- Brightman Lumber and its land clearing business is a true family business
- Only four or five sawmills within a 50 mile radius
- Recently awarded Massachusetts Lumber Producer of the Year
ASSONET – The live laser above the big blades at the Brightman Lumber sawmill was covered in sawdust before Ed Brightman Jr.’s work time was too old. He is too lazy to clean.
A jobsite laser, a useful tool for many who work at sawmills, only slowed Brightman, 44, as he began turning logs into rectangular planks for trimming.
Don’t knock on the technique, he says; it’s just that he’s been working in the sawmill at his family’s sawmill for so long—25 years—that it’s faster for him to assess work with the naked eye.
Once he’s cubed the log—a barker strips it bare before dumping it on his wagon—Brightman uses his saw controls to put the log in place for the work slice. At the time of my visit, the order was for 1,000 feet of planks, 1 inch by 12 inches.
How Brightman Lumber Got Started
The sawmill is one half of Brigtman Lumber’s two-arm operation at 181 South Main St. The other arm is the land clearing business, run by Ed Brigtman Sr. The sawmill, the older of the two, was founded by John Brightman Jr. and wife Nancy (parents of Ed Sr.), in 1978. The Brightmans, originally from Fall River, previously cleared land for sawmills in Connecticut and Rhode Island, and their typical weekly job included a tow truck, two Logging Monday trucks, and two skidders (towed away) Fallen and felled logs) to the construction site, return home Wed., then make a second similar trip Thurs., return home Fri. night or Sat.
“One night my dad had a dream,” said old Ed. “He said let’s have our own sawmill.”
easy to say, hard to do? must. But John Brightman Jr. and wife Nancy knew how to get things done. They found the current commercial space on South Avenue and bought it.
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John scoured the area and assembled a sawmill piece by piece. The Brightman Lumber Company is born.
In the first three years or so of the sawmill/lumbermill, it was very old school. Sawmill employees have to lift logs and place them on carts. Business is booming. They were modernized.
Brightmans originally sold not only green (unseasoned) logs, but also their own finished timber for home building. They have 25 employees working two 8 hour shifts.
change in business model
Their finished lumber production ceased around the turn of the century. The main culprit, the Brightmans say, is the high cost of diesel fuel needed to run the finishing machines. They downsize. Now, it’s basically a three-employee sawmill that produces only green logs. Merchants are strictly retail. Most of their wood is used for fences and sheds. Someone might pop up and buy a board. or 10. or 100. The Brightmans welcome everyone.
Johnny Brightman was a phenomenal sawman and his brother Ed. sir, recalled. Johnny died of a heart attack while making a delivery in Maine in 2013. Business founder John Brightman Jr. passed away in August 2021 at the age of 83. Ed Jr. has a photo of the two on the control panel of a sawmill booth with a window, a few feet from the blade. Nancy Brightman remains the owner of Brightman Lumber. Her daughter Patti, 57, runs the office. Ed Sr., 65, was land clearing tsar while Ed Jr. ran the sawmill.
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Ed Jr. says there are about four or five sawmills within a 40 to 50 mile radius of BrightmanLumber Co. “In the past there were more mom-and-pop stores, mobile phone factories,” he said. “As the price of lumber goes up, they (can’t) produce lumber fast enough. That’s what happens to us at the end of the mill. … The problem is we run out of generators and fuel prices go up so high , we couldn’t manufacture the product fast enough.”
What a day in the life of a sawman looks like
Ed Jr. says sawmilling is a challenging business, but he doesn’t want to quit. He often works 12-hour days, starting at 4:30 am. It’s not just his job; it’s a family affair. He said he basically started working for his father when he was 9 years old.
“That’s the only thing I know,” Ed Jr. said. “For me, it’s not a job. It’s more of a way of life. It’s almost like a farmer. He wakes up. He takes care of his animals. He milks the cows. It’s the same thing every day. When you run That’s basically it when it comes to this company. There’s always something that needs to be maintained, there’s always something that needs to be done. It’s like having a child who never matures. It’s the truth.”
The main blade, the lower blade (48 inches in diameter), has its 50 teeth sharpened twice a day.
In addition to the $5 per gallon of diesel fuel, other operating expenses for the machine are significant. Oil changes (every 350 hours; used to be 250 hours) can cost over $1,000 for some of Brightman Lumber’s high-strength machines. A 2″ x 4″ oil filter for the machine costs $200. Over the past three or four years, the price of oil has jumped from $550 to $900 to fill their 50-gallon barrels.
The big saw blade is about 40 years old. Ed Jr. explained that they are not something to be replaced every year, every six months or even every ten years, if they can be avoided. There are only a handful of people who can hammer a large blade back into working order when the steel loses its temper and rigidity, he said. The Brightmans know how to get their hands on the Hammer guys. Ed Jr. estimates that a new 48-inch blade costs about $3,500.
Awarded Massachusetts Lumber Producer of the Year
Brightman Lumber produces approximately 20,000 to 25,000 feet of lumber per week and 1 to 1.5 million feet of lumber per year. Ed Jr. says the world’s largest sawmills process a million feet a week. But the little guy gets the nod. Ed Brightman Sr. was recently awarded Massachusetts Lumber Producer of the Year by the Marlborough, MA Forest Alliance.
Ed Jr. explains that Brightman Lumber’s lumber is highly efficient, 95 percent Eastern White Pine. Nothing goes to waste, he said.
The stripped bark becomes the bark mulch. Trimmed wood that is useless for even the smallest planks is cut into sawdust and is often used for animal bedding.
Ed Jr. said he is finally seeing a modest slowdown in business after more than two years of exceptionally busy sales at the height of the COVID pandemic.
“There are no piles of (lumber) here,” he said, pointing to the lumberyard. “You can’t keep the boards in stock. If you have a cracked or defective board, people will buy it because you can’t find the wood anywhere.”
At times, Brightman Lumber staff seemed to go the extra mile to keep the business thriving, Ed Sr. said. He knew others felt the same way. Like Ed Jr., he didn’t complain.
“We came in. We laughed. We joked,” he said. “We just keep going.