Profiles in Conservation

A Forest, Old School, and Green Money

Rhode Island forest landowner makes living logging, milling rustic building products

Owning and managing a forest is not a pastime just for the fabulously well-to-do or land barons in the most remote outposts of the country. There are private forest landowners in nearly every corner of the United States, east and west, north and south, and in every state, large and small. Some people own thousands of acres while others own just a few.

Even tiny Rhode Island, a highly urbanized state of just 1,212 square miles, dwarfed in size by mere counties in Texas and even the King Ranch, has its own share of forest landowners. Somehow, even in this densely populated setting, some forest landowners can still make money off their land.

Here is one of them.

Second-generation forest landowner Philip Hauser of Foster, RI, has been making his living from trees for decades, selling solid wood beams and timber frame kits to customers near and far.

“My father owned this land before me. It’s been in the family and a tree farm for about 60 years. I grew up on this land,” the 62-year-old said.

Most of his 66 acres of property is made up of woodlands. “There are some wet areas, but at least 50 acres of it is forested,” he said. His woods are comprised primarily of white pine, with some oaks.

Hauser said he uses his natural resources sustainably, and he’s even making them better as he manages his forest for timber.

“I made access roads into the property, and I mill the low-grade trees and some of the better trees,” he said. He uses a John Deere 450 Track Machine for logging.

He added, “I’ve been taking out the worst stuff over the years and manicuring it. I’m improving the woodlot. It’s more suitable for growing pine, due to the gravelly soil, but there are some nice oaks here.” His tree farm is about 35 acres in total.

Hauser uses a combination of his own logs and others’ for his wood milling, he said. “I buy the timber. Logging is just part of it. Mostly I log other places. That’s part of my business, logging for other people and buying some of their timber.”

As is the case for many, the family business has evolved over the years.

Their family land has been a tree farm since 1961, though not of the Christmas tree variety. “We tried selling Christmas trees about 50 years ago, but we didn’t sell many. Some we sawed later on. Some of the ones we planted long ago that remain are fairly tall. The tallest existing trees on our property that were not planted are about 60-80 feet tall today.”

“I also used to sell a lot of grade lumber to places in Canada, but I mostly just do the beams now. There’s more money in selling the finished beams, as opposed to selling timber.”

Hauser has been using his current sawmill since 1979. “It’s a band sawmill with a wood grinder. We just installed a four-sided timber sizer for log cabin logs. I just got that running in the last couple of months.”

His specialty is making post-and-beam frames, he said, and his customers come from near and far. “I’ve shipped beams to Florida before, though most of the beams that I ship go as far away as 50 miles or less. I also do long lengths, up to 32 feet.”

“I’ve been selling kits for about 35 years. We start with a basic design and customize it,” he added. “I sell kits for colonials, saltboxes, and barns. I did a kit in New Hampshire for a colonial. That one years ago in New Hampshire was oak.”

He tries to squeeze a lot of product out of a relatively small amount of material. “I recently sawed one log that had 850 board feet in it. It was a 28-foot white pine log, over 2 feet at the small end,” he added.

While much of what he’s learned about working with wood has come from on-the-job experience, he also received a formal education in the field, including a degree in wood products from Haywood Technical Institute in North Carolina in 1976.

Today, he is widely considered to be an expert wood craftsman.

The forest manager/logger/woodworker/businessman lives with his wife Susan, and son, Philip, age 21; his adult daughters, Julie and Laura, went away to college years ago.

The Hausers not only sell their own building products, they use them to add rustic charm to their own lifestyle as well. They live in a historically accurate rustic home made from their own wood and labors. The dwelling is a post-and-beam saltbox copied from the historic Comfort Starr House in Guilford, CT, which was completed in 1646 and is one of the oldest homes still in existence in the state.

How similar is their construction to the original? They used the same plans, he said.

Hauser described their home. “We’ve been in it for about 10 years. The structure is about 3,000 square feet in all, and it includes four fireplaces. All the beams are hand planed to make it look older. The addition in the back is two stories.”

It’s made up of roughly 20,000 board feet of wood, he added. His own house is completely made out of oak, but he tends to sell more pine houses to customers.

Hauser is looking to keep his scenic forest land in the family for years to come. He participates in the state’s Farm, Forest and Open Space Program, which serves to reduce the risk of development and encourage private landowners to keep natural spaces natural through tax breaks.

When not logging, milling wood, or making a deal, Hauser sometimes likes to let loose by singing and playing guitar. “I’ve been doing a lot of karaoke singing for about 7-8 years at a few different spots.” People like to hear him sing Johnny Cash, Hauser said. He’s also been playing guitar for 2-3 years.

All things considered, Hauser said he really enjoys his work and life balance.

“I can stay here and work off the land, and not have to drive to the city and punch the clock.”

He also gets a lot of satisfaction from his many happy customers.

“They still invite me over.”

“There are people all over who love me for the houses that I built. I have people in Newport for whom I built a house for 35 years ago, as part of Hammersmith Farm.”

View more information about Hauser’s timber frame operations.

By Glenn Rosenholm

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