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Growth Manufacturers Case Study

Lashway Lumber Finds a New Groove

By Mike Wilson, Project Manager, and Kathie Mahoney, Marketing and Administration Director, MassMEP

"I would recommend MassMEP. It was an amazing experience for myself as for my business. I’ve learned so much personally. The people were amazing; just a great, great opportunity. I would recommend them to anybody that has any interest in thinking forward about their business." – Larry Lashway, VP and Operations Manager, Lashway Lumber

Lashway Lumber in Williamsburg, MA, has been innovating and growing – ‘thinking outside the box,’ as Larry Lashway, VP and Operations Manager, and son of the third generation owner, is often heard saying.

The company leverages a cautious willingness to invest, an innovative attitude toward locally grown species, a creative use of vacuum drying technology, and a knowledge of specialty wood markets. They’re also creative in their use of vacuum drying technology, having applied it to a wide variety of woods from around the world for a distinguished clientele, including C.F. Martin Guitar.

Lashway Lumber recently worked with MassMEP to complete a TDMI (Technology Driven Market Assessment) to assess their interest in investing in a vacuum kiln to make thermally modified wood (TMW). TMW takes advantage of underutilized Massachusetts wood species to create value added products that replace imported exotic wood, such as Ipe from South America. This investment would also allow the company to expand their product line into the growing outdoor kitchen/entertainment market.

Lashway, MassMEP, and RTI International worked together on the TDMI market assessment. The TDMI gathers the real-world market intelligence that considers specifically the benefits and market impacts related to a specific technology-based asset’s (product, process, etc.) value proposition. For Lashway, the assessment showed great expansion opportunities for the TMW product line.

TMW has great potential. It takes underutilized species and trees that have been damaged by insects and disease throughout North America – from private lands, the National Forest System, other federal and state public lands, as well as from our urban forests – and turns those species into high value products. With the increased incidence of natural disasters such as forest fire, hurricanes, tornadoes, insects, and pests, it is vitally important to create and expand markets for wood generated on both public and private lands by these disasters.  

Creating another TMW product line would improve forest management opportunities, reduce forest management costs, and create jobs in both the forest products harvesting and processing sectors. Creating and retaining jobs in the forest products sector has the added benefit of keeping "forests as forests," as opposed to converting those lands to non-forest uses in the private lands sector. By using these trees for long lived products, it also creates opportunities for long-term carbon storage.

Thermally Modified Wood (TMW) has great potential to serve markets such as decking and other outdoor wood applications, siding, flooring, window and door parts, etc. which are currently being served by tropical hardwoods, wood-plastic composites, and pressure treated lumber. These represent new markets as well as market expansion opportunities for Lashway Lumber.

"Using sustainably grown, readily recyclable North American species – which have low transportation requirements and are environmentally preferred – will result in significant environmental and societal benefits," said Lashway.

There are other positive attributes of thermally modified wood. The thermal modification process:

  • Reduces the equilibrium moisture content and shrinkage factor significantly, making the wood more dimensionally stable.

  • Increases the stiffness of the wood, slightly reducing its bending strength.

  • Makes the wood more decay resistant.

  • Darkens and creates consistent coloration throughout the wood, making it similar in appearance to a tropical hardwood like Teak or Ipe. This has been shown to be a positive attribute in the marketplace.

  • Reduces thermal conductivity, making the insulation value of the wood higher (important in window and door markets).

The TDMI analysis showed the following marketing outcomes:

  • Confirmed the market size, growth, pricing, and especially the "specialty" markets that suited the Lashway approach. It also provided important pricing information to support decision making for the product moving forward.

  • MassMEP connected Lashway to Menck Windows, U.S.A, a Massachusetts based partner with a European window manufacturer’s new U.S. startup in Chicopee, an ideal match for a local supplier.

  • Understanding of the competition in TMW, regionally and nationally, will allow Lashway Lumber to properly market TMW. The analysis included an in depth "SWOT" (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis.

  • The kiln will be the first one built with almost all components made in the U.S.; prior kilns came from an Italian company.

  • Current kilns use a biomass chip boiler, which is extremely efficient and utilizes wood chips generated at their sawmills. The new high temperature kiln will also tie into the biomass boiler but include an additional heat source to reach the higher temperatures required. The energy will come from their own wood chips, thus significantly reducing the need for fossil based fuels.

For Lashway Lumber, the TMW product line would create many benefits:

  • Addition of 4-6 new jobs, a 10% increase over the current employment.

  • Anticipated new sales of $1.5 – 2.5 million over time a three year period.

  • Total investment in excess of $ 1 Million over a period of three years.

  • Increased capacity to 500,000 board feet of lumber.

  • Ecological impact of local species over South American imports. Focus on species from the northeast including Ash, Maple, and Red Pine. These species are under attack by Emerald Ash Borer, Asian Longhorned Beetle, and Red Pine Scale, as well as other pests.

According to Lashway, "Going through the TDMI process with MassMEP and RTI allowed us to further innovate our product line and ensure our growth in the future."

About Lashway Lumber
Founded in 1954, Lashway is now managed by its fourth generation of family entrepreneurs.  This depth of experience and commitment manifests in every aspect of the business. Lashway Lumber is able to do everything from start to finish on their own property. They are trying to help usher in a renaissance of American manufacturing. What started out as a classic sawmill has flourished into a diverse wood products business still rooted in custom sawmill work, but also includes a wide range of logging services and custom kiln drying. The standards of customer service have never wavered; they’ve only deepened with time.
In 2005 Lashway Lumber expanded its business through a  sister company, Ponders Hollow (Westfield, MA) which specializes in moulding and flooring, continuing and extending the family’s dedication to wood-related products. Between Lashway Lumber and Ponders Hollow, their family of wood specialists provides their customer with a "soup to nuts" solution for all their lumber needs, from cutting down timber stands to selling refined finishing wood grades and everything in between.