Natural beauty: ‘Live edge’ wood takes center stage at Hadley Mill Works

Nick Simmons, owner of Hadley Mill Works, at his business, where he sells live edge wood to professional and amateur carpenters, as well as artists. “They all come to me because they want to build stuff,” Simmons said. “The beauty is the natural wood.”

Nick Simmons, owner of Hadley Mill Works, at his business, where he sells live edge wood to professional and amateur carpenters, as well as artists. “They all come to me because they want to build stuff,” Simmons said. “The beauty is the natural wood.” STAFF PHOTOCAROL LOLLIS

Nick Simmons, owner of Hadley Mill Works, at his business where he sells  live edge pieces of wood to professional and amateur carpenters, as well as artists. “They all come to me because they want to build stuff,” Simmons said. “The beauty is the natural wood.”

Nick Simmons, owner of Hadley Mill Works, at his business where he sells live edge pieces of wood to professional and amateur carpenters, as well as artists. “They all come to me because they want to build stuff,” Simmons said. “The beauty is the natural wood.” STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

A piece of spalted maple, which refers to the dark contrasting lines in the wood, that is being sold by Nick Simmons at his business called Hadley Mill Works.

A piece of spalted maple, which refers to the dark contrasting lines in the wood, that is being sold by Nick Simmons at his business called Hadley Mill Works. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Nick Simmons, owner of Hadley Mill Works, sells  live edge pieces of wood to professional and amateur carpenters, as well as artists.

Nick Simmons, owner of Hadley Mill Works, sells live edge pieces of wood to professional and amateur carpenters, as well as artists. STAFF PHOTOS/CAROL LOLLIS

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 12-09-2023 1:11 PM

HADLEY — Large slabs of wood from a variety of local tree species, with the edges left rough on each piece, are stacked on the concrete floors and line the walls of a Hadley showroom, likely to soon be fashioned into dining room tables, bar tops, fireplace mantles and coffee tables, or possibly charcuterie boards, clocks and wine racks.

Those who make appointments to drop by Hadley Mill Works’ building at 43 East St. are finding a resource that allows both professional and amateur carpenters, as well as artists, to find live edge wood for their projects.

“The vibe when people come here, the positive energy they bring, is addictive,” says Nick Simmons, a Hadley resident who runs the business. “Their eyes grow big.”

With a low barrier to entry into using the wood products, with some just buying a slab, sanding it and putting legs on it, and others doing significantly more sophisticated and time-consuming projects, Simmons said he gets excited by the potential.

“They all come to me because they want to build stuff,” Simmons said. “The beauty is the natural wood.”

It is the live edge that is unlike other wood from a conventional lumberyard.

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“Live edge has to do with the natural contours of the wood on the outside of the piece,” Simmons said. “Making stuff from live edge is an art form.”

While Simmons has been preparing live edge slabs for seven years, his launch of Hadley Mill Works is a new enterprise. Simmons has been a schoolteacher for 23 years who is on an unpaid sabbatical from his job at Hopkins Academy, where he has taught economics, personal finance, business law and computer science. The last two years he tried to do both teaching and his business, but found that too time-consuming.

“My heart is with wood,” Simmons said, adding that when he returns to teaching he will have real-world experience to integrate into lessons. “It’s a nice break from being in front of the computer.”

Self-taught using YouTube videos, Simmons started doing chainsaw milling, quickly appreciating the way the pieces of wood looked once they had been cut, with the interesting grains, knots and imperfections making each slab unique.

“I started to fall in love with the process,” Simmons said. “It’s beautiful when you first cut through.”

His source for wood is tree service companies and local tree wardens who are trying dispose of downed trees that have to be removed. He will often take a whole load and, as relationships have grown, can do custom orders for his customers.

Simmons sees it as upcycling wood that otherwise would be turned into processing material and woodchips. The sizes of the lumber he gets range from 100 pounds to 10,000 pounds, and he can mill pieces as large as 4 feet wide to 16 feet long

Now all of the cutting is done with a giant long bandsaw set up at a Lawrence Plain Road property. Simmons pushes the pieces of wood through to create the slabs.

He has also built two solar kilns, including one next to the store, where he can speed up the conventional air drying, which requires about one year of drying for every one inch of thickness to achieve 10% equilibrium moisture content. The kilns can quicken that.

“The solar kiln zaps it,” Simmons said.

Currently Simmons has about 500 pieces available in the showroom, stacked and stickered for sale, with the longer pieces being weighed down with concrete blocks so they don’t begin to cup. Mostly he sells hard woods, with 10 or so different local trees available, including black walnut, butternut, sugar maple, silver maple, ash, hickory, white oak and catalpa.

With low overhead, he argues he can keep his prices significantly lower than others. A large maple piece, 9½ feet by 36 inches, sells for $250, as much as one-quarter the price elsewhere.

Another 1,500 pieces are in the drying process.

While Simmons is the face of Hadley Mill Works, doing marketing, sales and milling, he said it is a family-run business, as he has received full support from his wife Evelin, his 2½-year-old child Frankie, and his father-in-law, Leon Szymborn. Neighbors have also been receptive, observing that he provides sawdust to one farmer as bedding for chickens.

The showroom is open by appointment only, but allows Simmons to move beyond events sale a few times a year and to talk to customers about the wood they like.

“The store model allows me to help people outside of those sales,” Simmons said.

Even after wood is sold, Simmons likes to see what use it becomes, often getting photographs showing how the live edge wood has been used in an Easthampton restaurant and as a sliding barn door in a home.

“People love sharing what they’ve made,” Simmons said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.