Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Forest Thinning made Profitable with a Wood-Mizer Portable Sawmill

Forest thinning increases overall forest health.

According to the USDA Forest Service, at least 40 million plus acres of southern and western forests in the United States are at high risk of catastrophic fire, insect infestation, or disease epidemics because of poor ecosystem health.  One reason has been lack of forest maintenance.  To bring the forests back to health, it is necessary to thin them by removing offending undergrowth and reduce overpopulations of smaller trees. Thinning not only has the potential to improve the overall health of the forests, it can also be a source of income for landowners and portable sawmill owners alike.  

Ken South of Jordan, Montana, is owner of K & K Sawing.  He works in private forests, harvesting small timber and converting it to lumber with his Wood-Mizer LT40 Super Hydraulic sawmill.  His operation can serve as a model of how thinning forests can be done at a profit without harvesting old growth timber.
Portable sawmills become key to profitable forest thinning

“I’d lost my job on a ranch when it went under… and needed something to do,” Ken explains.  “I’d operated a Wood-Mizer portable mill on the ranch and thought I saw something with a lot of potential.  We started custom sawing lumber to see if we could make a go of it and haven’t stopped since.”  

Fortunately for K & K Sawing, logging cutbacks on Federal lands have left some manufacturers scrambling for reliable supplies of quality fiber. Also, more and more private land owners are begining to treat their own forests for improved health and reduced fire threat.  The two needs, Ken points out, can be simultaneously fulfilled through thinning programs.

Often, hundreds of miles can separate the forests needing treatment from the nearest sawmill of any size.  That means transportation costs are high.  Ken South’s portable sawmill has proven to be the key in bringing supply and demand in a way that works. The Wood-Mizer, Ken points out, allows him to mill small timber into value added products only a few feet from where it is harvested, a vital factor in making the whole process economical when the timber is small and potential customers remote.  

Ken South's Wood-Mizer goes to the forest.

In a traditional harvest, costs are added at each stage of the process of logging.  And a thinning harvest often results in large quantities of small material which do not provide enough yield to make the whole process profitable.

With his Wood-Mizer portable mill, Ken South is able to avoid the production steps that add much of the cost between stump and secondary processor in a more traditional operation.  Since the cost of shipping a raw finished product from the woods is basically the same as transporting raw logs, shipment costs are reduced because only finished product, ready for secondary processing, leaves the woods. 

Ken and a contractor friend with logging equipment have worked out a split on the wood that allows each to operate a profitable business.  The contractor harvests the trees and delivers them to a central point at the saw.  The “landing” is changed periodically both to avoid ground damage and to reduce the amount of time and labor involved in harvesting the wood.
Trucking costs are greatly reduced. 

At the landing Ken, his son, and sometimes a third employee, prepare logs for sawing based on orders from buyers and saw to customer requests.  Cants are shipped to the buyer for reprocessing, lumber is sold to a variety of customers including local farmers and ranchers, wholesalers, and manufacturers, while slabs are used mostly for firewood.  Virtually everything goes into some kind of product.  Lumber destined for the primary customer is loaded onto a semi-trailer which is left at the site to be filled then picked up by a local trucker who delivers it to the customer’s mill in South Dakota, nearly 200 miles away.

The impacts on the forests are dramatic enough in terms of health and quality enhancements that neighboring ranchers have already asked Ken to work their forests when he’s done with his current project/location.  According to Ken, future work is already lined up, and he plans to continue making a good living improving both the economic and environmental health of the area near his home. 

Check out the Video Center at to see more ways Wood-Mizer sawmill owners are using their sawmills to make a living. For more information on managing your private forest with a portable sawmill, visit:

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Making a Second Career out of Sawing Lumber

Creeping up on 50, Gary McInturf found himself in a place where many other men do around that age: looking for something new to do that would support his family, and be that new venture he could again feel passionate about. His chance to do just that came in a way he didn’t expect – a windstorm!

An unusually strong windstorm resulted in a rewarding second career.
With several oak trees laying on the ground after the storm passed, Gary’s wife had the idea that they might be able to make a table out of the wood, instead of just cutting them up for firewood. At the time, Gary admits that he didn’t have a clue about how to turn his trees into lumber. He called up his local forestry department and asked them what he could do. They gave him the name of a Wood-Mizer sawmill owner in Gary’s area.

Gary's Wood-Mizer LT40 Hydraulic sawmill allows him to cut custom lumber for local clients
“When I saw him cut my lumber up, I thought it was the neatest thing I had ever seen, and 30 days later I owned one,” Gary recalls. It didn’t take him long to begin converting buildings to lumber drying areas, and places where local hobbyists could come and select their boards. He was able to obtain several customers at local cabinet shops the old fashioned way: cold sales calls. Gary will tell you that he does not enjoy selling his services over the phone, but says that they really paid off for him. When he first opened his business, Gary held an open house and invited locals to check out his new mill and chat over coffee. Even with rain that day, the event was well attended, and helped get his name out into the community.

Unloading logs that will become custom sized lumber
Over the next two years, Gary has been able to expand with additional buildings, a Wood-Mizer kiln, a Wood-Mizer edger, a chipper, and a frontend loader. He relies on a logger friend to keep him supplied with logs, and rewards customers with a discount when they buy lumber from him right out of the kiln.
Gary attributes his business success to several things. By providing a quality product, and treating his customers above and beyond how they are treated by larger lumberyards, his customers keep coming back, and spread the word about his business. By making smart business decisions regarding his product offered and  his timely equipment purchases, he has continued to expand his product offering without overextending his resources.

The table that started it all. 
Gary is working to increase the success of his venture by working together with other sawmill business owners in the area. With the assistance of Dr. Terry Connors from the Kentucky University Forestry Department, Gary and several other sawmill owners in Kentucky have started the “Central Kentucky Wood Producers Association.” By employing the strength-in-numbers principle, they are able to help each other out, pool their resources for advertising, and benefit from the knowledge and various skill sets they each bring to the table.

Ever the progressive thinker, Gary bit the bullet and learned the basics of designing his own website, and shares that his website has already helped double his jobs since he launched it in late 2011. Visit his website at

Wood-Mizer LT70 Sawmill supports successful Pallet Producer

Little did UPS employee Doug Garner know that buying a small Wood-Mizer sawmill would be the beginnings of an eventual full time rural pallet and railroad tie operation. Nestled in the hills of southeastern Ohio, Doug Garner’s rural operation has become much more than the former delivery man could have imagined. Being his own boss had always been a goal, but his chance to do just that came in a way that he didn’t expect.

Doug Gardner's sawmill facility overlooks this view in Southeast Ohio

In terms of size, Doug’s operation is not all that big. They produce 700,000 board feet of Appalachian hardwoods annually, 80% pallet material and 20% railroad ties. 75% of their logs are logged by Doug and his employees. He says that there just aren’t enough loggers in his area to keep him supplied. Most of the pallet material Doug has sawn over the years has been precuts, but changes in the local area are causing him to be required to assemble the majority of his pallets now. Doug has five employees, who enjoy working four 10 hour work days. However, Doug jokes that he still works seven days a week, which comes with owning a business. Doug also sells sawdust to local dairy farms, and says that he accumulates about one dump truck load each day. He has also just installed a grinder and mulch coloration machine to create additional revenue from all the sawmill waste. When asked about the size of his operation, Doug says that it’s getting a little too big for his tastes. Starting the business was a lot of work for many years. He now has plenty of work, and the business is doing well, and so Doug says that he really is looking forward to spending more time with his family while running his business.

Doug Gardner operates his Wood-Mizer LT70 high production sawmill

Back in the early ‘90s, Doug and his father Leonard needed to build a barn. They looked at their standing timber and decided to save some money by hiring someone with a portable sawmill to turn those trees into barn lumber. After having the lumber sawn, Doug says, “I thought that if I started doing this on the side, it could be more profitable than working for somebody else.” Doug and his dad started off with a manual LT15 Wood-Mizer sawmill. As word got out about the milling service Doug was offering, local people started coming to him to get their lumber. While still working his day job, Doug began putting a lot of hours on the manual mill. “It’s nice starting out small like that. It was a very true cutting mill: very accurate. It was pretty labor intensive, but it was very rewarding also.”

Doug found that his service filled a local need. Doug’s first contract was sawing cants for a local pallet company, and it wasn’t long after that when Doug quit his job at UPS and started sawing full time. With steady demand and after putting 5,000 hours on the LT15 sawmill, he decided it was time to upgrade to a Wood-Mizer LT40 Super Hydraulic sawmill in 1999. With the added features of portability, hydraulic log handling and clamping on the LT40 Super, Doug was able to saw at his location, or tow the mill to customer locations and provide mobile sawing service. “We put nine to ten thousand hours on that mill, and we still weren’t able to keep up [with customer demand]. We could cut railroad ties, pre-cuts, and cants; everything we could saw, we would sell.”

The LT70 increased Doug's ability to produce product efficiently. 
With the ever increasing demand for products, Doug decided to construct a building and focus on sawing in one place and supported that decision by upgrading to a Wood-Mizer LT70 with an electric motor. “The LT70 is a rough, tough saw!” Doug explains, and comes with much faster log handling, more power to the blade and hydraulics, a bi-directional chain turner, and is overall a heavier, more powerful machine. Right behind the LT70 is another one of Doug’s favorite equipment purchases, a Wood-Mizer industrial E430 edger, capable of edging up to 4” material without breaking a sweat. Other equipment are also now present in Doug’s rural operation: gang saw, descrambler, chop saw, and single head resaws.

After starting to saw local lumber, Doug discovered a company with a very high demand for railroad ties. While in the process of sawing thousands of railroad ties, he found that he was creating a lot of side lumber that could be produced for pallets for a several different local manufacturing companies.  His effort to produce a quality product as efficiently as possible has paid off with long-term and mutually advantageous relationships with his customers.

Doug sorts his logs by length, depending on the product he is sawing. When doing precuts for pallet material, a first high pass with the LT70 sawmill will take any large knots off the top of the log. Then the blade is dropped 3 9/16” and the resulting slab is sent through the industrial edger to become a cant six inches wide. The slabs are sent through single head resaws, and are stacked to be used for pallet deck boards.

The center of the log is then broken down into 3 9/16”X6” or 4”X6” cants, which are passed through a descrambler, chop saw, and then on to the gang saw to create pallet runners. The pallets that Doug sells are fabricated by a two man team armed with nailguns, who work together quickly to assemble the pallets. Precuts are stacked and sold directly to local pallet companies.

Doug's crew assemble pallets by hand for local customers
Ever looking to improve profitability, Doug has made his waste wood material into business revenue. A new large sawdust bin keeps the sawdust contained, keeps Doug’s operation clean, and makes it easy for local dairy farmers to drive up and buy their weekly pickup loads.

All the other sawmill waste will be going through a newly installed grinder that will turn their annual 8,000 yards of waste into mulch. With a coloring machine in the mix, Doug is setting up dividers in front of his building to separate the different colors of mulch he will offer for sale. He already has contracts lined up to deliver the mulch to customers as well. What used to be an expenditure is now becoming revenue, making the company healthier, improving the bottom line, and allowing Doug’s company to experience continued growth.

With his company running smoothly, and employees that he trusts, Doug is looking forward to spending more time with his family and in his unique log home. His home could rightly be called a showroom: a showroom for the lumber he saws, and for his hunting prowess! When Doug and his wife first priced out their house plans, they realized they could not justify the amount of money needed to build the kind of home they had always wanted. So, determined to save as much money as they could, and still get the house of their dreams, they used their sawmill to saw as much of the wood themselves as they could.

“Everything we could, we cut with the Wood-Mizer: the doors, flooring, stairs, trim, spindles, studs, and beams.” When asked how much he thinks he saved by sawing his own lumber for the house, Doug says, “$70,000-$80,000. If we would have had to pay the ‘average Joe’ pricing for everything. If it weren’t for the Wood-Mizer, I never would have been able to justify a house of this nature. And it’s what my wife and I always wanted.” The home is set on a hilltop, and Doug enjoys sitting out on the porch and not hearing anything except the sound of the breeze. He also enjoys showing off scores of hunting trophies, which adorn the walls of every room of his home.

Doug’s appreciation for family extends to his father Leonard Garner, a CPA, who has helped him keep the business on track and encouraged him to make positive investments that have created revenue and made the company stronger, more productive, and more efficient. “Through the hard times, we’ve always had work. I don’t think we ever had to look for work, it always came to us. If you want to work, Wood-Mizer is a great sawmill to use to generate a decent income.”

Doug also credits the products and support from Wood-Mizer for contributing to his success. “One of the reasons I like working with Wood-Mizer is that you can call them, and get someone who is knowledgeable. They’ve been around for a long time… It’s nice working with somebody who’s put a lot of time and effort into their product, a lot of research on it. They stand behind [their product]. I just can’t say enough good about the company.”

The pallet industry is often thought of as one that requires massive amounts of equipment, high overhead, with a very small profit margin. However, for this rural, small scale pallet company, it has given Doug Garner a rewarding career being his own boss.