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Michigan Farmer Is Winter Woodworker
Michigan Farmer Finds Good Value in Norwood LumberMate
By April Terreri
Date Posted: 1/1/2006
BAILEY, Michigan — Robert Sokolowski always had a special affinity for woodworking. He works alone on commercial projects as well as on hobby projects that interest him.
Robert recently added a new Norwood Industries LumberMate 2000 portable band sawmill to his operations. It is the second portable mill he has purchased from Norwood.
Robert first discovered the benefits of owning a Norwood LumberMate when he purchased his first one in 1996. “Since I am a one-person sawmiller, I needed a mill that would handle the bigger logs I work with, but I didn’t want to spend $25,000 or $30,000 for a hydraulic mill,” he said.
The new LumberMate 2000 is easier to work with than the older model, Robert noted. “It has a lot of desirable upgrades I wanted in a mill, including a wider, stronger track, bigger motor and all-around improvements.”
Robert owns a woodlot that is part of the family farm — it was once a dairy farm but now is used to grow hay — he bought from his parents about 25 years ago. “The property had not been timbered off for quite some time, so a lot of the trees are very big and always on the outside edge of what my old LumberMate could handle,” he said. “So for the kinds of logs I am getting off my own property, the new LumberMate 2000 is the smallest sawmill I dare own.”
The woodlot contains red and black oak, American black cherry, maple, aspen and other species. The larger trees he handles are usually 28 inches to 32 inches in diameter. He mills the logs into 4x4, 4x6, 2x4 and 2x6 along with random width and random length higher grade lumber; aspen is cut mainly into 2x4 and 2x6 for construction lumber.
On the Job
Once he has selected a tree, Robert fells it with a chain saw and trims off the limbs. “I cut out everything from the log and use the excess wood for firewood to heat my shop during the winter months,” he said.
He skids the log out of the forest, bucks it into the appropriate lengths, and loads the logs onto a four-wheel wagon with no bed. “This way, I can keep the log out of the mud so it is as clean as possible to work with,” Robert said.
The logs are moved to his log yard, where they are unloaded directly to his sawmill or graded and stacked. “I like to use Anchor Seal to seal the ends of the logs, which helps me produce higher quality lumber,” said Robert. “I apply this on all my better hardwoods.”
Finished high quality, cabinet grade lumber is stacked and covered to air dry and later dried in a small kiln in Robert’s shop to 6%-8% moisture content.
Another feature of the LumberMate 2000 that Robert finds attractive is a winch attachment. “That was the draw for me because it allows me to turn the logs with the winch,” he explained. “Norwood put more horsepower in the machine, and it’s just a beefier piece of equipment with a sturdier frame and carriage than the old mill had.”
Robert farms hay during the spring and summer and spends the remainder of the year on his woodworking operations, sawing lumber for commercial projects as well as for his own hobby projects. He harvests trees from his woodlot and grades them for construction lumber or for higher grade cabinet lumber. One of the first commercial jobs Robert has lined up for 2006 is producing 2x6 lumber for a neighbor who is building a house.
Low-grade lumber is sold to friends and other farmers who use it for building wagons or outbuildings. Robert made the lumber that he used to construct the 60-foot by 46-foot storage building housing his farming and woodworking equipment.
“Here in Michigan, lumber used in structural buildings has to be grade stamped, and you can’t take the lumber right off the sawmill and use it for building,” he explained.
His next personal project will be to build a lean-to shed to shelter the portable sawmill from the harsh Michigan winters. “I will be sawing a lot of 2x6 for this project,” Robert said.
No Better Buy on the Market
For a manually operated portable sawmill with no hydraulics, the LumberMate 2000 is an excellent value, said Robert. One reason is he purchased the sawmill as a kit. “I think you get the most mill for the least amount of money, and one reason is it arrives to you un-assembled,” he said. “Norwood provides a great video with excellent instructions, and the way it’s designed makes it very easy to assemble, allowing you to save a lot of money doing it this way.”
“Another advantage of building the mill yourself is you get to see exactly how it all goes together and you learn how to adjust it and take care of it,” he added.
Another design advantage of the LumberMate 2000 is that it bolts together. If a part needs to be replaced, you merely unbolt it and put in the new one. “Norwood uses a lot of common parts that are easily available — like standard bearings, for example,” said Robert.
Many years have passed since Robert, 55, first became enamored with the beauty of woodworking. “I can remember when I was a young boy visiting my grandma (in Michigan),” he recalled. “She heated her house with cut-offs from the maple that Brunswick Corporation used to make flooring for bowling alleys. Brunswick was located in her town, and you could buy cut-offs for almost nothing and they would deliver them in a dump truck. They were tongue-in-groove pieces, and I would build huge things. My brother and I would take the wood home to work on more projects.”
Once he graduated high school, Robert set off to Alaska to do some fishing and hunting. He wound up staying there for 25 years, working for the City of Kenai. As he got into woodworking, he began accumulating woodworking tools. “I always liked clocks and began to build them,” he said. The clocks were so popular that people began asking him to build bigger things for them.
He soon had his own cabinet shop, where he built custom furniture and cabinets. It started as a part-time business but quickly evolved into full-time work. “People would come into my shop with a picture of something they wanted me to build, and I would draw up a set of plans and build it for them, no matter what the size of the piece they wanted me to build,” he said. One of his biggest jobs he had was a remodeling project for the state of Alaska. “I built all the counters and cabinets in the office for them,” he said.
When he returned to Michigan and purchased the family farm, he bought his first Norwood portable band sawmill. “My long-time dream was to own my own sawmill, and that’s how I got started with my first LumberMate,” said Robert.Norwood maintains an Internet chat room where people can get answers to questions relating to woodworking problems, suggestions and ideas. “I would like to invite everyone to go to www.norwoodindustries.com, where there is an online bulletin board where everyone is welcome,” Robert said. The site offers a wealth of resources, he continued. “Guys can pick up all the tips instantly right there so they can get ramped right up to speed, and everyone is just so happy to be able to help everyone.”
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