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Virginia Man Grows Custom Sawing Business: Cook’s Saw Manufacturing Is Choice for Portable Band Sawmill That Supplements Income
Lockhart Custom Sawing – Virginia Man Chooses Cook’s Saw Mfg. Mill for Business
By April Terreri
Date Posted: 6/1/2009
COVINGTON, Virginia – Ray Lockhart, 45, and his wife, Liesl, had long dreamed of building a log home for their family of five daughters.
“We attended many seminars on how to do this with the available house kits, but that route was too expensive for us to afford,” said Ray.
They decided to buy a portable sawmill that would allow them to produce their own lumber and build the home of their dreams. “We believed this was a way for us to save a lot of money and still have the house we wanted for our family,” said Ray.
Blades to Sawmills
Ray operates a part-time custom sawmill business. His choice of portable sawmills: Cook’s Saw Manufacturing.
Earlier, Ray owned another portable sawmill that he used to make lumber to build a shop. It took him and his wife a year to build the two-story shop, which cost only $5,000. The building is 30x30 on the first level and 30x70 on the upper level. The Lockhart family moved into the shop building in 1994 and lived in it while Ray worked on the logistics of building a log home.
Five years later, Ray and Liesl began building their log home, which took six years to complete. They contracted for the electrical work, plumbing, and masonry to build three stone fireplaces. The family moved into the 3,600-square-foot log house in 2005.
When neighbors learned that Ray had a sawmill, people began calling him to make lumber for them, too. “I thought this was a good opportunity to make some extra income for my family,” he said.
About the time the family moved into their new log home, Ray began considering purchasing a new sawmill to keep up with the growing lumber requests. Ray already was acquainted with Cook’s Saw Manufacturing because he used the company’s bandsaw blades.
“I was experimenting with a lot of different manufacturers of blades and was never really happy with the performance of any of them until I tried blades from Cook’s Saw Manufacturing,” he said. “These blades were, by far, better than any other blade I had used. So I stuck to using Cook’s blades exclusively.”
The Cook’s blades cut longer and straighter, according to Ray. “They sawed straighter. The other blades would dip and dive, so they wouldn’t saw true,” he said.
Ray also was pleased with the customer service he received from Cook’s, and as he considered upgrading his portable sawmill, he looked into Cook’s line of sawmills.
Ray attended the East Coast Sawmill and Logging Equipment Exposition in 2008 in Richmond, Va. and looked at and compared portable sawmills from several manufacturers at the biennial trade show.
“I compared Cook’s sawmill to some others I looked at, and I decided to buy a new sawmill from Cook’s because I was so satisfied with their blades over the years and because they were very knowledgeable,” said Ray.
“The reason I bought the mill is because I had so much success with their blades and they were always very helpful,” he added. “I trusted them more than the other companies I had dealt with, and I have been very happy with the sawmill’s performance.”
Ray invested in a Cook’s AC-3651D portable band sawmill. One thing that attracted him to the model was that it features multiple clamps to secure the log in place.
“There are clamps that go into the log in several places along the length of the log versus other sawmills with just two clamps,” Ray said. “On my old sawmill, the bottom piece I sawed would always be wasted because it was thinner in the middle and thicker on both ends. With the Cook’s mill, the log is supported all along the length with clamps, so the log can’t bow upward.”
On the Job
Ray formed Lockhart Custom Sawing three years ago. A lot of customers want his sawmill services to make rough lumber to build barns and other outbuildings.
“I recently did a job for a lawyer who is also involved in furniture-making,” Ray said. “He had several thousand feet of walnut, cherry, oak, and ash that he wanted me to saw so he could make furniture from the lumber.”
Before starting his business, Ray ran his other sawmill part-time since 1992, and he enjoyed the work. A machinist by trade, he figured a sawmill would provide a good source of extra income for him and his family.
Ray has worked in a local paper mill since receiving his machinist apprenticeship, and he continues his 40-hour schedule there each week. He works four 10-hour days at the paper mill, and uses Fridays and Saturdays for his sawmill business. For recreation, Ray enjoys turkey hunting and spending time with his family.
When Ray gets a call for a sawmill job, the first thing he asks about is the nature of the work site and if there is room for his 30-foot-long Cook’s sawmill. He typically visits each site before he begins work to take a look at and ensure that it will accommodate the mill.
“I let them know they will have to provide at least two people to catch the lumber coming off the mill because it’s a lot easier to work when I have people moving lumber out of the way after it’s been sawed,” he said.
The Cook’s Accu-Trac that Ray owns is fully hydraulic and was designed for high volume production. It weighs 7,000 pounds and is powered by a Perkins 51 hp diesel engine that delivers 105 foot pounds of torque. The mill can cut logs up to 36 inches in diameter and weighing up to 10,000 pounds. It runs a 16-foot-10, 1½- inch blade.
Cook’s sawmills feature a four-post head; the four-post construction ensures smooth, straight sawing in and out of the log. The hydraulic log lift has four half-inch steel plate arms with an aggressive foot pattern to handle heavy logs with no bending. The hydraulic log turner features heavy, 120-pound roller chain with 1-inch thick cleats welded in place in order to turn large logs with ease.
The mill’s remote control station, with hand-held remote control box, is designed for operator-friendliness. Controls are mounted on a swiveling arm, and a 15-foot long cord allows the operator to walk around during the cut in order to get the best view. The mill also features a board drag back, made of ½-inch steel, to bring the board to the operator after it is cut.
When he is ready to head to another job, Ray hitches the sawmill tow package to his truck. “I always try to have them have their logs ready in one pile so I can pull my sawmill close to the logs,” said Ray. “We just roll the logs from the ground onto the mill using the mill’s hydraulic lift.”
Ray cuts hardwood and softwood, including pine, poplar, oak, cherry, walnut, and hickory.
“Most people like me to cut a mixture of 2x4 and 2x6 for their rafters and studs,” said Ray. “I also saw 1-inch boards because most people like a specific size, like a 1x8 for boards they use to build their barns. I can saw up to 20 feet on length.”
The Cook’s sawmill is easy to adjust, explained Ray. “The mill has a scale on the side, indicating where your blade is in relation to your log. So, if you are making 2x6, you might want to square up a 12x12. I cut that square in half so I have two 12x6 pieces, and then I turn those up edgeways and cut them down 2 inches at a time to make 2x6.”
After making a cut, he raises the head slightly before returning the head to the starting position for the next cut. “Then, when you bring the head back,” said Ray, “you are dragging the boards back right off the mill with you. As the head comes back, you are bringing the finished lumber back, and whoever is catching the lumber takes it from off the back of the mill and stacks and sticks the lumber to air dry.”
Ray bought the Cook’s sawmill as a package that also included an edger and a blade sharpener. For boards with bark or wane, he sends them through the edger to square up both sides.
His company flourishes with no advertising – just word-of-mouth referrals that keep new customers calling with more jobs for Ray. If you ask him what it is about his company that makes it successful, you are likely to get a humble laugh from Ray.
“Well I don’t know how successful I am, but I do know that I am able to support my family a lot better. My business has allowed us to have some things we just wouldn’t have been able to afford with just my one job as a machinist. I guess you can say I am honest when dealing with my customers.”
“I have some customers I saw for who have had others saw for them in the past,” he added, “but the lumber they produced wasn’t very straight. I have been able to produce good, quality lumber with my Cook’s mill, and people like this about my work.”
“It’s a lot of hard work, working here at my business and then at the paper mill,” he admitted.
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