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Long-time Former General Contractor Dreams Again with New Cook’s Saw Portable Mill
Five years ago, North Carolina resident, Jeff Oberman, closed his lucrative general contracting business after suffering a disabling injury. With his recent purchase of the Cook''s Saw HD3238 portable mill he hopes to start afresh in a new market niche, creating high grade furniture wood and beams.
By Maya L. Brewer
Date Posted: 6/1/2011
Charlotte, North Carolina—Five years ago, Jeff Oberman’s 37-year career as a general contractor and owner of Jeff Oberman Construction abruptly ended. He was inspecting a roof top for a renovation project. The roof gave way. Jeff fell through to the floor below with the roof collapsing on top of him. He sustained long-lasting injuries, a crushed leg and foot. The doctors recommended that his foot be amputated, but Jeff refused. After five operations, along with a year-long broken leg due to chronic infections, he’s walking, and pressing into new dreams of developing a business niche for his son-in-law Eric, with their Cook’s Saw mill.
Jeff, who’s known quite a bit of success in his former business, was accustomed to working large-scale renovation projects costing at least $300,000 or more. He was a hands-on, hard working business man, one who was in all the day-to-day operations of his business. He’s having to take life now at a slower pace. But at 58 years old, he’s learning to apply himself and to sharpen his quarter sawing skills to create beams and furniture grade wood.
Three months ago, Jeff and his son-in-law, Eric Diedrick, purchased their Cook’s Saw HD3238 portable mill as a joint venture. Eric, who works a full-time job in the corporate world, hopes to some day operate the mill as a business. Jeff works the mill part time, operating for half-hour increments as his body allows. He finds the work quite rewarding and he’s glad for his investment in his new mill.
Cook’s Saw Mfg, LLC, headquartered in Newton, AL, is considered as one of the industry leaders in bandsaw technology. Jeff’s HD3238 is the top of the line mill in Cook’s Saw’s 32” diameter class. It is essentially a suped-up version of the Cook’s Saw SA3230 mill with the incorporation of fully hydraulic functionality for log loading, turning, clamping, toe boards, full head mobility, board drag back, and optional computer setworks. This medium-production mill produces approximately 2,000 to 3,000 board feet per day.
“This mill is for the person who wants automatic functionality over a manual style mill, but is not in need of an all out high production mill such as our AC36 series mills,” explained James Osmond, vice president of sales for Cook’s Saw. “The HD3238 was not specifically designed for the big business operator...but for the ‘average guy’ who may be starting a business on the side and who doesn’t want to take the plunge into a $30,000 sawmill just yet.”
Jeff’s aspirations are not towards creating the huge business that he once had, but he’s looking towards creating a lucrative niche with his quarter sawing methods. Jeff said, “I am trying to help my son-in-law, Eric Diedrick, get established in the business one day. Due to my injury I am helping Eric with the business aspect. I have had plenty of experience in this area. While I am very limited physically I can pass on my knowledge to him. My goal is to help him get started in business and be successful so he can take care of my grandchildren and buy them plenty of toys.
“Quarter sawing is really time consuming. You don’t do it for the mass production aspect. You do it for the beauty that’s revealed in the wood,” explained Jeff. “I find that the most gratifying part is when I cut the timber and discover the grain that’s revealed. It’s like Christmas to me because each log is like a present waiting to be unwrapped. I love the thrill of how gorgeous the grain is with each cut.”
Quarter sawing involves thinly shaving the bark off the log and then cutting the log into quarters rather than cutting straight across the log. This process allows the grain to be displayed at its best advantage. And depending upon the desirable direction of the grain, the quartered logs are cut into boards systematically to further reveal the unique patterns of the wood. Quarter sawing results in boards that rarely warp with moisture changes. This lumber process works well for fine furniture or for soundboards for musical instruments. Prior to his accident, Jeff had built furniture for his family.
“I am not a ‘tree-hugger’ by any means,” Jeff said. “But the wood’s gonna live on in a gorgeous piece of furniture that can last for generations to come. Some trees can be pretty ugly just standing there, but when it gets cut, the grain that appears is just so beautiful.”
Jeff prefers to use mature trees with diameters between 16 to 30 inches. He has access to a standing inventory of pine about a quarter mile down the road. His neighbor owns the eight-acre lot and Jeff drives four minutes down the street on his John Deere 4520 60hp tractor to retrieve the logs he needs. His son and son-in-law hand cut the trees for Jeff as needed with their Stihl chain saw, limbing it up and cutting it to 10’6” or 12’6” lengths. Jeff often uses these logs for rough sawing for barns, siding, or for beam work. He also likes to work with oak, cherry, and walnut. These logs are acquired by word of mouth when dead trees need to be cut down.
Jeff remembers years ago being inspired by a television program showing sawmills and a veneer machine in action. And just about a year ago he had some timber cut by a Woodmizer mill and observed the process “up close and personal.” At that point he began reading and researching sawmills. After much research and a cancelled order on another manufacturer’s mill, he’s pleased with his Cook’s Sawmill.
Jeff, who has worked with all kinds of equipment, learned to operate the sawmill within three to four hours. According to Jeff, his Cook’s Sawmill took “all the work out of it” for the operator.
“The way these guys put this mill together is incredible,” Jeff commented. “They keep perfecting their mills more and more to overcome previous problems or glitches. It’s like the Mac computer; it just works. I can’t explain how, but (like the Mac) my mill never crashes. That’s how Cook’s Saw is—so simple to learn and to operate.”
Jeff highly recommends their educational programs and videos, especially Cook’s lesson regarding the purpose and usage of the Cook’s Saw bandsaw blade, along with how to adjust it properly for consistently perfect cuts. Jeff, who uses Cook’s super sharp blades, consistently maintains the “perfect cut in the perfect line log after log with everything working just like it should.”
According to James of Cook’s Saw, with the current economy the biggest thing that their company has seen is the increase in the demand for perfection from their products. This became most evident with their bandsaw blades. Because of the volume of blades that they’re shipping each day, James began hearing of an increased demand among his customers for more blade life, more sharpenings, etc.
“This is difficult when (in our estimation) we were currently providing more than any other blade out there with the patent pending Super Sharp,” explained James. “(But) we went back to the drawing board last year and developed two new versions of the Super Sharp— Super Sharp SilvaChrome and Super Sharp Dura Tooth.”
After extensive metallurgy configuration tests and a few thousand hours of field testing, Cook’s Saw was finally able to put together these two new versions of their Super Sharp blade, which James feels will “push the envelope in bandsaw blade development.” And according to James, customers using these new versions are benefiting not only from the blade unlike any on the market, but Cook’s Saw is able to offer these blades at a cost that is below the industry norm for a premium blade.
Working with the Cook’s staff was one of the major highlights of Jeff’s purchasing process. He found the staff to be exceptionally helpful and knowledgeable. Jeff requested certain modifications to his HD3238 model such as a hydraulic drag back system, which was different than the standard configuration for the model. He also decided to go with a one log clamp and one log taper instead of the two clamp and taper configuration which is typical for this particular model. By making the clamp and taper adjustments he was able to save money to fit his budget and still have the functionality he needed. According to James of Cook’s Saw, their company is very flexible with their equipment configurations, and it’s one reason why so many people from the United States and other parts of the world purchase mills from them.
“Having to drag the board back manually was difficult for me,” Jeff said. “I requested a drag back system. At first they weren’t sure how to figure out how to make that work for me. But the very next day, Billy, who was working with me, called. He had thought all night about how to sort out my problem...Wow! He stayed up all night. I told him he needed to get a life! I would have loved to have had 10 employees just like him when I ran my business.”
“We’ve been able to retain the ‘family business’ atmosphere here at Cook’s Saw,” James said. “Although we’ve grown quite a bit over the last few years, Tim and Stephen Cook remain very active in the business always coming up with ideas on improving the product as well as how we can perfect our customer service. Dealing with good people like Jeff Oberman makes building sawmill equipment enjoyable. We know people are spending their hard earned money and we simply want to provide a quality product at a fair price, and we want to back it with customer service that is head and shoulders above any in the industry.”
According to James, another aspect that sets their company apart is the hands-on training that their office staff receives by using the equipment on a continual basis. Also those on staff who work with potential sawmill customers have all built and operated Cook’s sawmills.
“The advantage to this is that they are able to answer just about any question that a potential customer may have and they are able to assist with any issues of the sale,” stated James. “We don’t just want warm bodies on our phones.”
Jeff admitted that he’s really early in the stages of using their new mill and developing a small business for Eric, but he’s got lots of plans developing. He and Eric are in the beginning stages of getting a 36 by 36 square foot building constructed to house their mill. They currently have the poles up and if things go as planned the building should be completed within two to three months. Jeff and life-long friend, Tom Giannibas, purchased 18 acres of land with a one and a half acre lake two years ago in Marshville, NC. Misty Pond Sawmill and Bee Farm is currently the home to 30 bee hives, and they’ll be harvesting honey this July. Between Jeff and Tom, their hobby farm is where they enjoy a get away from fast-paced life and explore a variety of hobbies from bee keeping, to vegetable gardening, planting wild flowers, and developing a grape vineyard.
“Anything we put on the farm will be built from the timber cut on the sawmill,” Jeff stated. “I would like to build a covered bridge over the lake, barns, a place to house the mill, rustic play houses for the grandchildren and anything else I might dream up...Life is short and I have always been a dreamer. I find it very healthy to keep thinking of different things to do.”
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