Kyrgyzstan – The home of Burr Walnut

Ever wondered where beautiful, burr walnut comes from? And why your standard issue Purdey shotgun costs £20,000? Loglogic’s Graham Mitchell knows. He has recently been involved in a rather unusual project delivering horse-drawn sawmills, to the walnut forests of Kyrgyzstan.

It all started at the 2002 World Wood Fair. Alexandra Carpenter of the West Asia Walnut Company was visiting the UK looking for frontline forestry equipment to be used in very remote and mountainous locations.

By happy coincidence Loglogic was launching the Peterson Sawmill System from New Zealand and Alexandra was instantly impressed by the Peterson’s portability and obvious capabilities especially with its 1.5m (5′) slabbing attachment.

After discussing their requirements at the show, the customer followed up with a visit to Loglogic’s factory in Tiberton, Devon (UK). Loglogic agreed to supply suitably modified sawmill systems and technical advice and training for the project.

The necessary equipment was designed, sourced, and packed. This consisted of a Peterson Sawmill System with the 1.5m (5′) slabbing attachment, mounted on low ground pressure tyres suitable for the anticipated terrain, plus harness, head collars, blankets, etc. for the horses. Other equipment supplied included generators, pressure washers, chainsaws, safety equipment and spares.

After over six months of negotiation by West Asia Walnut with innumerable agencies and officials the relevant permits were eventually granted and the consignment was loaded onto the aircraft bound for Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan.


kyrgyzstan the home of burr walnut


A week or so later it duly arrived and was then forwarded by road to Jalabad through the Lien Shan mountain passes with snow-capped peaks rising to over 7000 metres. These passes offer some of the most spectacular and remote trekking in the world.

The tortuous 10-hour drive dodging donkey’s (dead and alive), avoiding potholes, missing manhole covers and landslides, and bridges swept away by the melt waters from the mountains, offered some exciting driving and sometimes unnoticed fascinating scenery.

The economy of Jalabad and the surrounding area is based almost exclusively around the annual harvesting of burr walnut forests.

The West Asia Walnut Company was set up in the area to help aid the sustainable management and harvesting of very mature burr walnut trees. Some of these have a diameter of over 2.4m (8′). The forest is the largest natural walnut forest in the world, covering over six hundred thousand hectares, running from the valley bottom right up to the snowline.

The company employs a local team to run the operation in the mountains. Their main source of transport in the mountains, for both people and equipment, are horses and donkeys. So before Graham and the team could venture into the mountains some ‘extra equipment’ had to be sourced at the local bazaar, where, after nearly a day’s haggling over the £1.50 cost of the donkey, a number of horses and a donkey were purchased.

The ‘extra equipment’ was then transported in an ex-Russian army, open-topped truck to the company’s base, a former steel works, run by the Russians. A local engineer then spent a week fabricating and fitting shafts to the sawmill. His only equipment seemed to be a large electric welder conspicuous by its lack of insulation and ‘CE mark’, which he used to cut, drill, bend and weld with.

Materials had to be purchased at the local bazaar as scrap, as new materials are all but unobtainable. The ‘extra large’ donkey, now fitted with a very poor quality collar and harness, could pull the sawmill, extra equipment and carry the people up the mountain. Trials were undertaken in the foothills before traveling up the mountains. Needless to say, the donkey proved to be a little on the small side and has now been traded in for a larger version, i.e. a horse.

Once the team arrives at a sawmilling location, which can be up to four hours off the nearest road, they can stay for up to ten days felling and sawing the timber on-site. The timber is then transported back to Jalabad, where it is graded and shipped back to the UK for use in the manufacture of high quality gunstocks (one gunstock can be worth in excess of £1,000) and furniture.

The Peterson sawmill, fitted with the 1.5m slabbing bar performed admirably, and, with some judicious juggling of the chain tooth profile and modifying the number of cutting teeth, a smooth and accurate finish was achieved when cutting the burr walnut. This is obviously important when considering the price of one ‘quality’ gunstock.

Until now the first and second length of the tree was often not used as it was not considered economic to bring the butts down from the mountain to be sawn. However, the ability to interchange the clip-on slabbing attachment on the Peterson, with the standard 10in capacity circular saw means that the majority of the tree which is not suitable for gunstocks can be sawn into planks, etc.

The 10in Peterson WPF sawmill can double-width cut without removing the saw-head and so can cut up to 10in x 20in beam. With the addition of extra track the sawmill can cut unlimited lengths thereby maximizing the value of the timber, which is then sold for furniture making, etc, or if of poor quality, used locally.

Peterson sawmills are selling well and Loglogic are now awaiting the latest container load from New Zealand, including ‘the new Automated Sawmill System which promises to revolutionize swing saw technology and offer some quite astonishing work-rates.

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