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SMALL SAWMILLING

Going a step further 

Arborist Jim Oseychuk has taken his interest in trees and wood a step further, turning a sawmilling hobby into a successful business.

British Columbia arborist Jim Oseychuk of Golden, BC started a profitable 250,000 board feet a year small sawing business a few years back and quickly found himself in demand. Among his projects has been the production of all the lumber for an award-winning ski lodge at Alberta's Lake Louise. 

More recently, Oseychuk has switched from contract sawing to marketing ready sawn lumber, which he says has effectively doubled his profit margin. The key to the conversion of his hobby into a solid business enterprise-which also gave him the fulfilment of building his own home-is his portable band sawmill. It is also due to the creative and artistic way in which Oseychuk uses the mill to produce unique, high quality products from what others might describe as distorted trees. These trees, which are often considered unusable in conventional operations, are turned into products that highlight the unusual nature of the wood. 

Oseychuk saws with an aesthetic eye. He might select a tree because it curves like a snake fence through the forest, planning to yield two matching curved cants. He may mill one of his curving cants before deciding how he might incorporate it into a project, indeed before even having a particular project in mind. Oseychuk bought his first portable mill, a Wood-Mizer model LT40HD, in 1993 and operated it for five years before upgrading it to a Wood-Mizer LT40HD Super. 

He has operated this unit for a bit more than two years from his workshop and farm at South Bench, near Golden. Oseychuk's previous work as an arborist had involved removing unsafe trees from the grounds of nearby houses. But when taking the logs to an old circular sawmill nearby for conversion to lumber, he experienced frustration at the lack of flexibility in shapes and sizes of wood available. Indeed, well before that, fresh from the University of Victoria, he conceived of and established the Mad Trapper Pub at Golden. 

At that point, he was struck by the difficulty in getting the right sort of wood to make tables and chairs. However, it did serve to increase an interest in wood which he inherited from his father, a one-time logging contractor in the Columbia Valley, and from his maternal grandfather, a cabinet maker from Holland. "My dad, who retired in 1977, had a creative flair. He was an incredible chain saw carpenter which reflected on the nature of his profession." 

Oseychuk proudly maintains his grandfather's fine tools and turning equipment, having travelled to the Netherlands to retrieve them. So when he heard about a local man, Doug Robinson, who was doing portable sawmilling, not only was his need for good, flexible sawing met but he was also able to see a way to turn his workshop into something financially rewarding and fulfilling. Robinson brought over his Wood-Mizer model LT30 to saw the trees which Oseychuk had felled on his five-acre farm and others collected from his work as an arborist. 

He also bought bent logs from a local sawmill, which-seeing no use for these logs-assumed he was quite mad. Impressed by the ease with which Robinson loaded logs and sawed accurate, good quality lumber quickly, he immediately bought his own unit. While embarking on building his house, Oseychuk also started towing the 3,500-lb mill behind his Chevrolet truck to woodlot owners in a 20-mile radius around Golden. They would stack their logs and he would quickly set up the mill, load the logs with its hydraulic loader and cut them into pre-determined shapes and sizes. 

Jim Oseychuk has a log purchase agreement with a local mill and gets additional timber from his ongoing work as an arborist. The business has grown to the point where he now cuts 250,000 board feet a year.

The logs were mostly Douglas fir, Engelmann spruce, lodgepole pine and western red cedar which his customers used for building barns, developing camp grounds, fencing, shops and garages. Customers were farmers, local woodlot owners and people in the valley who wanted to build various structures. Sometimes there was a degree of added value to this work, for example when he sawed for people who wanted interior trim or stair material that wasn't available from the traditional sawmill. 

Then he won a contract at Lake Louise to saw 500,000 board feet of alpine pine and spruce which was used to build and fit a 35,000-square-foot ski lodge. It took him two years to complete the project. Oseychuk sawed the logs into normal planks for floors and roofs and squared logs on two sides for beams. He also cut logs for purlins, the bars and bar tables, trim and fencing. Oseychuk says it is one of the most versatile uses of a portable sawmill he has experienced. 

When it was finished and he returned home, he realized that he was now ready to move on from going out to saw other people's timber. In 1998, he started marketing timber and set up his mill on a permanent site. First, he upgraded his mill to the Wood-Mizer "Super" unit, which cuts 25 per cent faster than his LT40HD. Capable of sawing logs at 54 feet a minute, depending on wood species and quality, it was just what Oseychuk wanted. By now he was sawing the equivalent of 250,000 board feet per year, so the extra speed enhanced business growth. 

The unit was even faster than this when sawing woods like oversized logs. It seemed as if the new machine was designed for his operation and he deliberately moved into the high end of the business, no longer restricted to just cutting boards. Oseychuk purchases high quality, oversize logs from the local plywood mill that cannot process logs larger than 28 inches in diameter. The Wood-Mizer cuts logs up to 36 inches in diameter. 

His success lies in cornering a market for mantels, bar-tops, stair material, custom-cut wood, double siding (lap siding) and vertical grain (quarter sawn) lumber used by cabinet makers and finish carpenters. He has since complemented the saw with a re-saw which he describes as "fantastic". "I can turn one board into two pieces of double siding, which greatly increases the value of the board. In effect I can saw a piece of cedar worth $10 and it rises in value to $15 just by being cut in half," grins Oseychuk. 

Oseychuk buys the wood now from the local mill after entering into a log purchase agreement and also gets some from his continuing arborist work. The mill has been very helpful and co-operative, putting aside unique or valuable logs when they come across them. Oseychuk has made a mental note to keep an eye on product development in portable sawmills and is considering another upgrade. 

According to Oseychuk, the narrow kerf technology of his mill means that the 0.045 x 1 1/4-inch inch wide blades can yield up to 30 per cent more wood than conventional saws, depending on type and quality. They produce 60 per cent less sawdust and require lower horsepower engines, using less fuel. "If I want an inch of wood, there's almost no waste so long as I look after the blades," he adds. The current mill operates seven hours a day, four to five days a week and uses the equivalent of up to 10 gallons of gasoline a day to process between one to 3.5 thousand board feet per day, depending on what is being cut. 

It uses from 50 to 70 1 1/4-inch blades a year. Oseychuk spends 15 minutes sharpening the blades after 1.25 to 1.5 hours of sawing and puts blade life at about 25 hours cutting. Business-wise, Oseychuk believes anything is possible in the future and continually experiments, using his mill in unorthodox ways to achieve unique and aesthetically pleasing effects. These are reflected in the many details and features of his family home-and they have earned him the loyalty of a growing group of customers far beyond the Columbia valley.

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