Saw to Structure

Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.

— Franklin D. Roosevelt

Deep in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, you can hear the trees breathe. These forests, 
with endless rows of evergreens, provide a resource essential to the basic functions of society—lumber.

But the journey from the dense, fog-covered forests to the construction site is long. It relies on 
hard labor from countless people at every stage, from logging, to lumber milling, to construction.

We connected with workers from these three industries to capture their roles in getting the wood from saw to structure.

The Harvest

Mike Pallone treads carefully over rocks, sticks, and tree stumps as his next target for timber felling 
comes into view. This is a crop that has been growing for decades, and now, it’s time to harvest.

The sun is barely showing, but there’s just enough light for Mike to hunt for hanging branches, nearby trees, 
and other hazards known as widow makers. When the tree comes down, you never know what might come flying up.

You have to always be aware of your surroundings, he explains. 
Everything can kill you. It’s just a matter of knowing where it all is.

Mike knows the risks, and it doesn’t bother him. He’s been in the woods for 13 years—about half his life. 
Now in his 10th year of logging, he looks back on his decision to come out to Oregon as one of the best in his life.

The first time I saw a guy fell timber in the West, I thought to myself, ‘I’m going. I’ll be there one day no matter what,’ 
Mike recalls. I left Pennsylvania for Oregon three years ago, and I’ve never looked back.

Standing beside Mike is Brennen Miller, owner of Top Heavy Timber LLC, whose life has been defined 
by the woods. Brennen grew up surrounded by timber fallers in a forested community between Yosemite National Park and 
Sequoia National Park. He sees the logging industry as critical to society, not only because it provides an essential 
building material, but also because timber fallers keep our forests safe from wildfires.

Timber fallers can really make a difference for the environment, he says. We go out during active wildfires to cut down 
trees that are hazardous for firefighters, helping to keep them safe so they can focus on stopping the spread. That’s where 
my heart lies.

Much of Brennen’s appreciation for logging is tied to his respect for nature. Lumber is a sustainable crop similar to 
wheat, corn, or any other farmable resource. In fact, most of the trees Mike and Brennen harvest come from tree farms, 
which are fenced-off and constantly replanted for future generations. As he explains, We’re not just going out to a 
national forest and chopping down old trees. This is privately owned land, and it’s designated for tree farming.

Brennen and Mike approach a tree the same way a hunter approaches an animal—with utmost respect. It’s not just about 
the paycheck. It’s about appreciating the value provided by every tree. They understand that through their work, they 
enable people to live in safety and comfort.

We all benefit from the work of timber fallers like Mike and Brennen, and they do too. Mike emphasized 
the inherent beauty that comes from working in the woods from the early morning to the late evening.

The sights and smells on the job are incredible, Mike says. When you're looking at a snow-capped 
mountain, or a breathtaking sunset, and even the smell of a freshly cut tree—it’s euphoric in a way.

The job has incredible benefits, but the risk to the average timber faller is growing. Wood harvesting machines are replacing 
jobs on flat tree farms. But the most dangerous tree farms—those with rugged terrain and incredible hazards—cannot 
be accessed by these machines, so humans are still needed. With fewer open jobs overall, timber fallers are forced to take 
on projects that carry the most risk.

Back in the day, guys were cutting on flat ground and easy hikes, Brennen explains. There are fewer 
of us around now, and we tend to get pushed into the craziest, gnarliest, rockiest ground you can imagine.

Despite these dangers and an uncertain future, there’s nowhere Mike would rather be.

I don't look at logging as a job, he explains. I look at it as a lifestyle. And if I won the lottery tomorrow, 
I would still wake up the next day, load up my gear, and head into the woods.


At Fritch Mill, people and machines work in harmony to convert raw logs into workable lumber for a wide range of uses. 
In a market crowded by corporations with incredible industrial capacity, this family-run mill takes on unique projects to 
keep their edge. As Eric Fritch puts it, they focus on the things that the big mills can't do.

The mill is steeped in history. Nestled in a heavily wooded community in Snohomish, Washington, Fritch Mill has played 
a key role in the local timber industry since 1950. In 1996, Eric Fritch took over from his brother, determined to honor 
his father’s memory while balancing the need to stay innovative and efficient.

It’s not just about carrying on a legacy, he says. It's doing it in a way that's different and creative. What worked 
for him won’t work for me. If we always do what we've always done, sooner or later we're going to be obsolete.

Fritch Mill stands out by processing four different kinds of wood as opposed to the typical one or two per mill. 
They also handle logs with bigger diameters than most mills can process, making them an essential mill for clients 
with niche needs.

With a reputation for taking on unique projects, Eric emphasizes the importance of having a reliable character. Eric relies 
on the strength of his word as he commits to projects valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars over the phone with 
no written contract. In contrast to the technical changes at Fritch Mill, this side of the business is still done in the same 
way as his father did over 70 years ago.

Eric’s motivations for continuing this legacy are also tied to his desire to give back to those around him.

We’re doing something that's practical and functional for society, creating things used for shelter and other long–term 
he says. Plus, our industry can have a positive effect on the environment by sequestering carbon.

Fritch Mill has survived against all odds in a challenging market. According to Eric, that’s largely due 
to their emphasis on supporting the workers who put up the hours and see every project to completion.

Loyalty goes both ways, Eric explains. I’m just trying to create a good work environment and a good living 
for myself and my employees while doing right for the people I'm interacting with. It’s a two-way street.

New Beginnings

The lumber departs the mill for its final destination: the construction site. Here, Heri Gonzales prepares to sculpt a 
three-story home using exactly the right kind of wood for the job. Douglas-fir and redwood lumber, lined up at the site 
and ready for placement, are preferred for their versatility, corrosion and fungal resistance, and stability. These trees 
grow abundantly in the Pacific Northwest, making them the perfect choice for Heri and other local framers.

As the owner of GH Construction, Heri oversees several building projects, sometimes multiple in a single day. For any 
project, the moment he receives the plans, Heri begins planning the construction in stages, making sure he has the 
right materials and checking for any potential challenges.

We want to make sure we’re doing quality work with quality materials, 
from the wood to the concrete,
Heri says. We’re proud of what we build.

That pride extends into the communities that Heri and his crew build homes for. 
The support they receive from others reminds them that what they do is essential for all of us.

People will come up to us on the construction site and say we’re doing a good job, Heri explains. 
It feels good to make things that people rely on and to know they appreciate our work.

As Heri moves the wood into place, the swirls that decorate each grain are a reminder of its long journey 
from the wilderness. Every step is marked with unique craftsmanship and a reverence for the process.

Workers in these industries are truly part of something greater than any one person. Their labor 
reflects the importance of community and a commitment to create something others rely on.

From breathtaking forests to buildings across the nation, the journey of wood from saw to structure is a story 
of commitment, resilience, and an enduring passion for crafting our private and common spaces that form the 
backbone of America.