A Cut Above With Claus Staalner

Claus Staalner

Claus Staalner, who’s been involved with the wood products industry since 1981, is president of American Wood Technology, an SFPA associate member focused on wood treatment processes and innovation for dimensional lumber, industrial timbers, commercial products such as railroad ties, utility poles, and thermal modification.

Formed in 2010 after the downturn in 2006-08, AWT is associated with International Wood Moldrup Technology (IWT – Moldrup), among the largest suppliers of wood-treating equipment.

 

You mentioned you’re really getting into the Southern Pine industry. Why is that? What is it about Southern Pine that attracts you?

A lot of things have changed in the Southern Yellow Pine business. We have seen heavy consolidations with the larger groups that have been purchasing smaller sawmills. However, there are still a lot of smaller family-owned sawmills, and as the supply chain has become difficult and the market has been good, there’s an interesting dynamic, especially post-pandemic.

We deal with a lot of small- to medium-sized companies that want to get control over their supply chain. They are installing treating plants, which was traditionally done by treating companies and large organizations pre-pandemic. But today, that whole business is shifting to small- and medium-sized sawmills where we put in a complete treating plant so they can treat their lumber and go to market.

 

Consolidations are one of the many hot topics in the industry right now (outside of sustainability and workforce). but what surprises you after almost 40 years in this industry?

I have been positively surprised by the consolidation, which has opened up possibilities and investments outside the big companies.

I don’t want to say mom and pop – that has a negative connotation to it – but when we look at the foundation of the Southern Pine business, it’s the second-, third-, and fourth-generation businesses we all should be incredibly proud of. It’s very nice as a supplier to be involved in those businesses because you walk into a company and you get involved in this family feeling.

Now there’s nothing wrong with consolidations and big corporate companies; however, it is different. The surprising element is that we, despite the consolidation, have been able to maintain a lot of that family feeling in the industry and they are able and willing to invest in new technology.

 

With that said, what are you looking forward to in 2024? Where do you think treatment processing, lumber, and the industry as a whole are going?

Every industry, and every business, has challenges, and we all have wins from time to time. We are in an interesting, unique political environment and the environment we are faced with, but we also have a lot of opportunities.

We have a huge need for housing, and not McMansions necessarily, but housing for the common folks. All of those houses need to buy 2x4s and decking. We are building houses, we will continue to build houses, and perhaps interest rates will come down so people actually can afford the houses, but overall, the prospect for our industry looks very good.

 

Wood’s going nowhere, right? It has hundreds of years of history. But I am curious: where do you see American Wood Technology fitting in with some of those challenges and changes? What’s going to be your little space, and how will you contribute to that success?

We have been offering niche products and services, so for the people who want to be in the treating business, we provide a complete turnkey project where they get a full plant from us ready to plug in and use. It’s affordable, sizable, and adjustable to the size of their operation, so they don’t have to buy more than what they need, and they can expand into whatever they may need in the future.

We have a lot of new, innovative products for a very old-fashioned industry, so new ways of handling things that allow anybody to get into this business without having years of experience and all those historic things that go with it. Environmentally speaking, treating is very clean today. It’s not the old nasty-looking things with environmental problems.

 

What amazes me, especially when I look at the SFPA membership, is the innovation, and the introduction of artificial intelligence and machine learning. You think there are only so many ways to process and manufacture lumber, what’s coming out on the market, it’s just mind-blowing and it’s our community leading that.

So, pull out your crystal ball. Where do you think the forest products industry, the Southern Pine lumber industry will be in 10 years? What do you think it will look like?

Our industry is old, but wood is good, and wood has been around forever, right? And we are proud the woodworking industry is environmentally sustainable. Our product grows out of Mother Nature and will continue to do so. As new generations come up, they will certainly appreciate that, so our market is only increasing, it’s not decreasing.

We talk about other industries encroaching on our business (concrete, plastics, and the like), and they are because it’s convenient, but when the day is over, wood doesn’t pollute. The industry has been pretty poor at communicating those advantages, but it’s changing. The industry will be as big as today if not much bigger in the next 10-20 years because of the environmental need and awareness.

We all know we have more trees today than we had around the Civil War and our message is fantastic, so I think we will see that reflected in our businesses and hopefully, we get more young people into the industry.

My son is involved in the business, and we see second and third generations with our customers, so hopefully we can make our industry sexy. It’s exciting to work in a treating plant, and it can be an exciting job to work in a sawmill.


The Southern Forest Products Association’s A Cut Above series highlights and introduces to the Southern Pine lumber community and the greater world the amazing people who are part of our community and help keep Southern Pine among the premiere wood species domestically and internationally!