Tom Rowe of Kubich Lumber Mill checks newly cut cedar boards at the mill.
Historic Kubich Lumber Co.
Still Producing Specialty Cedar
By Laura Brown
Five days a week a steady whir of decades-old equipment can be heard milling logs into boards at Kubich Lumber Co. sweetly scenting the air with fresh cut cedar. Owner Tom Rowe, 44, takes pride in doing things the old fashioned way, turning locally grown Incense cedar into lumber for planter boxes, gazebos, decking and siding for high end homes.
“This is some of the specialty stuff that other mills don’t do,” Rowe said.
A relic from another era, the sawmill was first begun by the Kubich family in the 1940s. It is located just outside Grass Valley on a sheltered 10-acre piece of land. It was featured as the family business of the Spelman family in Hallmark’s short film, ‘The Christmas Card.’
Rowe is a fourth generation Nevada County resident and descends from Cornish miners who first migrated to the region in 1851. He employs three to four workers. His customers seek him out from as far away as Japan and include a diverse range of local contractors, home gardeners and corporate executives who fly in from the Bay Area.
Tom Rowe and Tony Kucera
Rowe can’t compete against the big mills that cut Douglas fir and pine. Instead, he’s found his niche. Up until the 1970s, cedar was considered a weed tree and passed up for Redwood, even though it has much the same bug and weather resistant qualities. “Now it’s kind of the hot thing. But it’s still a pain to saw,” Rowe said.
Circular saw milling cedar lumber.
Wood grown for Rowe’s products are selectively logged from forests within a 50 mile radius of his mill. Whatever can’t be turned into lumber is shredded into wood chips for playgrounds or sent to a co-generation plant for electricity.
Rowe first went to work for Dave Kubich, the former sawmill owner 23 years ago. Rowe bought the mill in 1996. While business is good and the company has had a record March, Rowe has concerns that siding sales could be hurt next fall due to a change in the state building code. The change was made last year after the fire marshal’s office issued a list of recommendations to protect homes against wildfire. Confused about the new regulations, some are choosing not to use wood for the siding on their homes, even though wood is acceptable under the new regulations as long as it goes through rigorous testing. “A lot of architects and homeowners are going off misinformation,” that you can’t use real wood externally anymore. “But you can if you pass the test,” Rowe said. Upon learning of the new regulations, Rowe sent his lumber to a lab in Washington for a heat transfer test, which passed with flying colors, he said.
“Our decking was the first wood to be tested and passed in California,” Rowe said, adding that his cedar siding has met all the state’s specifications and is legal and safe to use for all new construction as required by law. Wood transfers heat less than other man made products and leaves less of a carbon footprint on the earth, Rowe said. “People at the lab are saying lumber is the way to go,” he said.
To learn more about the state fire regulations as they pertain to building codes visit: www.fire.ca.gov.
To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4231.
(Article was published in the Union Monday April 27 2009.)