What used to be a timber yard is now home to future wood products

Grand birch log pile harvested from Suonpää's old sawmill area.

Grand birch log pile harvested from Suonpää's old sawmill area.

Located in Southern Finland, Matku is a small but vibrant village of around 600 inhabitants. When nearing the grounds of the village's old sawmill, there is a sense of stillness, and it soon becomes apparent that many of the sawmill's buildings have already been torn down.

Old railways  can still be seen at the old timber yard.

Old railways can still be seen at the old timber yard.

There used to be another sawmill some 20 kilometres from the village. This sawmill, Suonpää, is also deserted. You can still see the concrete foundations of the old steam-operated sawmill and its engine house, now overgrown with trees. The timber yard of the Suonpää sawmill used to have its own narrow-gauge railway line for transporting wood. Today, the straight lanes left over from the old railway line provide forest harvesters with easy access to what has become logging grounds. 

Four decades of hard work 

The Matku sawmill was originally founded in 1933 by Matti Lehtinen, a school teacher from Forssa. In 1936, it became the property of Koskisen Oy, and remained so until 1977, for a total of four decades. In the 1930s, the company founded the nearby Suonpää sawmill to increase its overall production capacity. 

The bustling sawmill remained in operation even during WWII, albeit at a reduced capacity due to the poor availability of workers. In both Matku and Suonpää, production was at its peak from the late 1940s to the late 1950s, which was a period of extensive reconstruction and new development in Finland. 

Both the Matku and Suonpää sawmill border large expanses of forest. The operations of the two sawmills were extensive: more than a hundred horses were used to supply the mills with logs from the nearby forests. In summer, logs were kept immersed in shallow ponds and lakes dotting the local landscape. The logs were pulled from the water and taken to the mills for further processing at a very brisk pace. The sawmills operated in two shifts. At peak times, each shift had approximately 50 people working on various tasks. Koskisen Oy continued to develop and modernise the Matku sawmill throughout the four decades of the mill’s operation. It was important to stay in the forefront of technology.

Forest owner Kimmo Vehmas at ruins of the old sawmill.

Forest owner Kimmo Vehmas at ruins of the old sawmill.

The sawmill closes its gates 

Sawing operations at the steam-powered Suonpää sawmill were discontinued already at the turn of the 1950s and 1960s, allowing Koskisen to concentrate on the Matku sawmill. It took until the latter part of the 1960s before Koskisen finally dismantled the mill’s steam engine and sawing equipment. At the turn of 1970s, the period of extensive reconstruction was coming to a close, which meant that production at the Matku sawmill also began to wane. In September 1977, sawing operations were permanently discontinued, and the mill was gradually abandoned. Over the years, the buildings in the old sawmill's grounds became run down. After a while, it was no longer feasible to renovate the buildings and convert them into homes for local residents. 

In 2012, Koskisen was granted permission to tear down the Matku sawmill main office, which had stood on the site for nearly 80 years, and the mill's slightly more recent ancillary buildings. Koskisen also tore down the ruins of the sawmill's old spool factory along with its dilapidated smokestack. 

Things come full circle 

In the course of the years, nature reclaimed the grounds of the old Suonpää sawmill, which is now covered by trees. The timber yard, which used to hold stacks of drying timer, is now home to a spontaneously grown stand of high-quality silver birch. 

These days, the old timber yard is owned by Kimmo Vehmas, who has been taking care of the birch stand ever since he took over his family’s farm 20 years ago. According to Vehmas, the stand of birches grew spontaneously in the old timber yard. Originally, the stand was used simply for firewood, but over the years it became apparent that if cared for correctly, the stand could yield high-quality logs that could be sold for profit. Throughout the years, both Vehmas senior and junior have thinned the stand when necessary and otherwise kept it in good condition. 

Some time ago, things came full circle when Vehmas sold the trees to Koskitukki. The birches have been harvested, and the logs will be processed into plywood in Järvelä. According to Vehmas, he decided to sell the trees specifically to Koskitukki, because he knows that the company is better at harvesting birches than the competition. 

Now that the stand has been logged, Vehmas can start utilising the spruces growing on the site, something he says he is very happy about. A number of birches were left to act as shelterwood for spruce saplings, which, when supplemented with planted 3-year saplings next spring, have the makings of a good spruce stand. This means the Suonpää sawmill will continue to supply wood far into the future.