Field trip to a Sawmill

We recently sourced some locally rough sawn hardwood floors for our new building, and our curiosity lead us on a field trip to the mill where our floors were made, Thompson Native Lumber in Hopkinton, Rhode Island. 

From the complicated and rhythmic machines that slice and splinter massive logs of hardwood to the confident and precise people that operate the mill, we witnessed the process of  a tree turning into utilitarian products. 

So much saw dust forms and deposits outside the mill that the building appears to be up against a sand dune. This byproduct get collected by horse owners for the floors of their stalls.


While irregularity in a tree log is not favorable for creating any architectural product these left over slices of tree are sought after by some furniture makers that visit the mill for this purpose

The texture of a rough sawn piece of lumber is exactly as it sounds, rough and expressive of the industrial process it went through

Our guide and mill owner -Jim, took all the time to explain to us the work they do and answer our questions. Clearly he is proud of this family run, decades old, local operation. They source their lumber from within a 100 mile radius.  


Watching the fierce looking machines at work is both intimidating and mesmerizing; their large, flashing blades move through a hardwood as if it is a block of butter. The machines are loud, it seems the air is filled with tiny particles of wood, and that blades and conveyor belts are everywhere. The people that work every day at a sawmill must have a very good awareness of their space. 

The first step in the mill, once the milling lumber is selected, is the removal of the bark. The tree is quickly turned and tumbled in one spot while a giant "loofa" looking thing scratches and debarks the outer surface of the piece of tree. Here is what it looks like on it's way to "the blade": 

Perhaps the largest and most impressive "monster" at Thompson Lumber is this giant round blade, connected to a small control center, slices the whole piece of trunk into rectilinear forms. 

The misfits and mis-cuts at the mill end up here, at the mulch place. The mis-measured scraps or irregular chunks of wood get digested by this giant food processor on wheels and made into various mulches for landscaping and playgrounds.

To bring the field trip to a fine close the team headed to the coast for some chowder, clam cakes, and beautiful ocean.