Parma Post and Pole and its furniture company, Red Mill Furniture, give lodges and homes across the country a piece of the rustic Northwest with every bed frame, bookcase and kitchen table that’s shipped out of the small Canyon County town.
For many of its 30-plus year history, Parma Post and Pole was primarily focused on using the wood to create fences, utility poles and other items. The company would sell wood for furniture occasionally prior to 2009, but owners Mike and Kristy Sterling decided to commit to the furniture business by purchasing what was once known as Sportsman’s Lodge Furniture. After changing the name to Red Mill Furniture, the company began to expand the furniture side of the business.
From beer, wine and sugar to signs, farm equipment and tiny homes, Canyon County is host to a wide array of diverse manufacturers. This week, the Idaho Press-Tribune takes a look not only at what gets made in Canyon County, but how it gets made. We give you a step-by-step look at the manufacturing processes of a number of locally made products, all leading up to this Saturday’s publication of our annual Cavalcade magazine.
Today, we take a look at Parma Post and Pole’s rustic furniture manufacturing operation.
Parma Post and Pole production manager Kenny Pennington said the post and pole production is still by far the biggest aspect of the company, but Red Mill Furniture continues to grow.
The company ships out a load of furniture every two weeks to different furniture outlets and individuals across the country and even to Hawaii.
The handmade furniture all starts with the trees of the Northwest.
Pennington said about 100 tons of wood are brought in by the truckload each day. They started life mostly in the Stanley area, but also in Oregon and other forests of the region.
The harvesting of the wood is basically the only part of the process from forest to furniture that Parma Post and Pole isn’t responsible for. Pennington said that the initial stage is contracted out.
THE POST & POLE PROCESS
Four truckloads of the lumber are brought in each day and then loaded onto a 22-bay automated sorting system where an employee will cut the logs different lengths depending on how the wood will be used. The logs move along a conveyor belt where a large machine automatically sorts the products based on their size.
For the post and pole products, the piles of logs are then picked up by a large tractor and taken to the peeling building, where the mechanized peeler strips the wood of its bark. The wood is then treated in the on-site treatment facility, which is called Idaho Wood Preserving, where the wood is pressure treated with NatureWood. The treatment helps to protect the wood from the normal wear and tear of long-term exposure. Parma Post and Pole's treatment facility is the only one of its kind in southwest Idaho.
From there, the non-furniture products are loaded up and shipped out. “Peel it, treat it, ship it,” Pennington said of the process.
THE FURNITURE MAKING PROCESS
But for the furniture, there's much more time and energy spent to ensure the products are up to the standards Red Mill Furniture has set for itself.
After the wood goes through the automated sorting machine, the team responsible for making the furniture hand-picks the logs they need for any given product, which are essentially all custom made based on the buyer’s needs.
From there, the wood takes time to dry. Pennington said the drying process is the key. If the wood isn't given the right amount of time to dry, it can affect the quality of the product. Wood is stored just outside the furniture production plant in the main office, and some pieces might sit around for months as they dry. The drying process is sped up, however, by the heat treatment process similar to the one done on the post and pole products before they are shipped out. Pennington said the process dries the wood along with killing any bugs that might have been burrowed away inside.
Once the wood is dry, the craftsmanship begins. One of the workers will select the right piece of wood for the job to create a product that falls within one of the company's three main collections — the Cabin, Cascade and Aspen collections. Depending on the collection, the wood will get debarked to some extent. A finished product in the Cascade Collection will still contain some of the bark while the Cabin Collection contains no bark. With the furniture, the logs can't be simply put into a machine for debarking like the post and poles. Every step of the way is done by hand. A draw shave knife is used to carefully shave away the bark.
Debarked and sanded wood is next cut to specifications for the product, whether it be a dresser, saddle rack or even a dog bed. The wood is assembled to create the product and then kept in place with fast-drying glue and nails.
With the raw cut of the finished product complete, the products are then coated three times with a water-based polyurethane to give the various items a smooth finish. The finish brings out the colors and details in the wood.
Once the product is dry, it's stored in the warehouse until it's time for the twice monthly shipments. Most of the products go out to various furniture stores across the region and country. Some items even go off to Hawaii. There are other finished products that are made for individuals, but every single piece of furniture is unique and custom-made. There are some of Red Mill's finished products such as a loft bed and an entertainment center among dozens more on display at Parma Post and Pole's 20,000-square-foot office. Walk-in customers can even make a purchase at what Pennington said is nearly half price of what an item would cost at one of the furniture retailers that buy the products from Red Mill.