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Fiskars Forestry

The forest was central to the formation of the Fiskars ironworks. In fact, the forest was central to the formation of all ironworks, and when the forests around the ironworks in the western part of the country began to diminish, it became necessary to look for new locations on the eastern side of the Gulf of Bothnia. In western Uusimaa, there was plenty of forest and waterpower, and furthermore, the region was close to the sea, enabling the transportation of raw materials and finished products.

Fiskars ironworks with forests and lakes in 1905. Photo: Fiskars Museum Image Collection.

So, the forest was central right from the start, and the crown allowed the ironworks to cut down trees for the production of charcoal to benefit the production of the ironworks, which was important for the crown. The ironworks employed 3-4 charcoal burners who were responsible for charcoal production, while the local population in the region supplied the charcoal burners with wood. The wood was cut in the spring and stripped with 3-4 stripes. In the fall, the charcoal kiln was erected and burned in late fall and winter to be torn down and extinguished in the spring. Then special coal carriers transported the charcoal to the ironworks to be used in the blast furnace.

A charcoal kiln at Söderfors ironworks in Sweden, where Albert Lindsay von Julin practiced in 1895. Photo: Fiskars Museum Image Collection.

In the midst of all this charcoal burning frenzy, there were those who raised the question about what would happen to the forest if they continued to clear cut it. The amount of wood that farmers were allowed to cut down in jointly owned forests was limited, and the ironworks bought more land to meet their needs. The control of the number of trees that the ironworks cut down in the crown forests also failed, and the ironworks did not compensate the crown for the wood they cut down. Because the blast furnaces were closely located in western Uusimaa, competition for charcoal between the ironworks was tough, leading the ironworks to employ coal buyers to persuade farmers to sell charcoal to them.

During the Great Northern War, and the Russian occupation known as the “Great Wrath,” people fled from western Uusimaa. The operations of the ironworks were shut down, and the farms were left deserted. When the war was over in 1721, people returned, but starting up the operations of the ironworks did not go smoothly. Even though the occupation itself lasted barely a decade (1713–1721), the buildings had deteriorated, and since the owner Johannes Thorwöste (the founder’s grandson) had no interest in restarting the operations, the ironworks were sold in 1731 to the Stockholm-based merchant John Montgomerie. Under his leadership, the buildings were restored, and the local population was once again trained in the arts of charcoal making. During the approximately 20 years when no charcoal was produced in the region, the knowledge had been forgotten, and new generations of farmers took over the activity that was so important for the ironworks.

Charcoal making and the associated wood transports provided new livelihood opportunities for the local population around the ironworks. Some farmers even prioritized wood over agriculture, as Gotthard Johan Böning in Dalkarby experienced and complained about. Some farmers also saw the opportunity to earn extra income by producing and selling charcoal to the ironworks themselves. As large land areas were incorporated into the ironworks’ possession during Montgomerie’s time, a large part of the farmers directly became subordinate to the ironworks, making charcoal burning a significant part of the lease. In the early 1730s, the ironworks owners, together with the governor, agreed on charcoal districts to avoid ironworks owners fighting over the farmers’ charcoal.

According to local historian P-O Blomqvist’s calculations, charcoal production was the most labor-intensive part of a peasant’s work, taking about 110 days. The work did not conflict with agriculture; most of it was done during the winter months. A medium-sized farm was required to deliver 40 loads (80 cubic meters) of charcoal to the ironworks, which meant that the farmer had to build two charcoal kilns per year, for which a total of about 190 cubic meters of timber had to be collected. For comparison, it would require more than 3 timber trucks with trailers to reach the same amount. A large amount of wood had to be collected and dragged to the charcoal pit where the kiln was erected and lit in late autumn. For about three weeks, the kiln had to be guarded day and night before it was extinguished and torn down. Now the farmer had to wait until the cold winter to be able to transport the charcoal to Fiskars. The transportation also involved a lot of work, depending on how far away from the ironworks the farms were situated. The amount that the farmer in question would deliver was 26 loads, and it could mean that 26 days were spent solely on transportation.

Wood yard in the upper works of Fiskars. The rolling mill is visible behind the tree. Photo: Fiskars Museum Image Collection.

When the apothecary Johan Jacob Julin bought Fiskars ironworks in 1822, the blast furnace operations at Fiskars had already been shut down, but charcoal was still needed for the blast furnaces in Koskis (built in 1834) and Trollshovda (built in 1846). By this time Fiskars was a copperworks, and charcoal was also used in the copper refinery. The need for charcoal was thus significant, and since the over 100-year-old agreement on charcoal districts was no longer in force, Julin found himself forced to expand his land holdings to secure the supply of charcoal. As the land holdings grew, so did the number of farmers subordinate to the ironworks who would supply the ironworks with charcoal. Fiskars works used a total of about 9,300 loads of charcoal when Julin bought the works. Of these, the ironworks’ own farmers delivered 5,300, while the remaining amount was bought from “unknown” farmers.

Trollshovda ironworks with its charcoal ovens in the background to the left and the blast furnace in the center of the image. Photo: Fiskars Museum Image Collection.

At its peak, Fiskars had about 36,000 hectares of land in the mid-19th century, compared to today’s about 15,000. Although charcoal was used to some extent until the 1880s when the copper refinery was shut down, the use of coke reduced the need for charcoal. Furthermore, Julin advocated for coal furnaces instead of charcoal burning kilns. They provided much higher yields, and therefore not as much timber was needed to obtain the required amount of charcoal. Julin soon realized that the forests were being heavily depleted and that something had to be done to secure future forests. He hired forest guards and during trips to Sweden, he came across the method of rational forestry. The clearcutting method involved dividing the forest into compartments, which were managed similarly to agriculture. The forest within a compartment was allowed to grow, only to be almost completely harvested in the subsequent stage and then replanted. This method provided a higher yield per hectare at the time of harvesting than it did initially. The prevailing method, selective felling, involved taking out the large trees and leaving the small ones. Julin criticized this method because it had contributed to the poor condition of the ironworks forests in Finland, not only around Fiskars. He argued that growth was not promoted by selective felling, unlike clearcutting, where growth was the focus while the yield in the long term became significantly better. During the second Finnish Agricultural Meeting in Turku in 1850, Julin advocated for a transition to clearcutting, and argued that the transition could lead to a future extraction of 3.5 m³ per hectare instead of the current 0.7 m³ per hectare. An estimate that would prove to be accurate, considering that the mentioned amount of timber is the same amount Fiskars Group harvested per hectare in 2023.

The clear-cutting method as a forestry practice has recently sparked societal debate and criticism, today by organizations such as WWF Finland. They argue that clear-cutting threatens biological diversity and could be replaced by continuous forest management. In continuous forest management, the goal is to maintain a large age and size variation among trees, understory consisting of small trees, bushes, and plants, and a natural regeneration of the forest.

In 1882, the farmers’ agreement was amended so that they would no longer deliver charcoal to the ironworks. The need for charcoal had disappeared completely. However, the last charcoal kiln at Skarpkulla is said to have been erected as late as 1920. The clearcutting forestry method led to an increase in the number of large trees, which increased the possibility of sawing the timber. During the second half of the 19th century, Fiskars bought sawmills in Skuru and Skogby, the latter of which became crucial for the company’s forestry operations for most of the 20th century. To transport the logs from the northern parts of Fiskars’ holdings to the sea and the sawmill in Skogby, the logs were floated along three rivers and two lakes. By using dams, water was saved to release both water and logs in a stream along the sometimes narrow rivers. Floating was significant during the first half of the 20th century, whereafter forest roads and transportation by wheels became increasingly used. In 1961, the last floating was carried out, and the coming decades meant a great renewal of forestry, not only concerning the transportation of the logs.

The log flume at the cutlery workshop in Fiskars in 1961. Photo: Erik Roos, Fiskars Museum Image Collection.

The chainsaw was introduced into forestry in the 1950s and by the 1960s it had consolidated its position in Finnish forestry. The need for forest workers, so-called loggers, was still significant despite the new tool. It would take until the 1990s before forest machinery outperformed loggers carrying chainsaws, although forest machinery was already being used in the 1970s. Regarding the transportation of timber from the forest, horses were replaced during the 1960s, first by tractors and in the 1970s by specially built forwarders. The network of forest roads increased as floating as a means of transportation ceased, allowing modern logging trucks to reach the most remote forest districts.

References and literature

Blomqvist, Per-Olof. Landbonden kolade brukets träkol. Västra Nyland, 8.7.1999.
Nikander, Gabriel. Fiskars bruks historia. 1929.
Pakkanen, Esko. Palavelun hommissa – Metsäkonepalvelu Oy 50 vuotta. 2020.

Internet references:

Kontinuerlig beståndsvård som skogsbruksmetod. Rekommendationer för skogsvård, Jord- och skogsbruksministeriet. https://metsanhoidonsuositukset.fi/sv/atgarder/kontinuerlig-bestandsvard-som-skogsvardsmetod. From internet 26.4.2024.

Metsää voi hoitaa myös ilman avohakkuuta. WWF. https://wwf.fi/elinymparistot/suomen-metsat/metsaa-voi-hoitaa-myos-ilman-avohakkuita/. From internet 26.4.2024.

Unpublished references:

Pohja Local History Archive, Audio Collections, Fritz, Nils-Erik, Interview regarding log driving.