- Brightman Lumber, and its land clearing business, is a true family affair
- There are only four or five sawmills within a 50-mile radius
- Recently honored as Massachusetts Wood Producer of the Year
ASSONET — The site laser above the big blades at Brightman Lumber sawmill getscovered by sawdust before Ed Brightman Jr.’s workday is too old. He doesn’t bother to clean it.
A helpful tool to many who work the carriage in a sawmill, the site laser would only slow down Brightman, 44, as he begins the process of turning a round log into a wood rectangle for trimming into boards.
No knock on technology, he says; it’s just that he’s been manning the sawyer booth for so long — 25 years — at the family sawmill, it’s faster for him to size up the job by eye.
Once he has squared his log — stripped naked by a debarker before it was dumped on he carriage — Brightman works his sawyer booth controls to set the wood into position for the job slicing. During this writer’s visit, the order was for 1,000 feet of boards, 1 inch by 12 inches.
How Brightman Lumber got its start
The sawmill is one half of the two-armed business that is Brigtman Lumber, 181 South Main St. The other arm is the land-clearing business, run by Ed Brigtman Sr. The sawmill is the older of the two, started by John Brightman Jr. and wife Nancy (Ed Sr.’s parents) in 1978. Previously, the Brightmans, originally from Fall River, had worked land clearing for Connecticut and Rhode Island sawmills, where their typical work week consisted of taking their trailer, two logging trucks and two skidders (to drag the fallen and cut logs) on Monday to a worksite, return home on Wednesday, and then on Thursday make a second similar trip, with a return home Friday night or Saturday.
“My dad a dream one night,“ Ed Sr. says. “He said let’s have our own sawmill.“
Easier said than done? For sure. But John Brightman Jr. and wife Nancy knew how to get things done. They found the current business land on South Main Street, and bought it.
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Scouring the region, John put together a sawmill, piece by piece. Brightman Lumber Co. was born.
For the first three years or so of the sawmill/lumberyard it was very old school. The sawmill employees would have to lift and place the logs onto the carriage. The business thrived. And they modernized.
The Brightmans originally sold not only rough green (unseasoned) lumber but also their own finished lumber for home construction. They had 25 employees and ran two 8-hour shifts.
Changes to the business model
Their finished lumber production ceased around the turn of the century. Theculprit, the Brightmans say, was the high cost of the diesel fuel needed to run the finishing machines. They downsized. Now it’s essentially a three-employee sawmill operation that produces rough green lumber only. Businesses is strictly retail. Most of their lumber is used for fences and sheds. Someone might pop in and buy one board. Or 10. Or a hundred. The Brightmans welcome all.
Johnny Brightman was an extraordinary sawyer, his brother, Ed. Sr., recalls. Johnny died of a heart attack while making a delivery in Maine in 2013. Business founder John Brightman Jr. died in August of 2021, at age 83. Ed Jr. has photos of both men on his control panel in the windowed sawyer booth, a few feet from the blades. Nancy Brightman remains the Brightman Lumber owner. Her daughter Patti, 57, runs the business office. Ed Sr., 65, is the land clearing czar while Ed Jr. is in charge of the sawmill.
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Ed Jr. said there are about four or five sawmills in a 40- to 50-mile radius of BrightmanLumber Co. “There used to be more mom-and-pop, handset mills,“ he said. “As the price of timber went up, they (couldn’t) produce it fast enough. That’s what happened to us on the finish end of the mill. … The problem was we run off generators and the price of fuel went up so high, we couldn’t manufacture the product fast enough.”
What a day in the life of a sawyer looks like
Ed Jr. said sawmilling is a challenging business, but not one that he’s looking to get out of. He often puts in 12-hour days, starting at 4:30 a.m. It’s not just his job; it’s a family affair. He said he essentially started working for his father when he was 9.
“It’s the only thing I know,” Ed Jr. says. “For me, it isn’t work. It’s more of a way of life. It’s almost like a farmer. He wakes up. He takes care of his animals. He milks his cows. It’s the same thing every day. That’s basically what this business is, when you run it. There is always something to be maintained, always something that needs work done. It’s like having a child that never matures. That’s the truth.“
The main blade, the lower blade (48 inches in diameter), gets its 50 teeth sharpened sharpened twice a day.
In addition to diesel fuel running at $5 per gallon, other operating expenses for the machinery are notable. For some of Brightman Lumber’s hard-working machines, an oil change (done every 350 hours; it used to be 250 hours) can run more than $1,000. An 2-inch-by-4-inch oil filter for the machines costs $200. And the oil price in the last three or four years has jumped from $550 to $900 to fill their 50-gallon drum.
The big saw blades are about 40 years old. They are not, Ed Jr. explains, something you replace annually, semi-annually or even every decade, if you can avoid it. There are handful of people, he said, who can hammer a big blade back into working condition when its steel loses its temper, its rigidity. The Brightmans know how to reach the magic hammer guys. A new 48-inch blade, Ed Jr. estimates, would cost around $3,500.
Honored as Massachusetts Wood Producer of the Year
Brightman Lumber produces about 20,000 to 25,000 feet a lumber per week and 1 to 1.5 million feet per year. The mega sawmills in the world, Ed Jr. says, do a million feet per week. But the little guy can get recognized. Ed Brightman Sr. was recently honored as the Massachusetts Wood Producer of the Year by the Massachusetts Forest Alliance of Marlborough.
Brightman Lumber, Ed Jr. explained, is very efficient with its lumber, 95 percent eastern white pine. Nothing, he says, gets wasted.
The stripped bark becomes bark mulch. The trimmed wood that’s not useful for even the smallest boards is chopped into chips, popular for animal bedding.
Ed Jr. said he’s finally seeing a modest slowdown in business after two-plus years of extraordinarily busy sales during the height of the COVID pandemic.
“There were no piles (of lumber) here,“ he says pointing to the lumber yard. “You couldn’t keep a board in stock. If you had a board with a crack or defect in it, people would buy it because you couldn’t get wood anywhere.”
Ed Sr. says it seems like, at times, the Brightman Lumber crew is working twice as hard to keep business thriving. He knows other folks feel the same way. Like Ed Jr., he’s not complaining.
“We come in. We laugh. We joke about things,” he says. “We just keep going.”