Local sawmill’s work used nationally

Published 5:54 pm Friday, January 6, 2012

Stem and seven full frames of Southern Live Oak from Cross Sawmill in Iron City

Steve Cross, owner and operator of Cross Sawmill, a few miles out of Iron City, Ga., is supplying specialty lumber to two unique projects in the United States — one on the east coast and one on the west.

When Cross picked up the Fall 2011 issue of Bainbridge Living and read the article about model ship builder Larry Briles, he contacted Briles. Cross believed they might share a common interest, as Cross is also involved in some ship building, but on a much larger scale.

Since August of this year, Cross has been supplying Southern live oak lumber for use in the San Salvador project — the construction of an historic reproduction of a Spanish galleon being built at the San Diego Maritime Museum. The keel for the ship was laid on the waterfront April 15, 2011, and construction continues.

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Bill Dysart, current chairman of the board for the San Diego Maritime Museum, said they had experienced difficulty in getting the right timber for their project until they located Steve Cross and the Cross Sawmill, through a third party, Advantage Trim and Lumber Co. Cross is a supplier of specialty woods such as live oaks, and Dysart said they have been well pleased with the goods and services Cross is providing.

Cross is supplying a portion of the wood for the frames and “futtocks,” the curved ribs in the frame, and has already shipped four loads of debarked slabs of the straight grain lumber to San Diego, where it is cut to shape and assembled with trunnels (wooden nails or dowels). Two more loads are scheduled to be shipped, with each semi-trailer load weighing approximately 50,000 pounds.

A representative from the Maritime Museum has visited the Iron City site to give approval of the live oak lumber, and Cross has also made a trip to San Diego to get a first hand perspective on the ship’s construction.

Cross defined the region from the Carolinas, across the gulf as far west as Texas, as a prime live oak area. He explained that the Southern live oak has an extensive history of use in shipbuilding, but that less than one out of 100 live oak trees is suitable to be used for that purpose. His supply comes from local logging firms as well as sources that Vinson Evans of Cedar Springs, Ga., has helped him find.

Dysart said the San Diego museum has a large collection of seagoing ships that each go to sea at least once a year. This includes the Star of India, the oldest active sailing vessel in the world. It was built in 1863. Another, the HMS Surprise was used in the filming of the movie “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.” It is a replica of the 18th Century British Royal Navy frigate Rose.

When finished, the San Salvador, an exact historic replica of the Spanish ship that first came to the Americas at what is now San Diego, will also go to sea, giving patrons and tourists of the museum a chance to experience sailing on a Spanish galleon.

The East coast job, for which Cross is supplying, is a restoration project on Martha’s Vineyard being completed by the South Mountain Corporation. This project requires the use of Southeastern cypress recovered from river beds, in keeping with the company policy of reusing salvaged woods for building purposes.

For those who wonder how a small sawmill in a small town in southwest Georgia was ever discovered by two major corporations on opposite coasts of the United States, Cross gives credit to his Internet website and his affiliation with Advantage Trim and Lumber Co., while Dysart said his third party contacts were responsible for helping Cross and South Mountain Corp. find each other.

Five generations of the Cross family have been in the powered sawmill business for over 100 years, with Steve running his own mill since the 1970s.

He jokes that if you ask most of the people in Iron City about the Cross Sawmill they might not know anything of it, yet in his specialized niche market he is well-known.

The recovered cypress wood has beautiful grain patterns, sought after by builders of rustic furniture and other artisans. It is  a stark contrast to the straight grain live oak, which appears to have little or no grain. Other specialized woods available from Cross include aromatic cedar, red gum, hickory, red oak, white pine, native persimmon and Sycamores.

Cross has also been involved with the Princess Murat house reconstruction in Tallahassee, as well as other historic renovation projects in the southeastern United States.