Even the newest woodworker soon learns that the earlier in the milling process he intercepts his lumber, the less expensive it is. Shrink-wrapped, pre-glued panels from the home center are convenient, but you pay a lot for the milling, packaging, and shipping, not to mention the retail space, forklift driver, front-door greeter … the list goes on. Even if you’re lucky to have a good lumberyard nearby, you’ll pay for any surfacing, straight-line ripping, or even skip-planing done to the board. But, it’s generally a far cry less expensive than home center prices because you’ve intercepted the wood closer to the source.
Repeat after me: “The closer to the tree, the cheaper it will be.”
Given my thrifty (pronounced cheapskate) nature, I’m always on the prowl for cheaper wood. I’ve lucked across several finds recently. The most recent discovery was local sawyer Michael Mendenhall. To supplement his income as an IT professional, Michael runs a Wood-Mizer LT-15 portable sawmill. After finding his low-price listing for air-dried maple, walnut, and oak on Craigslist, I was surprised to find that he lived just a few miles away from me in Hartford, IA, closer than my nearest lumberyard.
My hobby (and now occupation) allow me to meet some great people, and this time was no exception. Michael and his wife Joanne are active in local environmental groups and are working to restore the prairie around their rural home. Joanne has even gone back to school as an environmental scientist and serves on the board of the local watershed association.
Of course, I’m rarely without a video camera. Click below to see Michael in action:
Michael can crank out about 200 board feet per hour, which brings the cost of custom milling down to about 35¢/bdft. Not bad at all, especially for the customer who left that day with a loaded-down flatbed full of walnut. In addition, Michael selectively removes fallen and storm-damaged trees free of charge, air-dries the wood in his spacious basement, and sells it at great rates.
After watching Michael in action I checked out his stash of lumber. I’m a sucker for air-dried walnut, and I was able to snag a stack on the cheap, just the way I like it. Can’t get much closer to the source that that! If you’re in the Des Moines metro and you’re in the lumber market, shoot him an email. Otherwise, check with your local extension service or your state department of natural resources for a list of nearby sawmills.
Lucas Peters @ WOOD
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