Dale and Judy Mccaskey’s Hatchet Mountain Forest Products
By Virginia Reeter
Story and Photo By Virginia Reeter
Deep in the forest, east of Redding and high above Montgomery Creek, technology is brewing as Dale and Judy McCaskey pursue their woodworking craft, producing flooring and paneling as well as huge slabs of custom wood products they mill on computerized machines.
Their business, Hatchet Mountain Forest Products, is nestled among the tall timber at the end of a graveled Johnson Road.
The wind was blowing fiercely outside whipping tarps covering stacks upon stacks of rough cut lumber while inside one of several large shops, Dale was operating a giant router machine, leveling both sides of a 12-foot-long, two-inch-thick solid walnut plank destined to become a table or bar countertop.
After 30 years, the McCaskeys found a niche in the forest. The mom and pop business owners buy pine, fir and cedar logs from local land owners and walnut trees from private sources, then mill the wood into quality lumber.
The buyers of their finished product are not the big-box stores or other larger lumber outlets. They sell to homeowners and contractors who are building cabinets or laying floors or paneling walls for new homes and remodels.
When the McCaskeys first came to the area from San Diego, where he was in the Navy specializing in electronics and Judy was a business office manager, they built their home with minimal milling equipment. Since then, they have expanded their collection of high-tech machines so they can do all the intricate work themselves.
“All this equipment has been designed so she and I can run it,” Dale explains. “We can do it all with the help of two four-wheel-drive forklifts that can roll on uneven terrain and we’ve designed special lifting straps to move heavy planks.”
It’s a low-level industrial operation, he says, adding, “As small as we are and as old as we are, it had to be designed that way.”
Just like any milling operation, the logs are rough-cut into planks and stacked until they are needed for a single project. That’s when machines and pure ingenuity come into place.
“We mostly sell a mix of slabs of black oak or red oak for tongue-and-groove flooring and pine, cedar and fir for paneling,” Dale says. “When an owner is building or remodeling, they tell us what type of wood they want and we mill it for them.’
On the flip side, if homeowners have a tree to be removed, the McCaskeys will mill it for the seller’s project or for Hatchet Mountain Forest Products.
The milling operation stays small and addresses one project at a time because of their fundamental philosophy: quality control.
“We only contract flooring, paneling and slabs. We’re different than typical woodworkers,” Dale says. “We take better care of machine blades and most of the wood is kiln dried.”
Their own custom-made kiln will handle large, thick planks, with stickers between the layers so heated air can circulate through them and basically kill any bugs and residue hiding in walnut and oak.
The double-surface planer in another building feeds itself, with Judy at one end and Dale at the other, ensuring it feeds correctly.
The laser-guided rip saw cuts the planks’ edges perfectly straight and is also a self-feeder. Another machine cuts all four sides of the tongue-and-groove floor planks. It also cuts lap grooves for wall planks.
Another aspect of the operation is sandwiching two planks together, making a plank much wider, often three to four feet or more in width.
“We glue them together for table tops and we use large clamps and custom-made jigs placed on the top and the bottom of the planks to keep them level,” Judy explains.
The couple agree their business is much more than just a business. It’s a passion.
“We love what we do, but not so much as a business,” Dale says. “We love the forest.”
And, in return, it seems the forest is pretty good to them.
Hatchet Mountain Forest Products