynamic advocate for both his company and its chosen signature species. He has been involved in the business for nearly 20 years – he thinks. “I’m not really sure when I started, because I started on a shoestring, cutting Cedar logs myself.”
At Northern Kentucky Cedar key personnel include (left to right) Dan Reeder, president; Teri Reeder, secretary-treasurer and Joe Berry, vice president.
Handy with a torch and wrench, Reeder built the company’s first sawmill from scratch, using junkyard scraps. “Most of our equipment is homemade – and it’s still going strong, although the saw has been rebuilt many times he’s still using the design of his first saw,” he said. One of the company’s secrets to long-lived machinery operation is regular maintenance. “Aromatic Red Cedar may be a softwood, but it is very abrasive and will dull carbide tooling very quickly. We mostly run high-speed steel tooling on our equipment for that reason. And even then, we probably have a higher frequency of maintenance schedules than you would find in a hardwood mill,” said Reeder. “For me, the benefits of the species far outweigh the additional production costs.”
Today, Northern Kentucky Cedar operates with a 4,000 square-foot mill and six compartmentalized manufacturing units, for a total of 22,000 square feet of under-roof processing on 15 acres of property. “We may be a small operation, but we’re one of the larger cedar mills in the Cedar industry,” Reeder said. In addition to Reeder, other key personnel at Northern Kentucky Cedar include Joe Berry, vice president and Teri Reeder, secretary-treasurer. The company operates a 40-hour workweek.
Most of the timber that arrives at Northern Kentucky Cedar is brought in by pickup truck and unloaded with a John Deere loader.
Reeder estimates the Aromatic Red Cedar (ARC) that he receives is harvested within a 75 to 80-mile radius of his plant, 90 percent arriving on the bed of pickup trucks. “The average Aromatic Red Cedar log is seven or eight inches in diameter and mostly 8 feet long. We move about one million board feet a year of raw timber, converting it into square-milled lumber,” said Reeder.
While most of the company’s inventory of ARC is air dried, some of it is processed through a small Nyle dry kiln with 18,000 board feet of capacity per load. “We also use a six-head Wood-Mizer resaw for producing specific- dimension orders for customers and a Wood-Mizer moulder,” said Reeder. “We’ve produced a number of novelty products for a number of years, such as shoe racks, planters etc., the last year we have been developing our new line of log furniture which includes rocking chairs, porch swings, Adirondack chairs and bedroom furniture. Northern Kentucky Cedar recently released this to the Tupelo Furniture Market even with the economic downturn, we had great response. We do spend a great deal of time and effort doing product development and market research. This fall we intend to release our new closet shelving system that confers all the economics of the aromatic benefits of the Cedar closet without the expense of lining the entire closet. Finding ways to enhance construction and make better use of the lumber that would otherwise be put into scrap is part of our current focus,” Reeder said.
Northern Kentucky Cedar’s newest product development is an Eastern Red Cedar closet system that provides all of the wardrobe protection of a Cedar-lined closet without the expense of lining the entire closet with wood.
With a reputation as a big-picture thinker and doer in ARC circles, Reeder is an active advocate for helping the entire ARC sector of the market make a successful transition through current economic challenges. “Log supply continues to be a challenge for Cedar product manufacturers. All the Cedar mills fight over their log supply like little banty roosters fight over a hen; if we would stop fighting and focus on opportunities, everyone can come out better off,” he said. “I’m convinced this is a networking problem that can be solved. For example, cattle ranchers in Oklahoma report that they’re losing 700 acres of grazing pastureland a day — to Eastern Red Cedar. From their perspective, it’s an invasive species that will naturally take over. For us, it would be a win-win to develop an industry standard product that is commercially viable with this supply resource.”
Years ago, Reeder noted that a great deal of ARC was shipped overseas. “France — and Europe as a whole— has environmental exclusions on treated wood, while Aromatic Red Cedar is known for its rot resistance, does not require treating for exterior usage. That’s one of its many virtues as a species that we need to promote more aggressively, also, Aromatic Red Cedar is well known for its ability to repel insects, making its dust and shavings highly desirable for animal bedding and the slab wood makes wonderful mulch, I believe,” he said, noting that this environmental advantage has significant benefits in light of today’s green construction initiatives. “I’m convinced that there are valid opportunities available for ARC to increase its presence in the overall lumber marketplace. It is nontraditional, yes. But I believe appreciation for the wood’s characteristic inclusions can find a greater place in the market alongside the clearer profile of White Cedar.”
Northern Kentucky Cedar uses a six-head Wood-Mizer resaw to produce specific dimensional lumber for customer orders.
After so many years of working with ARC, Reeder may be immune to its spicy aroma, but that has not dimmed his enthusiasm for its uses or its future. At the most recent Tupelo Furniture Market (TFM), he encountered the famous TFM hospitality, as well as a lot of interest in his ideas for promoting ARC.
“The learning curve of adapting to economic conditions can be a good thing for the industry overall and for the ARC segment in particular,” Reeder said. “It’s an opportunity for all ARC companies to work together toward promoting the species as a viable competitor.”