Mike Burrill and Mike Burrill Jr. at the closed Burrill Lumber Co. mill in White City. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

Burrill mill's closed — reputation lives on

WHITE CITY — It's been 15 years since the Eugene F. Burrill Lumber Co. ceased operations in this Southern Oregon timber-production enclave.

That's long enough for most people not involved in the industry to forget about the wood-products firm, long enough for many sawyers, sanders and graders to have retired, and for others to have passed away.

Yet, enough house framers and contractors apparently still have fond memories of the Burrill Lumber 2-by-4 stud, because the old builder's staple is making a comeback.

The 8-foot, premium, white fir studs set the standard right to the bitter end when regulatory changes all but made local timber harvests impossible.

Now, some five years after founder Eugene Burrill's death and 15 years after his plant closed down, the Burrill brand is coming back.

Atlanta-based Home Depot has signed an exclusive licensing agreement with the Burrill family, allowing the retailer to sell a new generation of Burrill white fir studs produced in the Northwest and manufactured to the family's specifications.

"I still get calls from customers asking, 'How do I find a Burrill stud?' " said John Schwager, Home Depot's senior lumber merchant. "Most people considered it the finest stud available — waxed and Burrill branded into the end. People fought over it. Retailers, lumber sellers, everyone considered Burrill the Cadillac of the industry."

Through much of the 1990s, Burrill employed more than 180 employees and produced 100 million board feet of lumber annually.

Much of the Burrill Lumber Co.'s production was sent to the East Coast and South, said Mike Burrill Jr., grandson of the founder, so it wasn't surprising Home Depot started distribution of the resurrected brand in the Northeast. Studs manufactured this spring at an undisclosed Northwest mill have arrived at Home Depot's Northeast distribution center in Bloomfield, Conn., which feeds 78 stores.

"I would like to put the studs in as many stores as makes sense," Schwager said. "The original mill was not enormous, and it wasn't available everywhere. Contractors love it, because every board is straight and perfect. Customers love it for their kitchen or bathroom walls, because they don't have to worry about it twisting and calling the contractor back because a nail popped out."

A second mill likely will begin production in February or March, he said.

Such mills need to be in the proximity of higher-elevation white fir stands, and it took a bit of an effort to modify the mill's setup to Burrill's standards.

Family representatives met with operators, he said.

"Mike and his dad hit on all the points, so that what came out was an original Burrill stud," Schwager said.

Schwager tracked down the family last summer and eventually met with Mike Burrill Jr., at Sea-Tac Airport.

"They came to us to develop a grade that worked for everybody," Burrill Jr. said.

The quality-control checklist runs the gamut from crooks, twists and wane, to knot size and location and moisture content.

"All studs are graded with those things in mind," Burrill Jr. said. "We just tightened up the standards, allowing less of those things."

Another element Burrill Lumber adopted decades ago was to avoid using center sections for its studs.

"We found the boards from the center twist too much," Burrill Jr. said. "Everyone knows that now."

The Burrill Family, which moved into real estate development after exiting the wood-products industry, will receive undisclosed royalty fees on the sale of the 2-by-4s, which sell for around $3 each.

"Ultimately, this is a continuation of our grandfather's legacy," Burrill Jr. said. "He spent his life creating something of value to a lot of people. For this to happen five years after his passing and 15 years after we shut down the mill means a lot to us."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness.

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