Up until 1982, there wasn’t a safe and effective way for a small-scale sawyer or woodworker to turn backyard logs and storm-downed trees into lumber. That’s when two enterprising Indianans Don Laskowski and Dan Tekulve,introduced the first portable sawmill. Through the use of a transverse-mounted band saw, mounted on a trailer, converting logs became a safe one-person job wherever the logs were felled. In addition, its thin-kerf blade made the mill about 25 percent more efficient than circular-bladed alternatives, so the new company’s name of Wood-Mizer just seemed appropriate.
News spread quickly. In just three years, the company sold 1,300 sawmills. That success led to an expanded product line, with models that included hydraulic log handling capabilities and other labor-saving features. Today, the Indianapolis-based Wood-Mizer is the world’s largest manufacturer of portable sawmills, with some 32,000 mills in operation across the Unites States and 50,000 units sold worldwide. There are 12 different model options of sawmills, but the company also offers stationary industrial sawmills, blades, material handling equipment, edgers, resaws and even kilns.
It’s easy to imagine the allure of creating your own unique lumber, without the dimensional limitations or inflated pricing of buying it from a mill or other lumber vendor. “With the invention of Wood-Mizer,” says Jacob Mooney, public relations coordinator and associate editor of the company’s The Wood-Mizer Way magazine, “reliance on the lumberyard really became optional … In our files, we have hundreds, if not thousands, of people who tell a very similar story: ‘I priced out the home my wife and I had always dreamed of, but there was no way we could have ever afforded it. So, we got a Wood-Mizer sawmill, put in some hard work, and now we have the home we always dreamed about.’”
Mooney adds that while some Wood-Mizer owners invest in a system initially for “tinkering” to fill their own lumberracks, about 60 percent end up making some or all of their income milling lumber for sale. “For someone who likes good, old-fashioned work, it’s a very satisfying work … the smell of sawdust, meeting new people, and being one’s own boss is also a great incentive.” Dreams, coupled with hard work, can lead to a resourceful form of profit.
In fact, that theme of“making dreams come true”in their various forms has become so rooted in the ethic and driving force of the employee-owned Wood-Mizer that it’s upheld as the corporate motto. Dreaming “big” is also encouraged through the company’s “Personal Best” contest, held every other year and open to all Wood-Mizer sawmill owners.
Mooney says the impetus for a contest of some kind became evident just a few years after Wood-Mizer started business. Peoples’ fondness for their sawmills, and their ability to essentially make something from nothing, opened a floodgate of letters, photos and news articles from satisfied customers. The first contest took place in 1986, and it showcased primarily customers who had built impressive homes with self-sawn lumber. Since then, the Personal Best contest has expanded into eight categories and garners some 60 to 70 applications each time. Categories include Homes and Major Structures, Small Homes and Cabins, Large Barns and Garages, Small Barns and Tool Sheds, Interior Projects, Exterior Projects, a category dedicated to “For the Good of Others,” and one dedicated to “Wide Open/Unusual/Unique Projects.” Whether driven by the range of category options or the hopes of winning a portion of the $20,000 purse in Wood-Mizer credit (first-, second- and third-place prizes are awarded in each category), last year’s contest had nearly double the number of applicants from previous years. Mooney credits some of the enthusiasm for the contest to Wood-Mizer’s use of social media channels such as YouTube and Facebook. Awareness about the contest is also fostered through the internally developed customer magazine.
Recently, Personal Best 2011 award winners were announced. For a sampling of winning entries, consider Paul Simms of Ferrum, Virginia, who was last year’s grand champion winner in the category Homes and Major Structures. Paul used his LT40 Wood-Mizer and a team of draft horses to turn white pine, white oak and hickory on his six-generation family farm into a 3,600-sq.-ft. home. He estimates having saved more than $100,000 in material costs by milling his own lumber.
Lynn Davis put his LT40 to charitable use as the first-prize winner in the category “For the Good of Others.” When his home congregation, Macedonia Baptist Church of Brookhaven, Mississippi, realized the need to expand the church music minister’s storage space, Lynn secured and donated all the lumber for a new multipurpose structure so there would be no expenditures required from the church budget. The new 36 x 24 ft. structure took three months of volunteer time to build, and Lynn’s lumber contribution provided everything from floor joists to the interior walls, trim and floor.
Mooney also highlighted Gregg Turk’s grand champion entry in the Unique Projects category: a 14-ft.-long Santa’s sleigh made of yellow and tulip poplar. Turk, who is semi-retired, makes holiday appearances as Santa and decided that when children wondered where his sleigh was, the only solution was to build one from scratch. The sleigh is both an impressive woodworking undertaking and a technological head-turner: it’s bedecked with onboard GPS navigation, a computer to view wish lists and images of space, as well as subwoofers and a fog machine to simulate a lift-off sequence. It seems this Somerville, Alabama, Santa will now ride in style and at a cost savings of more than $4,000 in lumber, Turk estimates.
An extensive portfolio of photos, project descriptions and videos from these and other Personal Best 2011 winners are provided on Wood-Mizer’s web site (click here).