Monday, March 3, 2014

Sawing in the Alaskan Wilderness

The Talaheim Lodge
Mark Miller is the founder and owner of the Talaheim Lodge located 80 miles west of Anchorage, Alaska. After purchasing his Wood-Mizer LT10 in 2006, Mark has built five buildings and added flooring and furniture to the existing buildings on the property. Read Mark’s story below, in his own words.

Sawing in the Alaskan Wilderness

By Mark Miller

Aerial view of The Talaheim Lodge

In 1976, my youthful dream started to unfold as I began building my remote fishing and hunting lodge (The Talaheim Lodge) in the wilderness of Alaska. Most of the state can’t be reached by road, so many Alaskan fishing lodges, like mine, have to be reached by either helicopter or plane. Everything from a toothpick to a gallon of gasoline has to be flown in to our site.

During those younger days we built stockade log construction by utilizing local timbers. Large cargo, single engine aircrafts on skis are expensive to charter, so most of my lumber was cut on-site with a chainsaw mill. That first crude building was built from logs and chainsaw cut lumber and went up like a kid building a tree fort. For the next 30 years, I used a chainsaw to cut as much lumber as possible in order to keep costs down when building miles away from roads. We only averaged about a board an hour but most of our lumber didn’t have to be flown in, saving us money.

Skidding logs by snowmobile
All our logs are skidded to our site by snowmobile in March and April when the snow is deep and settled. Everything out here comes by air except our snow machines that we drive out in the winter (a 50-mile journey from the nearest road system). In 2006, I purchased a very large wide-tracked snowmobile, which was capable of pulling in much larger logs than I was able to in the past. Glaring at my log deck of about 100, 12’ long and 16” diameter logs, I suddenly started to tense up thinking about all that back breaking chainsaw milling I would have to do.

Log deck, sorted by length
Cutting timber with chainsaws is slow, tedious and a backbreaking chore from being bent over for long periods of time. Not to mention chainsaws burn up gallons of fuel and oil, and the 3/8” wide kerf produce piles of sawdust that could be used as lumber. There had to be a better way.

Shortly after, I found a Wood-Mizer LT10 sawmill featured in a local outdoor magazine. It caught my eye as it was light and could easily fit onto a ski plane. The local Wood-Mizer dealer (100 miles away) had one on display that I could try. Seeing the mill in action secured the sale.

Mark and his Wood-Mizer LT10
After the snow left, we had a running Wood-Mizer mill in one day and a friend and I cut those 100 logs into lumber in about five days. With my LT10 and a small tractor rigged with a forklift attachment, we weren’t just in the fishing business, we were also in the lumber business.

My mill paid for itself in the first season with savings on lumber cut on site instead of flying it in. Most of our timbers are cut and used “green” with the exception of our hardwood cuts.  We cut primarily slow growth spruce for building and “house dry” birch for flooring.

Mark sawing on his LT10
I highly recommend the Wood-Mizer LT10 or LT15 for remote fly in sites like mine.  Both these mills will cut large amounts of lumber for large construction jobs. Four years into milling, I upgraded from a 7 HP to a 10 HP engine for my LT10 which made great lumber even quicker. Now I can cut a 10’ long, 8” wide board in 17 seconds!

Since having the LT10, I’ve built five new buildings from three-sided logs and timbers cut from our mill and cut in excess of 40,000 board foot. The mill has saved me thousands of dollars on lumber and has allowed me to cut huge beautiful beams that would be impossible to fly out. I’ve had great factory and local Wood-Mizer support from Anchorage, Alaska and with about all my buildings completed for my lifetime, I am now focusing on the fun stuff like birch flooring and birch and spruce furniture!

Mark's home built with lumber all cut on his LT10
Fishing guide's shack made from lumber cut on
Mark's LT10
I still love living in the wilderness and building with materials I’ve gathered locally. Today I manage with my Wood-Mizer LT10 sawmill, a tractor with a front-end lift, and snow machines capable of bringing in large logs over the snow. Not only do I save money, but also I enjoy working the land. Robert Service once wrote, “that it’s not the gold we seek, but the seeking of it”. For the past 38 years, my fishing lodge has given me the opportunity of “living off the land” in the Alaskan wilderness.

Good Fishing,

Mark Miller

Inside of the fishing guide's shack