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One Board at a Time
Husband and Wife Sawmill Business Grows By The Foot
By SM Phinney
Date Posted: 5/1/2006
The floods of 1993 devastated some parts of Iowa. For Allen and Linda Root, 1993 was the beginning of a blessing that has lasted for 13 years. In April of that year they bought a new Wood-Mizer LT40HDG24 and began their business, By The Foot Sawmill. Since then, their Wood-Mizer has been used to accomplish many things and has changed their lives.
Al and Linda started portable sawmilling as weekend warriors. As demand increased, mostly by word of mouth, they quit their other jobs just to keep up with the growing business. In 1995, Al took a three-day lumber grading class. The same year a local logger had Al and Linda bring the Wood-Mizer to his log yard with never ending piles of logs. In 1996, the logger decided to buy a Sanborn 6" Minimax bandmill. After much frustration, he asked Al to run it for him. Al agreed, but under the condition that it was temporary. This went on for four months, until Al said he’d had enough and would prefer to run his Wood-Mizer. According to Al, “bigger isn’t always better” and within a year the logger sold
During the summers of 1994 and 1995 the Roots were asked to station their Wood-Mizer at the Holzfest and Der Schnitzer (Splinterfest) wood shows in Iowa’s Amana Colonies. They were a big attraction. Hundreds of people gathered to observe them running their Wood-Mizer.
In the spring of 1996, Al and Linda had a 40' x 40' shop built north of Norway, Iowa to house their sawmill operation. They added an edger the same year. The edger increased production immensely. Linda could off-bear and run a flitch through the edger, at the same time Al was making a cut with the mill. Demand on the green market was so great; they worked 10-12 hour days just to keep up. By 1997 they had converted the Wood-Mizer from portable to stationary and from gas to 15hp electric. A Wood-Mizer resaw, debarker, and laser have also been added to enhance their sawmill.
Linda always enjoys the exercise of off-bearing and edging, but likes running the Wood-Mizer as well. Linda comments, “It looks like a complicated machine, but I really love how user friendly it is.”
Al crafted his own “Jolly Trolley” platform to accommodate Linda’s petite height so she could see the scale better when she runs the mill. The Jolly Trolley hooks onto the bottom of the saw head and is approximately 6" off the ground. Al likes the trolley so much he uses it most of the time, as well. Linda is quick to say that “Al is the master sawyer here, I’m just a jack of all trades.”
The Roots contract saw 80,000 board feet of grade lumber per year; in addition to sawing for their showroom and small custom jobs. They have a 1,600 square foot arch building to air-dry green lumber, before they kiln dry it.
In 1998, Al and Linda added a showroom and office onto their existing building. Their 20' x 40' showroom is packed full with over 11,000 board feet of furniture grade lumber, in 12 different species. People have traveled long distances from places like Washington, Montana, and Florida to buy their lumber. In addition, the couple has shipped lumber nationwide, as far away as New York, Texas, and Washington. Using a broker, their lumber has been shipped to China, Italy, Germany, as well as other places throughout the world.
Custom sawing and selling native hardwoods is their main business, but they have fulfilled some other unusual requests as well. They have resawn exotic woods: Yellow Heart and Wedge from Africa, as well as Mora Excelsia and Mahogany from South America. Reclaimed beams from building demolitions have also made good use of their resaw. Another oddity was resawing salvaged bowling alley lanes to be made into workbenches. For a change of pace, the Root’s Wood-Mizer has been used to custom saw rubber slabs, made from recycled tires for crossing pads between railroad tracks in Mexico.
By The Foot Sawmill’s customers range from loggers to other sawmills and from cabinet makers to hobbyists. Al and Linda built a wood shop complete with a table saw, jointer, miter saw, and lathe to supply cabinet makers with custom made blanks. They have also built stairs, benches, cabinets, tables, and other items from lumber produced by their sawmill. Their showroom displays a casket Al hand-crafted, “Just in case Linda gets tired of me,” he jokes.
The Roots have sawn logs as big as 44" in diameter, which had to be loaded and turned with the aid of a forklift. Lots of odd things have been found in logs they have sawn. Among the most unusual were two football sized rocks, both in the same tree, well below any crotches. One rock was 12" into the 30" diameter butt log, the second rock was 8' farther up in the second cut log (approximately 12" under the bark).
By The Foot Sawmill has been toured by The Boy Scouts, Vinton-Shellsburg Home School group, The Department of Natural Resources, and twice by Rockwell Collins Woodworking Club. The Wood-Mizer was used to clean up 60,000 board feet of downed cherry trees in the Amana Colonies; after straight line winds ripped through Eastern Iowa in 1996.
Al and Linda make sure that no part of the log is wasted. They sell wood slabs for firewood and also use them to supply heat for their 40' x 80' building, wood shop, and kiln. Sawdust is given to several neighbors for horses and other animal bedding. They also grind slabs into mulch for retail customers. Owning a Wood-Mizer has made Al and Linda self-sufficient and helped the community.
Al keeps the mill in tip-top shape. Even at 13 years of age “old woody” cuts as accurate as it did when it was new. Al comments, “It may look old, but it still cuts accurate lumber. It requires minimal maintenance to keep it going strong. Wood-Mizer has great technical service; I wouldn’t want any other brand.”Editors Note: The preceding is paid advertorial submitted by Wood-Mizer.
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