- Brightman Lumber, and its land clearing business, is a true family affair
- There are only four or five sawmills within a 50 mile radius
- It was recently honored as the Massachusetts Wood Manufacturer of the Year
ASSONET – The face laser above the large blades at the Brightman Lumber sawmill is covered in sawdust before Ed Brightman Jr.’s day’s work. be very old. He doesn’t bother to clean it.
A handy tool for many people working the cart on a sawmill, the face laser would only slow Brightman, 44, as he begins the process of turning a round log into a rectangle of wood to be cut into planks.
No knock on technology, he says; it’s just that he’s been manning the sawmill for so long—25 years—at the family sawmill, it’s quicker for him to determine the work by eye.
After beating his log—stripped by a stripper before tossing it onto the cart—Brightman works the controls of his sawmill to position the wood for the cut job. At the time of 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 clearing land for Connecticut and Rhode Island sawmills, where their typical work week consisted of picking up their trailer, two logging trucks, and two skid steers (to haul fallen and cut logs) on Monday to a job site, return home on Wednesday, and then make a second, one-return, similar trip on Thursday at home on Friday evening or Saturday.
“My father a dream one night,” says Ed Sr. “He said let’s have our saw.”
Easier said than done? Sure. But John Brightman Jr. and wife Nancy knew how to get things done. They located the current business land on South Main Street and purchased it.
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Clearing the area, John put together a saw, piece by piece. Brightman Lumber Co. was born.
For the first three years or so the sawmill/lumber yard was very old school. Sawmill workers would have to lift and place the logs on the cart. Business boomed. And they were modernized.
The Brightmans originally sold not only rough green (raw) lumber, but also finished lumber for home building. They had 25 employees and worked two 8-hour shifts.
Changes in the business model
Their finished lumber production ceased around the turn of the century. The culprit, the Brightmans say, was the high cost of diesel fuel needed to run the finishing machines. They shrank. It is now essentially a three-employee sawmill operation producing only rough green lumber. The businesses are strictly retail. Much of their timber is used for fences and sheds. Anyone can come in and buy a board. Or 10. Or a hundred. The Brightmans welcome everyone.
Johnny Brightman was an exceptional sawyer, his brother, Ed. Sr., remembers. Johnny died of a heart attack during childbirth in Maine in 2013. Business founder John Brightman Jr. died in August 2021, aged 83. Ed Jr. there are pictures of both men on his control panel in the windowed saw booth, a few feet from the blades. Nancy Brightman remains the owner of Brightman Lumber. Her daughter Patti, 57, runs the business office. Ed Sr., 65, is the land clearing czar while Ed Jr. is responsible for the saw.
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Ed Jr. said there are about four or five sawmills within a 40- to 50-mile radius of BrightmanLumber Co. “As the price of wood went up, they (couldn’t) produce it fast enough. That’s what happened to us at the bottom of the mill. … The problem was we ran out of generators and the price of fuel went up so much, we couldn’t produce enough product quickly.”
What a day in the life of a sawyer looks like
Ed Jr. said sawmilling is a challenging business, but not one 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 matter. He said he basically started working for his father when he was 9 years old.
“It’s the only thing I know,” Ed Jr. says. “To me, it’s not a job. It’s more of a lifestyle. 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 how this business is , when you run it. There’s always something to hold on to, always something that needs work. It’s like having a child that never matures. That’s the truth.”
The main blade, the bottom blade (48 inches in diameter), sharpens the 50 teeth and sharpens them twice a day.
In addition to diesel fuel running at $5 per gallon, other operating expenses for the machines are obvious. For some of Brightman Lumber’s hard-working machines, an oil change (every 350 hours; it used to be 250 hours) can cost upwards of $1,000. A 2 inch by 4 inch oil filter for cars costs $200. And the price of oil in the last three or four years has gone from $550 to $900 to fill their 50 gallon tank.
The large saw blades are about 40 years old. They’re not, Ed Jr. explains, something you replace every year, every six months or even every decade, if you can avoid it. There are few people, he said, who can return a great blade to working order when the steel loses its temper, its hardness. The Brightmans know how to get the magic hammer boys. A new 48-inch blade, Ed Jr. estimates, would cost about $3,500.
Honored as Massachusetts Lumber Manufacturer of the Year
Brightman Lumber produces about 20,000 to 25,000 board feet of lumber per week and 1 to 1.5 million board feet annually. The world’s mega saws, says Ed Jr., make a million feet a week. But the little boy can be recognized. Ed Brightman Sr. was recently honored as the Massachusetts Lumber Producer of the Year by the Massachusetts Forestry Alliance in Marlborough.
Brightman Lumber, Ed Jr. explained, is very efficient with its lumber, 95 percent eastern white pine. Nothing, he says, goes to waste.
The stripped bark becomes bark mulch. Cut wood that is not useful for even the smallest planks is cut into chips, popular for animal bedding.
Ed Jr. said it is finally seeing a modest slowdown in business after two more years of extremely busy sales during the height of the COVID pandemic.
“There were no (material) stacks here,” he says, pointing to the lumber yard. “You couldn’t keep a board in the warehouse. 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 crew at Brightman Lumber is working twice as hard to keep the business thriving. He knows that other people feel the same way. Like Ed Jr., he doesn’t complain.
“We go in. We laugh. We joke about things,” he says. “We just keep going.”
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