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Virginian Expands into Sawmill Business

Baker Products portable band mill takes tree service company into lumber production

By Tim Cox
Date Posted: 1/1/2005

PALMYRA, Virginia – Glenn Hackett likes wood. You can tell by looking at his house. The Cape Cod-style home, which he built about two years ago, is wood through and through, inside and out.

      The exterior, which features a wrap-around country porch, is rough-sawn poplar siding. The flooring of the porch is made of Eastern red cedar, and the house has an oversize custom wood door. Inside, it is more of the same — solid wood
floors, a hand-made stairway of white ash, solid wood beaded paneling and extensive solid wood molding and trim throughout the house.

      Glenn made virtually all of the wood material and installed it himself.

      Glenn has worked in the tree service industry for over 21 years and has been in business nearly the same length of time. He began working with his brother in
high school when Glenn was only 15. Their father was a carpenter. “It’s all in
the wood,” said Glenn, who lives with his wife, Roberta, in
Palmyra, a village in rural Fluvanna County about 55 miles west of Richmond.

      Glenn bought a portable band mill 15 years ago with a partner. Over the years he used it to mill lumber to build barns and other buildings on his property.

      Earlier this year Glenn, 40, decided to expand his business and invest in a new Baker Products portable sawmill. “Baker has more products,” he said, “and I can expand with them…And they make a good product.”

      In addition to manufacturing portable sawmills, Baker Products manufactures
a complete line of machinery and systems for the pallet and sawmill industries, including scragg mills, horizontal band resaws, notchers, chamfers, cant sizers, dedusters, log cut-off saws, chop saws, trim saws and material hand­ling equipment.

      Glenn is using his Baker portable sawmill to provide custom sawing services and also to manufacture lumber products he sells mainly to farmers and other customers. He is currently running the mill two days per week, but he plans to gradually transition out of the tree service business and into a full-time sawmill business within about five years. “I can’t climb trees forever,” he observed.

      Glenn wanted a more powerful, industrial-level mill that would make his job easier and increase production. He invested in a Baker 3638-D portable sawmill. The Baker model name signifies that the mill has a full 36 inch cutting capacity and is powered by a standard 38 hp Kubota diesel engine. (The mill is also available with a 30 hp electric motor and as a stationary sawmill.) Glenn purchased a mill with a bed long enough to accommodate logs up to 24 feet long. The Baker 3638-D is equipped with 28-inch diameter all metal band wheels and features a dual chain-driven carriage. The mill also has full hydraulics for loading the log on the bed, turning the log, raising and lowering the saw head frame and board drag-back. The mill is made of four-post construction with heavy-duty steel. Glenn also purchased the optional debarker. Although computerized setworks are an option offered by Baker, Glenn preferred the manual setworks.

      Glenn has a Baker live log deck set up with the mill as well as a Baker roller
deck to feed boards to a Baker edger. “It’s wonderful,” he said. He can cut over 6,000 board feet working 8-10 hours, according to Glenn.

      He runs Lennox band blades. “They are about the best there is,” said
Glenn. “they stay sharper longer and they don’t break.”

      Being in the tree business has been a definite advantage to starting a sawmill business, Glenn noted. As a contractor hired to remove trees, he gets logs for free. He gets paid three times — to cut down a tree, haul it away, and now he can take that raw material and process it into lumber he can sell. “A lot of people in tree work, they’re throwing money away” if they discard the logs in a landfill, said Glenn. In fact, by having access to ‘free’ logs, Glenn can operate the sawmill only one day a month and earn enough money to more than make the monthly payment on the mill.

      “People in the tree business — they’re crazy not to get a sawmill,” Glenn added. “We’re taking a waste product and making money with it.” As an example, he said he recently milled 8,000 board feet of Eastern red cedar lumber that he sells for $1.50 per foot (which is a low price, he conceded), or a total of $12,000. Glen produced the lumber in one week by himself. His monthly payment on the mill is about $750, and his labor — one helper — and other expenses associated with running the mill for a day are about another $250. Sawing for one week, he made enough for the sawmill payment and covered his other expenses for running the mill and will pocket $11,000.

      With the Baker live deck, Glenn said he can load it with about 30-40 logs at a time and then “keep cutting.” He can saw about three or four decks in a day, he said.

      Glenn cuts a lot of 4/4 lumber. Although he cuts mostly hardwood species, one of his best sellers is Eastern red cedar, which he processes mainly into 4/4 boards that are sold to hobbyists and other customers.

      The lumber produced by the Baker portable sawmill is sold mainly to farmers. Fluvanna County’s largely rolling hills are more suited for cattle farming instead of growing row crops. “I can sell every 16-foot 1x6 fence board that I can make,” said Glenn, whose lumber business has spread strictly by word of mouth. Another popular item is a certain type of timber for hay wagons.

      Glenn built himself a solar kiln four years ago. He described it as a greenhouse with a wood stove and a fan. He is planning to add a conventional dry kiln.

      He also has a couple of other pieces of woodworking machinery — a Grizzly planer and a molder.

      Glenn looked at and compared a number of portable sawmills made by various suppliers. He was attracted to the Baker portable sawmill because of its heavy-duty steel construction and four-post design. He wanted a portable mill capable of handling large logs. He considered a number of different mills and researched them for two years before making a decision. He decided on the Baker after watching it in operation at trade shows. “I think it is the best mill.”

      He was complimentary of Baker’s service, support and staff. “It’s sort of like a family,” he said of the company. “It’s not like, ‘Take a number.’ They know who I am.” The Baker staff has been very knowledgeable about helping him order replacement parts.

      Glenn has been using the Baker portable sawmill for a couple of custom sawmilling jobs recently. He has been resawing old beams from a factory in Georgia to produce lumber that will be used in restoration work at Montpelier, the Virginia home of president James Madison. The beams came from a silk mill that was built in the mid-1800s. He also was milling Chinese elm logs that came from an old monastery in China. The logs are an estimated 400-800 years old and “hard as a brick,” Glenn noted. The lumber, which eventually will be made into flooring, was being produced for another sawmill company in Virginia that was unable to mill the old logs.

      Glenn burns a few of his slabs and gives many of them away to needy families for firewood.

      When TimberLine visited Glenn, his Baker portable sawmill was set up on a new concrete slab a short distance from his house. The sides of a new building to be erected on the slab were already partly framed — the solid wood posts supporting steel beams. A crew of carpenters was pre-assembling roof trusses on the ground in preparation for the trusses to be lifted with a crane and set on the wall frames.

      In his spare time Glenn likes to deer hunt and fish. He had recently returned from taking his boat out into the Chesapeake Bay, where he landed a 30-pound striped bass.


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