Specialty Wood Products Company carves out niche in North Carolina


Chris added a second kiln (above) from Kiln-Direct in 2020 It has a capacity of 9,000 to 13,000 board feet – the small, deep model from Kiln-Direct.

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WILMINGTON, NC – What connects welded art and submerged logs? Start with a creative mind.

Then follow the connection to Chris Metz, owner of Old Growth Riverwood. Before starting his business 14 years ago, Chris worked as a welder for a company that salvaged submerged logs. His job was to weld an American industrial crane with a grapple to a boat. The facility was used to pick pine logs – and an occasional cypress – from a river.

The logs were debarked to improve their ability to float about 100 years ago, but many of them still sank. Chris learned a lot about lumber and the business while working for the company that closed. With his experience, he started a similar business.

Today, Old Growth Riverwood recovers, recovers and reuses not only river logs, but also pine lumber from old cotton mills and tobacco processing sheds. He transforms wood into high-end moldings, steps and ornaments, as well as coats, tables, bars, chairs and more.

The painstaking work Chris now does with wood is completely personalized. Customers bring him pictures or ideas, and he takes care of them. (Working with wood is quite different from working with metal, but Chris also has a portfolio of welded garden art forms.)

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Old Growth Riverwood has two full-time employees: Chris, who is 55, and his wife, Terrie, 55. To keep pace with orders, Chris employs two to four regular part-time workers.
Chris does not actually collect the wood he collects. It obtains the necessary authorizations and then contracts for the recovery of river logs (“ballasts”) and the demolition of old buildings and structures.

Chris Metz operates his company’s Timber Harvester portable sawmill. Old Growth Riverwood recovers poured logs and lumber from old buildings and transforms them into lumber and specialty products.

Chris contracted to dry down-cut lumber until 2010. That year he invested in his first Kiln-Direct kiln in Burgaw, North Carolina. The front-loading mini wood-fired oven holds 2,500 to 3,000 board feet. This was a prototype model that Kiln-Direct developed to determine if there was a way to service the mini wood-fired oven market. Just like Kiln-

Direct’s other small wood-fired ovens are gas fired and use electricity for controls, ventilation and air flow.

Chris added a second kiln-Direct kiln in 2020 It has a capacity of 9,000 to 13,000 board feet – Kiln-Direct’s small standard model. This model is also available in a wide and / or deep version with a capacity of up to 20,000 board feet of 4/4 wood.

Given that Old Growth Riverwood is located in Wilmington, NC, which sits along the east side of the Cape Fear River and 30 miles from the mouth of the river, it might seem likely that Chris would choose Kiln- Direct. After all, the kiln company’s offices and manufacturing facilities are just 30 miles north of Wilmington.

Yet this is not the story. “I didn’t know they were in Burgaw,” Chris said. “Actually, I live in Burgaw. “

Chris was looking for “efficiency and competence” when he first started considering furnace suppliers. A lot of research led him to Kiln-Direct.

“It was right at the top of my list of everything you were looking for,” said Chris of Kiln-Direct. And that’s how he made his choice.

Chris invested in this first Kiln-Direct oven (above) in 2010 to start his own drying operations. Until then, he has contracted with another company to dry his wood. The above oven is the small standard model from Kiln-Direct.

It was a good decision, explained Chris. “They exceeded my expectations from day one. We obtain a quality and stable product.

Chris was impressed with the interest the Kiln-Direct team has shown in their business. He works regularly with Maury Wilkinson, but Kiln-Direct owner Niels Jorgensen has visited the Old Growth Riverwood facility on several occasions.

“I know he’s the owner, but he was more than happy to come down,” said Chris de Niels. “Their relationship with you is so great. They offer a top quality product.

Old Growth Riverwood’s new larger wood kiln was recently dedicated to drying for a new customer by special arrangement. This customer imports teak wood from Brazil, and Chris’s company is drying the wood.

Teak wood fascinates Chris because of its moisture content. When the wood is removed from shipping containers, it has a moisture content of 16 to 18 percent, which kiln drying will reduce to 8 percent. The wood has already dried out a bit in transit, losing gallons of water that spill out of the containers when opened.

The recovered pine is sawn to a thickness of 8/4 and then air dried for 90 to 120 days; it is put on sticks and topped with a metal cover and dried at 20 to 22 percent humidity. The material is then kiln dried for about 14 days to a final humidity of 8 percent, a point that removes pitch and alleviates the gummy nature of the wood, Chris explained.

Pine with the occasional cypress represents the current predominant blend of woods in Old Growth Riverwood. Most pines come from old structures. Only about 25 percent of the company’s wood products come from logs quarried from the Cape Fear River.

Chris recently dried teak wood (above) imported from Brazil by a customer. Its new Kiln-Direct dryer has been dedicated to drying teak wood.

Old Growth Riverwood leases a one acre site for its operations. Sawing and milling takes place in a 3,800 square foot building.

Chris outfitted his mill one machine at a time with determined effort to get the best he could afford with each step. The sawmill is a Timber Harvester Model 3025 portable band sawmill, which was purchased in 2008 with 300 hours logged as a demonstration. It shares many features with a Cooks Saw portable sawmill, which Chris liked because he had worked with a Cooks Saw mill and liked it very much, but it was beyond its price range.

The production line that Chris relies on are completed with a Diehl straight-line rip saw, a Weinig five-head moulder, a CNC router and an Extrema planer-sander.

Since starting his business, Chris estimates he has cut nearly a million board feet.
Wilmington is North Carolina’s primary seaport. It is part of New Hanover County and has a population of 120,000. With the access it offers to Cape Fear Beach, Wilmington is a popular location for visitors and residents all year round. And the greater Wilmington area is about three times the size.

Old Growth Riverwood benefits from the hustle and bustle of its surrounding community. The company works for contractors, making stair treads for example, and for architects and designers who work for high-end clients, such as banks and other businesses. When customers of corporate clients see the type of wood products Chris has supplied, they often ask for a recommendation. There is also more routine work. Recently, the company has worked for 30 restaurants from start to finish, including tables, bars and floors.

Sustainability is of the utmost importance to Chris. “We see so much in landfills,” he said. “I just don’t want things to be wasted anymore. We can reuse a lot of things in life.

Logs pulled from the Cape Fear River after being underwater for a hundred years or more are as useful today as they would have been when the trees were first harvested. They were preserved by the relatively cool water and low oxygen levels.

There is also little waste from materials collected from tobacco barns and cotton mills. “We’re trying to save everything,” Chris said. “I’m going to stick one-eighth strips.”

Key chains, coasters, cutting boards and more are made from the smallest pieces. A wood stove in the store is fueled by wood waste in the winter.

Chris is from Arlington, Virginia, just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC. The partnership he and Terrie have in their business allows her to do most of the sawing and manufacturing while she takes care of customers, payroll and logistics.

“We definitely like to do everything with spiritual direction,” Chris said. “We want to do things with integrity and God in our hearts. We are very spiritual here.

The alliance with Kiln-Direct goes beyond the use of their products, explained Chris. “They are like an extended family. Niels is such a generous person. He has a passion for his business as I have for mine.

Using Kiln-Direct ovens goes beyond being a customer. “The partnership they are building with you is second to none,” said Chris. “Niels and Maury are very competent, very helpful. If I could have five ovens here, they would be from Kiln-Direct.

Kiln-Direct offers furnaces with a capacity of 9,000 to 20,000 board feet. Heat recovery systems on vents, fuel gas and computerized controls are standard. Available upgrades include a built-in moisture meter and internal wood temperature sensors. The heat source can be configured with hot water or optional steam. The company also offers firewood ovens and ovens for the heat treatment of pallets.

(For more information about Kiln-Direct and its products, visit www.kiln-direct.com, email [email protected], or call (910) 259-9794.)

Chris is very happy with the professional path he has followed. “I like to come here and take this old wood and turn it into a treasure,” he said. “I like to work with my hands. I like to reuse. I am blessed.”

Welding and fabrication is still a part of Chris life as he does his own maintenance and refurbishment at Old Growth Riverwood. The welded art is not currently in the picture, however.

“When I was welding, I did a lot of custom stuff – yard art,” Chris explained. He has since transferred this creativity to wood.

The inventiveness was noticed early on. Two years after launching the business, Old Growth Riverwood received the Best of Business 2009 award from the Small Business Commerce Association.

Chris and Terrie have long enjoyed cruising and following NASCAR. The complexity of the year 2020 forced them to rethink their travels and they spent time at home, more with their grandchildren. The tempo change went well, Chris said.

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