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Virginian Specializes in ‘Your Logs, Your Locations’
Owner of B&G bandmill likes heavy-duty features of Accu-Trac model 36, service from Cook Saw Mfg.
By Diane Calabrese
Date Posted: 1/7/2003
HILLSVILLE, Va. — Bob Gill wanted to find a way for his family to live in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, and he did. Although he had never worked in the forest products industry, he did some research and determined that a custom sawmill service would be a good way to support his family. He started B&G Bandmill six years ago.
B&G Bandmill fills a specific niche in the southwest region of the Old Dominion. "I do custom sawing," said Bob. He travels from job site to job site with a portable band sawmill and manufactures lumber from logs supplied by his customers.
Bob was able to tap the significant expertise he had with machinery to put B&G Bandmill on a good foundation. His technical know-how includes training and experience in industrial mechanics and welding. In fact, it was Bob’s knowledge of mechanics that kept him looking, even after he started his company, for a portable band sawmill that would meet all his expectations — not just some of them. About two years ago he found the machine he was looking for, and he bought it — an Accu-Trac portable sawmill from Cook’s Saw Mfg.
Bob first learned about Cook’s Saw Mfg. from a colleague who knew Bob was having blade problems with his existing portable sawmill. His friend suggested he call Tim Cook at Cook’s Saw Mfg. "I did...for 45 minutes," said Bob. "I learned a lot more about blades."
Soon after, Bob drove to northern Virginia to look at an Accu-Trac in operation. "I said, ‘This is it,’ " he recalled, the moment he watched the Accu-Trac running. Ultimately, he was sold not only on the Accu-Trac’s performance but also the service of Cook’s Saw Mfg.
Bob was attracted to the Accu-Trac because of its heavy-duty design and construction. "Cook’s just went overkill and overbuilt" the sawmill, said Bob. He cited the "heavier bearings, heavier stand," and other features that make the Accu-Trac a workhorse.
The heavy-duty construction and durability are additionally important to Bob because he tows the Accu-Trac to job sites. Most of his sawmilling jobs are within a one and one-half hour drive of his home in Hillsville, a town of about 2,000 residents.
As much as he liked the Accu-Trac, Bob sold it after 13 months. The reason: he got an all-cash offer he could not refuse. A man wanted to buy one, and he didn’t want to wait weeks for the delivery of a new mill, so he offered Bob the full purchase price for his used Accu-Trac.
Bob considered other portable sawmills as he searched for a replacement. "I went around to all the logging shows," he said, looking at new equipment. With cash in hand, he could have purchased any brand, but he decided he wanted another Cook’s Saw Mfg. Accu-Trac. "I believe in it," said Bob. Cook’s Saw developed originally as a repair service and soon after into a saw blade supply company, he noted, and it has been in business 30 years.
Bob’s second Accu-Trac is the Model 36, which is powered by a 58 hp Volkswagen diesel engine. It has full hydraulics for log loading, clamping and turning.
(Cook’s Saw Mfg. also makes an all-manual mill, the MP-32. It will cut 750-1,500 board feet in eight hours with two people running it, according to Cook’s Saw Mfg. The MP-32 is designed for owners of timberland who can cut on an as-needed basis for specialty projects.)
Bob has been using his new Cook’s Saw Mfg. Accu-Trac Model 36 for about 12 months. Like its predecessor, it travels far. Bob uses a Ford pick-up truck to tow the Accu-Trac 36 to job sites, which are often far from improved roads — or any roads. He frequently must cut his way through to a job site, clearing a path for his truck and the sawmill. "I just got off a job that was 2.6 miles off-road," he said when he spoke with TimberLine.
Bob makes lumber on the Accu-Trac 36 that his customers use for building log cabins, barns, sheds, fences, and other projects. Customers typically help him by pulling boards while Bob operates the sawmill. In an eight-hour day, with a customer helping him by pulling boards, he can saw from 2,500-4,500 board feet, according to Bob. He saws both hardwood and softwood logs since the Blue Ridge region contains forests of both.
The Accu-Trac Model 36 is more productive. "It’s more friendly and powerful," said Bob. Production varies according to how much ancillary work Bob must perform. It also depends on the dimensions of the lumber he produces.
Bob uses Husqvarna and Stihl chain saws to trim rotten wood, stubs or other defects from logs. He has found that many customers provide more logs than are actually needed for the amount of lumber they want; they tend to over-estimate because they are not familiar with the kerf savings of a band mill. Bob mills all the logs and often bargains with customers to buy any excess lumber they do not want.
Another source of work has been wood recovered from abandoned textile mills in the region. Many of the old mills contain heart pine, a "wonderful wood," said Bob. After the nails are removed, the heart pine can be resawn into quality lumber.
Bob owns 16 acres of woodlands, and he cut enough trees to mill the lumber for his shop, a 1,800-square-foot Pennsylvania Dutch style structure with two floors and heated with wood stoves.
B&G Bandmill officially got its name when Bob went to a printer to have some business cards made. He had the text in mind for the cards, including the words, ‘your logs, your locations,’ but he had forgotten to decide on a name. When the printer asked him for the company name, he quickly adopted his initials, but the printer unexpectedly stuck in the ampersand.
A native of Baltimore, Bob worked for a large spice company in Hunt Valley, Md. before moving his family to Virginia. He began custom sawing while completing a college degree in human services; he went to school two days per week and worked three days. However, he liked the sawmill business so much that he decided to work at it full-time after earning his degree at New River Community College.
Bob may seek employment in social services in the future. "I enjoy working with troubled youth," he said. He would like to find a way to combine his avocation of helping young people and the custom sawmill business.
Above all, providing a good environment for his family is a high priority. Bob and his wife, Laura, who home-schools their children, enjoy the rural setting of the Blue Ridge region. The family likes to canoe and other outdoor activities, as well as occasional trips to the beach.
(Editor’s Note: Bob Gill may be contacted at (276) 766-4280 or e-mail email@example.com.)
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