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From Logging to Lumber

Washington Company Relies on Wood-Mizer to go from Logging to Lumber

By Jack Petree
Date Posted: 6/1/2006


 Tim Rogerson worked the woods as part of a harvest crew for nearly 20 years before a tragic accident led to major change in his life.  Today, Tim is one of hundreds of loggers and/or ex-loggers across North America who either make their entire living milling the stems they once had a part in harvesting or, continue to harvest but  “take the middlemen” out of the equation by processing the fruits of their own labor into highly competitive specialty and dimensional lumbers.  In 2005, thanks to the thin kerf, portable band sawmill he owns, Tim Rogerson fills a unique niche in his rural Western Washington community of Chehalis, milling custom lumber and providing the community a retail source of high quality building materials at competitive prices.  Doing business as Rogerson Brothers Timber, a sole proprietorship, Tim’s Wood-Mizer brand portable saw mill turns out over 300,000 board feet of dimensional lumber annually; lumber Tim markets to a broad variety of customers located in the region surrounding his home.

Tim says he came to the logging trade in 1973, at the age of twenty-one, when he hired on to a logging crew as a feller.  After 12 years earning wages in the employ of others, Tim, in partnership with his brother Mark, also a feller, ventured out as independent contractors, felling timber for land owners and harvesters under the name Rogerson Brothers Timber. 

In the early 1990s, according to Tim, the slump associated with the Spotted Owl was putting the brakes on the Pacific Northwest timber industry so he and his brother began to discuss the future.  Mark came up with a new idea for the pair to try out.  Mark, Tim continues, thought a portable sawmill would allow the two men diversify their enterprise, allowing them to continue make a living even during hard times for the larger industry.  “I had never thought of running a sawmill,” Tim admits, “But it seemed like a reasonable thing to try.” 

After considerable research by Mark the partners chose, in 1990, to purchase a portable 24 horsepower gasoline powered Wood-Mizer LT40 thin-kerf band sawmill.  Having horsed enough logs around in the woods to understand the value of Wood-Mizer’s hydraulic handling system option for loading a log onto the milling table the two invested in that feature as well. 

A tragic logging accident claimed Mark’s life in 1992.  According to Tim, that accident caused him to lose his heart for working in the woods so he decided full time operation of the sawmill would be his occupation of choice in the future.  He devoted himself to making the sawmill end of the business grow, constructed a new building designed to house his saw and allow him to mill and store lumber out of the weather on the five acre parcel he and his family call home.

Five years later, in 1997, with the business growing, Tim says he upgraded his mill to a newer version of the LT40 in order to take advantage of the improvements Wood-Mizer was making in their portable sawmill line.  This time Tim chose an LT40 equipped with a 33 horsepower diesel engine and a debarking fixture.  “The debarker,” he explains, “is a small carbide tip circular saw that removes a layer of bark and debris ahead of the saw’s cutting band.  Removal of bark, dirt and gravel before sawing contributes significantly to the amount of lumber a band can cut before it needs to be sharpened.” 

Rather than trade in his old saw for the new one, Tim decided the market could handle the output from two saws.  For the next year Tim cut lumber with 2000 model and his son Chris operated the 1997 model.  Chris has since pursued other opportunities so, Tim says, he is now content to operate a single machine.

The beauty of a portable sawmill like the Wood-Mizer Tim operates is, he says, the flexibility it gives an owner.  The mill can be set up, as Tim has done, to operate as a small production sawmill or, it can be moved to almost any site a pickup can get to and be utilized to custom mill logs owned by private individuals.   

Of the three hundred thousand board feet Tim saws on average each year, he estimates that 40% of his operation is at customer sites sawing custom lumber and 60% is at his home site sawing both custom lumber delivered to the mill by landowners and other lumbers for the retail market.  Although willing to process most any species of trees, 90-95% of the lumber he saws is Douglas Fir.  He occasionally also cuts cedar or hardwoods like ash, oak and maple.

The portability of the Wood-Mizer, which Tim pulls easily behind his small pickup truck, allows him to go to the customer, eliminating the need to transport logs and lumber to and from the mill.  Tim states “the LT40 is sets up in five minutes on even concrete and in about 15 minutes on uneven ground in the least favorable conditions and I can breakdown be ready to roll in five minutes or less.”  He continues by saying “It is not just the ease of transport and setup that is important, but the Wood-Mizer always cuts smooth and straight boards even if the bed is uneven because of the terrain.”  The saw’s ability to consistently mill lumber with precision is attributable to a monorail cutting system and a cantilevered cutting head.  “If a portable sawmill is to be productive and profitable,” Tim asserts, “you cannot waste valuable time fiddling to get it to cut right.”

Although Tim may occasionally saw fiber from a “logging job,” most of his work away from home comes from individuals who have a few trees they want processed into lumber.  To maintain a reasonable profit margin Tim typically stays within a 20 mile radius of his home and will only take jobs on the road which have more than 2000 board feet to saw.  Tim muses, “I wish my pickup was as economical as the diesel engine on my saw mill.”  He explains that he can saw lumber for eight hours and burn only five gallons of fuel, making the diesel engine twice as economical as the gas engines even as it delivers much more power.  This type of efficiency comes not only from the diesel engine, but also from the utilization of the Wood-Mizer ultra thin-kerf band sawing technology which requires less power to produce the same amount of lumber because of the smaller kerf  used (kerf influences the thickness of the cut a blade makes as it moves though a log).

Tim says the much of the demand for custom sawing in his area arises from home owners clearing sites for building or from the removal of “danger” trees in residential areas.  It is common for a customer to use the lumber Tim saws to erect buildings on very the same plot of ground from which the trees were removed  Sometimes customers with small sawing jobs, or those with the means to transport logs, will deliver the logs to Tim’s home location for sawing but most of the custom work, he says, is done “on the road.”

According to Tim, fees for custom sawmilling services vary depending on the type of trees and the size of lumber requested by the customer.  A sliding scale is used based on board feet produced.  A set rate is charged for producing dimensional lumber and a slightly higher, but still very reasonable rate, is applied to mill smaller or custom boards.  If the customer has low quality or “defective logs” an hourly flat rate is applied.  On rare occasion Tim will cut cedar or hardwoods lumber for shares if he has a personal project for which that type of lumber is needed.  Otherwise cutting on shares is avoided because of the additional transportation time and expense that would be required to turn his share into a retail sale.

In addition to doing custom work, Tim also buys high quality full length logs and has them delivered to his home base.  95% of the logs, he says, come from a nearby pole yard which sells him sticks rejected as poles but still capable of being sawn into superior quality lumbers.  The logs are, for the most part, milled into dimensional lumber to serve nearby retail markets or reduced to specialty products in demand by customers.

Logs are delivered to Rogerson Brothers aboard a hired, self-loading log truck, then cut into desired lengths depending on market needs and log type then delivered to the saw, located at one end of the shed, on the tines of a 1952 Ferguson 30 tractor.  Tim chuckles, “Apart from the Wood-Mizer, we are not too high tech around here, but we get the job done.”  He says it is a lot easier to let the Ferguson move the logs at home than it is to wrestle them with a peavey on the remote sites.”

After the logs are delivered to the sawmill by the Ferguson, the heavy work of lifting the stems onto the mill is accomplished by the Wood-Mizer LT40’s hydraulic lifting arms.  Once on the saw frame, a heavy duty hydraulic system mounted to the saw’s bed serves to both clamp the logs immovably for sawing and to turn the log between cuts so that both optimum value and yield can be addressed by the sawyer.  Tim states that he prefers to saw logs eight to twenty feet long and between eight and thirty-six inches in diameter.  He acknowledges that he can cut shorter and smaller logs, but doing that requires more work for the amount of lumber produced, thus reducing profitability.

The retail marketplace for dimensional lumber is, Tim says, very competitive so, he points out, quality, yield, and efficiency are key elements in producing a profit for Rogerson Brothers Timber.

Quality, according to Tim, is a function of the log being sawn and of the sawmill being utilized to do the milling of the fiber.  Logs coming from the pole yard are generally of a very high quality, he comments, so the ability of the Wood-Mizer to saw true controls the quality of the lumber resulting from his own production process.  He says that in a business climate in which the price he can change is directly related to the quality of the lumber he can produce the fact that he’s stuck with Wood-Mizer for 13 years says all there is to say about the performance his saw has provided when it comes to quality.

Yield is as important as quality to a mill owner competing on the open market.  A log costs a mill owner the same no matter how much lumber is produced from it; more boards from a log equals better opportunity for profitability.

According to Tim, his LT40’s .042 thin-kerf band saw consistently produces nearly twice as much lumber as raw log scale would indicate when cutting 1½ inch lumber.  Since logs are sold by scale and lumber can be produced at close to 100% overrun of scale, Tim says he is able to beat the prices of other retail lumber outlets by out producing the mills they depend on for lumber.  Even though his material is neither kiln dried, nor graded, the exceptional quality and quantity of the lumber coming off his sawmill  enables competitive pricing resulting in a substantial market share.

Lumber produced for retail sales is sorted and stacked across the shed from the mill’s location yet undercover where it is protected from the weather and readily available for customer access. 

In additional to milling structural lumber, Tim says he has a good customer base for specialty products including board and batt siding, fascia boards and other special order items that render a better financial return than 1½ inch lumber can provide.  Local lumber yards also provide a customer base, sometimes special ordering large beams required by one of their customers but not readily available from the normal supply chain. 

As a sole proprietor, Tim estimates he spends approximately 6½ hours a day sawing lumber and the balance of his “40 hour week” is spent on maintenance, bookkeeping, traveling and other necessary errands to keep the business floating and the lumber flowing.  Occasionally an employee is hired on to help out.  “Actually,” Tim says, “I work 24-seven. If a customer calls and wants to buy lumber, I am open to sell.” 

Tim says he does not allow the saw mill’s byproducts to go to waste.  The slabs removed to square logs in preparation for sawing lumber are sold locally for firewood. Sawdust is sold and used for landscaping purposes.

Tim says having been in business as a full time saw mill for thirteen years has paid the dividend of establishing a good customer base for Rogerson Brothers Timber.  He estimates that 75% of his business originates from word of mouth contacts and from a significant number of repeat customers.  His face brightens as he says, “In a small community like this, many of your customers become your friends after a while and that too is good for business.”  Tim also purchases advertising in the “Nickel Ads,” a locally distributed advertising paper that is available free to the public.

Tim affirms that after sawing millions of board feet of lumber over a fifteen year period that the Wood-Mizer thin-kerf band saws have done a good job for him.  He commends the accuracy, economy, yield and productivity he experiences saying that they have enabled him to gain tenure in the industry serving a loyal customer base.

While there may be many others operating saw mills in rural southwest Washington, Tim Rogerson is somewhat unique in that his operation is truly full time.  His source of quality logs and the ability to produce exceptional lumber has enabled him to become an important part and pillar in his community with its home town environment.

As Tim looks to the future, he anticipates his operation will become more stationary and less portable.  By developing more regular retail clients for his quality products, Tim says he will be able to process more logs at home with its comforts and conveniences. With a hint of grin creasing his face, he remarks “I would be glad to permanently trade in the peavey I use to move logs when on the road for the luxury of my 1952 Ferguson and its tongs.” 

In summary Tim says, “I am not getting filthy rich, but I make a good honest living.”  For those who live in the Chehalis Washington community, Tim Rogerson fills a important role as he saws custom lumber and provides a retail source of high quality building materials at bargain prices.  As a one time logger, and supporter of the timber industry, Tim also appreciates the ability to make a living in the trade he’s been involved in since he was a young man looking forward to a lifetime in the woods.

 

Editors Note: The preceding is paid advertorial submitted by Wood-Mizer.


 






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