A Story of Firsts: Gutchess Lumber Reaches Northern Vietnam

Ho Nai, Vietnam- Dang Nguyen and his furniture shop can list the cases for the existing orders: White Oak cabinets for young Vietnamese couples who just moved from the U.S back to No Nai, Walnut tables for the roof top bars of the Marriott hotels, Hard Maple flooring for the local Japanese temples; so on and so forth, for each order made.

All these orders are signed by Dang, the owner of the workshop. His father opened the shop back in the 1990’s, with only wood sourced from local species like Acacia and Rubberwood. Dang’s father knew that there was one job in the lumber industry he didn’t know how to conquer-finding quality hardwood to bring in from the United States. Dang set out to conquer this challenge.

“It is supper frustrating,” said Dang’s brother, Mr. Nguyen, on the phone. “We thought we were the master of White Oak furniture pieces, but cracks appear after 3 months because the lumber wasn’t dried well. We just wish people will respect our products, not complain and claim us.” Dang added, “Customers in Northern Vietnam will call you at 3:00 AM during the night, because he can’t close the Red Oak door in the living room, and that door comes out of our factory….” Dang paused for few seconds and said, “Wish you were on the phone with him.”

“I won’t understand Vietnamese, but I can guarantee our quality White Oak will ensure your sleep during the night,” Gutchess Lumber salesman Aman Huang replied.

Then, Dang asked, “Where is the region you harvest your White Oak logs? And what’s the color like?”

I told him, “Mostly in New York and Pennsylvania, and all in wheat color…. I mean very consistent color.”

“What’s the MC%?”

“Around 8-10%, but I recommend you set aside the stocks for 2 weeks after you receive the lumber. Lumber needs some time to adapt to local relative humidity.”

Gutchess Lumber reaches Northern Vietnam

After several more conservations, the deal was made. It is the first load Gutchess Lumber ever sold to Northern Vietnam, and it is the first load of lumber Mr. Dang Nguyen bought directly from the U.S. 2-months after Dang received his hardwood from Gutchess Lumber, Dang and I met at a wood convention in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. His words to me solidified my promise that he would no longer receive calls late into the night.

Dang simply said, “Now my masterpiece found the final piece, the quality hardwood from Gutchess lumber.”

Gutchess Lumber Premium Hardwood

I started with Gutchess Lumber as an intern. At the time, I was pursuing a master’s degree in Wood Science at SUNY ESF, while also taking supply chain management classes at Syracuse University. When I first started in 2015, I was in the log yard and did not foresee myself working in the lumber industry in the beginning. After more exposure to the mill production, studies of product yields, learning NHLA grades and stack lumber, plus free business trips to China as an interpreter for Gutchess Lumber President and Vice President, Matthew Gutchess and Brian Conklin, my interest was secured. Not only did it align with my education in wood and lumber techniques, but whole industry supply chain management as well.

Upon graduation from college, I was offered a position in the sales department and where I have been through the last 5 years. I am the Asia sales representative, which has continued those free business trips 4 times a year (pre-Covid). Whether I am abroad in Asia or at the Gutchess Lumber Cortland Headquarters, I can assure my customers that the premium quality lumber we provide will guarantee a peaceful nights sleep.

Becoming the Vice President of Natural Resources

The following was written by Vice President of Natural Resources John Zemanick. Natural Resources oversees the Forestry and Procurement Departments for Gutchess Lumber Co., Inc.

Our job in this department is to manage our nearly 30,000 acres of company owned timberlands, purchase standing timber and logs to maintain woodyard inventory levels that are needed to provide full production in the mill. This is a very rewarding but often stressful career path and department. We have to work with outside forces such as what mother nature throws us, such as rain, snow, ice, drought, as well as hunting season, harvesting and trucking contractors and once in a while an irate mill manager over species mix (they love to run Hickory), too many or not enough logs and of course Larry Lines !

John Z's forest homeMany people have asked how I ventured into this profession – I actually started out in electrical engineering, but quickly determined that was not the field I wanted for the rest of my working days. My love for the forest and outdoors started at a very young age. My father and mother would take our whole family out to a property in a remote area of Chenango County, NY. When he was just a young man, my father purchased these 60 acres, which were surrounded by state land. We referred to this place as the “farm house” because it was originally a home and farm stead that was built prior to the great depression on a seasonal road with no electricity or running water (still to this day). We used to have to pump water from a hand dug well and use oil lanterns for light at night. This was the place we would go each fall to hunt with a group of my fathers close friends, “the gang”, and we grew up eating venison/grouse and rabbit that we harvested from this property.

As I got older my group of friends would go out to the farm. We enjoyed the comradery, hunting and serenity of the forest. I decided to follow my brothers path to The Ranger School in Wanakena, the heart of the Adirondacks. As part of SUNY ESF, I attended the 1+1 program to earn an Associates and then went on to ESF Syracuse to finish my BS in Forest Resource Management. After graduation, I moved to North Carolina to start my forestry career with Georgia Pacific a leader in building products. My heart was always set on returning to New York, so I waited for a job to open at a GP run hardwood sawmill on the border of New York and Pennsylvania. I was eventually lucky enough to find my way to Gutchess Lumber in 2004, where I learned from some great, seasoned foresters how to cruise, evaluate and buy quality Northern hardwoods.

For those that have not found the right career path, there is still time to figure it out, to make changes if necessary and to work in a field that you truly enjoy and want to be doing. To this day my brother and I still own the property that had been in our family for over 60 acres and I have bought some adjoining land to add on to this sanctuary. I walk through my woodlots summer and winter and plan on TSI (timber stand improvement cuts), future sustainable timber harvests and building a small cabin so that my boys will be able to grow up and have a place that they hopefully find the same relaxation and peace in.

Words from the Woods: Environmental Benefits of Active Forest Management

Gutchess Lumber Co., Inc.’s “Words from the Woods” series consists of a monthly article written by our fifth-generation President and Chairman Matthew Gutchess. This is the second article in the series, written May 6, 2021.

While I grew up in the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk area of eastern New York State, my family would make a three-hour drive to visit my dad’s parents in Cortland from time to time, generally two or three times per year. I have only vague recollections of my grandparents’ original home ten minutes away on Circle Drive, but well remember their house (and swimming pool, and ping-pong table, and winter sledding hill!) on Deerfield Heights/Surrey Ave when it was more or less brand new, built in 1976 by the Streeter family.

The 35-acre woodlot, as it existed at that time, was quite different from today’s. Near the top of that hill alongside a hayfield, my grandfather Homer had planted a great number of Norway spruces—most of which thrive and tower tall today—possibly to help manage some generally wet ground just above the house. At the top of the hayfield near the east corner of the long northern border of the property he had also planted a line of blue spruce; I recall thinking of them as the perfect height for slightly off-color Christmas trees. (In later years as they grew larger these trees failed and were removed, testament to the risks of planting versus natural regeneration. However, a line of twenty-nine beautiful red oaks planted just behind the spruce survived and are already nearing maturity in terms of height, if not in volume.)

I usually describe Deerfield’s main woods as split neatly into “upper” and “lower” sections which are divided by a short skid trail with an attractive small and hidden clearing occasionally used as a campsite. Summer evenings after dinner, Homer would sometimes take us along the fence line running all around the outside of both segments of woods in his pickup truck, driving slowly, looking for deer or other animals, or just studying the landscape. (Much of this “road” or skid trail survives today, especially in its upper half. It’s a perfect weekend morning walk with my dog.)

I’m not completely certain, but believe from the general “pit and mound” topography that the upper section of these woods has never been cleared for farming. This is certainly NOT true of the lower section, which except along its western fence contains no obvious older growth trees. Indeed, I vividly remember a very large chunk of this south-facing acreage as a sunny patchwork of blackberry bushes interconnected by many winding and interesting trails, which diverged from a common point between two large rocks near the gate at the entrance to the driveway. Much less clear in my memory were the four distinct tree species which Homer—and possibly others alongside or just before him—had planted near or among these bushes: more regimented Norway spruce along with red oak, poplar, and black walnut.

When I walked through this “lower” area in June of 2017 following an absence of nearly thirty years, the blackberries and their bright, cheerful trails which I was half-expecting to find were gone as though they had never existed. Instead, a canopied riot of white ash and black cherry—good native pioneer hardwoods—some scattered sugar maples, and dense patches of scaly black locust mixed with the four taller planted species mentioned above, along with—more ominously—various invasives including grape vine, swallow-wort, garlic mustard, and tenacious thickets of honeysuckle.

Homer died in 2006 at the end of a very successful life and career. Walking through these woods today occasionally feels like journeying back through his mind. Why did he plant the trees he did in the locations he chose throughout the woodlot, instead of allowing the lot to naturally regenerate? What was he hoping to accomplish, and what would he think of the startling transformations which have taken place since his initial interest and early work in this property?

Matt

Introducing Forest 2 Home

Gutchess Lumber Co., Inc. is proud to introduce Forest 2 Home. While Gutchess provides lumber worldwide, Forest 2 Home was created to support individual woodworkers and crafters across North America. Our goal is to make our Northern hardwoods accessible and affordable to all, while adhering to our strict quality standards.

There has been growing demand for quality and sustainable lumber, which is why Forest 2 Home is pleased initially offer four species including Walnut, Cherry, Hard Maple, and Red Oak in a variety of widths and lengths.

“As many of Gutchess Lumber’s multi-generation employee owners and extended family members are woodworkers themselves, the solution to their experienced pain points became obvious: offer them the best product in this market. We take pride in carefully managing our renewable Northern hardwood species, carbon sequestering, and forest regeneration to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change. Forest 2 Home brings environmental benefits of responsible forestry directly home to woodworkers, which makes our lives more beautiful and enjoyable,” Matthew Gutchess said.

Learn more at forest2home.com.

More than Just the Best Northern Hardwoods

At Gutchess Lumber, we pride ourselves on producing the best Northern hardwoods on the market. We’re fifth generation led, we’re employee owned, and we’re so much more than just the best Northern hardwoods producer. Take a minute to learn about who we are and some of the things we do:

 

We support local communities

We started as a sawmill on a small farm in upstate New York in 1904 and we appreciate the impact of local communities. We gladly support and share in the growth of the local communities that we operate within across all seven of our locations in New York and Pennsylvania.

 

We support sustainability

Did you know we own over 30,000 acres of our own forestland? Our team of professionally trained foresters ensure each forest that we work with is responsibly managed and harvested on 15 and 30 year cycles. This promotes forest regeneration and carbon sequestration, which provides environmental, social, and economic benefits (we have the FSC certification to prove it).

 

We support education

As one example of our commitment to education, the Gutchess family created an endowed scholarship at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry to assist students in their higher education and learning journeys. Gutchess is also proud to offer some of the best internships

 

We support our employee owners

Gutchess Lumber is an ESOP company, which makes our employees our owners. Each employee owner has a unique opportunity to learn and grow to their full potential. Vice President Brian Conklin started at Gutchess Lumber in stackdown, Director of Financial Planning and Analysis Patrick Viscome started as a financial analyst intern, and Director of IT Justin St. John started as an information technology associate.

John Z Build

My passion for the forest and timberland also extends to the lumber side. I am currently working on a White Oak table made from Gutchess produced lumber. Other than some screws, glue and wood dowels the table and bench will be solid White Oak. I have attached some photos of the table and bench (work in progress) and the first coat of Danish Oil on them. Working with wood makes the long days and stressful rainy weeks that might come with the buying of that timber or logs that went into this table all worthwhile…