The Sonoran desert is known for cactus and creosote, but thanks to a unique sawmill near Sky Harbor Airport, more and more people are finding the Phoenix area is also home to some of the most beautiful and rare lumber-producing trees in the world.
According to co-owner Rex Condie, Wine Glass Bar Sawmill, “is part of the urban lumber craze”—where sawmills in metropolitan areas are “repurposing” trees used in landscaping and turning them into lumber for mantels, countertops, furniture, plaques and more.
Rex, of the Litchfield Park Ward, Goodyear Stake, says the way the sawmill ended up in Phoenix was sort of a fluke.
“My cousin, LaVor [Smith] wanted to build a barn in Idaho,” Rex says. “He wanted to use beautiful, rustic wood, and you can’t buy that kind from Home Depot.”
LaVor did some research, learned about band sawmills being used by serious hobbyists to mill lumber for furniture and crafts, and asked Rex, long-time owner of a Phoenix welding company called Conrex, (dba Burn a Rod), if he could build such a sawmill.
“He planned to take it to Idaho and cut the wood for his barn there,” Rex explains.
Rex set to work, happy to be involved in something he had become familiar with as a boy in Preston, Idaho.
“When I was growing up, Dad loved to go into the national forest and get trees. They would sell them for 50 cents each when they wanted them thinned out. A good percentage of our barns, mangers and calf pens were from that lumber.”
Rex finished the sawmill, “we put the first tree on it, and it cut perfectly. Without any adjustment, it cut beautiful boards.”
They quickly learned two things: First, the city where LaVor lived would not grant him a permit for a sawmill on his property. Second, there was a demand for a sawmill in Arizona.
“Often trees are downed during the monsoons, or mature trees need to be removed when their roots begin damaging driveways or foundations. Tree removal companies pay a lot in dump fees to haul these trees off. Instead, we could salvage these trees, repurpose them and put them to good use,” Rex says.
Since he and LaVor had both worked on their grandfather’s ranch, “We chose to use his brand, Wine Glass Bar, as the name of our mill. Grandpa used to joke, ‘It’s a wine glass without the wine.’ He never drank, but he was quite proud of his brand.”
Rex says many species of trees in the Phoenix area have been imported from various parts of the world. Sissoo, for example, is a true rose wood from Madagascar, and is “some of the finest wood you can use in furniture.”
Also found in the Valley is the Hawaiian Acacia Koa, African Sumac, Silk Oak and Olive, among others. Mesquite trees, too, have beautiful wood, Rex says.
“Every time we cut in to a tree, it’s like Christmas. It’s exciting to see the beautiful, interesting colors and patterns in the wood.”
Wine Glass Bar Sawmill works with tree removers or individuals who have trees they need removed. “We have equipment to pick the logs up and take them to the mill.” To be millable, a log can be 16” to 3’ in diameter and up to 20’ long.
For the best finished product, “drying the lumber properly, is equally important as the cutting,” Rex adds. “We have a computerized kiln like no one else has in Arizona.”
He says, “It’s been fun creating a business that didn’t exist in Phoenix. People appreciate knowing we can take a resource that had been looked at almost as a liability and turn it into an asset.”
To learn more, visit www.WineGlassBarSawmill.com or call 602-689-8620.