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Father, Son Fill Niches in Minnesota

LumberMate portable sawmills from Norwood Industries fuel their businesses

By Richard Veilleux
Date Posted: 1/1/2004

LAKEFIELD, Minnesota – Don Micklos is old school. A 72-year-old farmer and sawmill operator, Don still helps his son, Tim, work the family’s 160-acre farm and also tends to Don’s Logging, harvesting timber and sawing hardwood on a portable sawmill for a range of companies in the region.

        Don doesn’t own a computer or a fax machine. And when he hauls a cottonwood tree that may be 50 to 60-inches in diameter, he thinks nothing of jumping on it with a chain saw and ripping it in half, walking backwards on the log as he cuts it.

        Don does not always do everything the hard way. In fact, one of the things he particularly enjoys about the two LumberMate portable sawmills – he has one and his son has one — is that sawing logs on the LumberMate mills “is as easy as pushing a shopping cart. Easier.”

        “I really like the LumberMate,” he said. “It’s small, light, easy to use. I’ve never had an ounce of trouble with them.”

        Don uses a 1997 LumberMate Mark III to saw hardwood — oak and ash — into lafs or shims for a company that builds machinery. He also saws lumber to specifications for a company that builds furniture. Tim operates a LumberMate 2000 for his pallet company, Micklos Enterprises, to saw hardwood logs into low-grade lumber for pallet components.

        “The pallet industry is booming,” said Don. “We can’t make enough of them. Some months, Tim will make 2,000 of them. It’s nip and tuck. We’re so busy we can’t take a breath without sucking in saw dust. Between that and the farm, it’s almost too much.” The boom has kept the men from their favorite pastimes: hunting, fishing and trapping.

        Don has worked a sawmill, off and on, for more than 40 years. He got his start working an old circle mill for “an old guy from Norway. He taught me everything. He knew more about sawmills than anybody I know,” he said. He used a Bell circular sawmill for many years, then bought a larger one.

        In 1997 he heard about Norwood Industries, which manufactures the LumberMate portable sawmills. Don researched the company and its sawmills and realized he could increase his profits with a thin-kerf band sawmill.

        “The salesman told me that if I wanted a sawmill that could do nice, intricate work, I should try the Norwood,” Don recalled. “I looked at it and could see it would allow me to increase my production. I could cut more boards, get more product out of each log, and it would be easier to do. I took his word for it, and I’ve been happy ever since.”

        The LumberMate 2000 is very light — about 1,000 pounds — and portable. The standard model can saw a 31-inch, 13-foot log. Norwood offers 2-foot and 4-foot bed extensions to increase the length of logs the LumberMate mills can saw, and Don added them to both sawmills. The LumberMate runs a 1 ¼-inch wide, 144-inch long blade. Power options are a 9 hp, 13 hp or 20 hp Honda engine, a 15 hp Kohler or a 23 hp Vanguard. A range of optional equipment is available.

        “They do beautiful work,” said Don. “With the LumberMate, my cuts are straight and as nice as can be.”

        The LumberMate 2000 is designed for easy transport, set-up and operation by one person. It features a rugged frame and can produce a high volume of lumber. According to Norwood Industries, it is ideal for a small woodlot owner or commercial business because it can be used to saw low-grade logs as well as producing high quality lumber suitable for furniture and cabinets.

        The LumberMate’s blade guard, spring-loaded self-returning throttle control, automatic clutch and rigid steel frame make for safe operation. The bed is low to the ground for comfortable, easy operation. The LumberMate has few mechanical parts, and a blade can be removed and replaced in less than 10 minutes.

        Norwood was founded more than a decade ago by Peter Dale, now president. He wanted a full size portable band sawmill but couldn’t justify the cost of mills that were available on the market. He designed and built his own.

        Norwood has grown dramatically since. It offers a variety of portable sawmills and related equipment for personal and commercial use, including a portable edger, a towable log skidder, and other products.

        Norwood recently introduced a patented attachment for all-terrain vehicles to enable them to perform skidding operations and other work functions. The ATV MultiMate L-1500, with attachments supplied by Norwood, may be used to skid, winch, lift and load logs up to 1,500 pounds. It also can be used for digging, dumping and hauling up to 1,500 pounds of bulk material, such as gravel or mulch.

        Don and Tim usually keep an inventory of about five loads of logs on their yard. The wood is bought from local loggers. Their community of Lakefield is tucked into the southwest corner of Minnesota — about 70 miles from the South Dakota line and not much more than 18 miles from the state’s border with Iowa.

        Don is eying a nearby site that a landowner wants cleared. It has a stand of about 30 red maple trees that Don could saw into lumber for a furniture-making customer. When they take on small logging jobs like this, they fell the trees by hand with chain saws and haul them to their yard on a 42-foot, triple-axle trailer.

        The harsh Minnesota winters do not bother the LumberMate mills. “There’s no hydraulics with the LumberMate,” Don noted, “so we can cut anytime in any weather. We ran a regular shift last year when it was 20 degrees below,” he recalled, chuckling at the thought. “That was cold!”


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