Nov Dec, 2003





Wood-Mizer Meister

Far West Forest Products, Inc. uses Wood-Mizer to find new venues

By Kurt Glaeseman

With decreased access to national forests and increased environmental restrictions, western loggers are forced to explore new venues. Jim Evans, of Sheridan, California, has developed one that is both satisfying and profitable. The jewel of his machinery is the highly portable Model LT 40 Super Wood-Mizer sawmill, which Evans claims pays for itself over and over. Most of the work is done in Evans’ yard, but because it is so portable, he can have the mill ready to roll by pickup in 15 minutes. This gives Evans the option of working one of his own distant projects or doing contract work for someone else. He charges a minimum of $500 if he hauls the mill to someone else’s job, and there are plenty of takers—usually from someone with a hobby or pet project, but often from a landowner who wants his own home-grown timber milled into lumber and used on the spot. “I am completely pleased with this operation,” says Evans. “One guy can manage one of these and make a decent living.”

Daughter Jennifer takes a turn on the crew along with sons Cody and Jason Evans.

No junk wood
Evans is widely known as a source for milled California hardwoods, a resource he feels is vastly under-appreciated. “When folks came west,” he claims, “there was such an abundance of pine, fir and cedar that no one took the time to seriously consider the local hardwoods. That’s not true anymore.” The public is getting educated, and specialists have come to value the strength, variable color and rich grain in species like the black locust, sycamore, western black walnut, mulberry, and even Chinese elm. Evans can often get good material from tree services that have to find a place to dump logs too big to run through the chipper. “There is no such thing as junk wood—there’s a use for anything locally grown,” claims Evans. He points to some native cottonwood: “Excellent for saddle wood, with its high strength and low weight. There’s nothing I won’t mill.” The LT 40 can cut to a one-inch board, so 2x4’s, 2x6’s and 4x4’s present no problem at all. A demand has developed for an octagon cut, used for arbors and gazebos and vineyard decorations.

Faithful workhorse - the John Deere 644D loader.

Evans starts with a 5-inch pole, squares it off, and he has a good-looking piece of specialized dimension lumber, currently in high demand. He has learned to utilize small wood thinned from Forest Service contracts, wood that is often a mixture of soft and hardwoods. These range in dbh size from five to 18 inches and may include Ponderosa and Jeffrey pine; white, red and Doug fir; tan, live and blue oak; ash and madrone. Evans first tries for 6x4’s and 4x4’s, but when that isn’t possible he can still salvage less profitable 2x4’s, all of which might go to mom-and-pop operations or a hardware store or chicken ranches. Big wood is a special bonus, and Evans stays alert for culls that were overlooked by previous logging operations: “I’ve never been on a logging job yet that I haven’t found some monster log cull that has a lot of possibilities. I find them buried down in leaf mold, and I bring them home and mill them. I’ve gotten some 24-inch boards from black walnut and cedar.” His mill can cut up to a 28-inch log, and if it is shorter than the regular sawmill would want, he can still find a market.

Unique species
Evans admits to a life-long fascination with some of the under-utilized species, and the conversation returns to some of his favorites: “Black oak is great for flooring, but you have to work around bends and crinks. Black walnut is always desirable for furniture. Willow has no strength but it is a pretty wood. Sycamore has beautiful wood, a bit heavy, like oak, but I had an order for a full boxcar from Winch-ester—for gunstock wood.” According to Evans, pioneers from the Midwest brought with them three amazingly versatile trees—the mulberry, black locust and osage orange. They were all good for durable fence posts but could also substitute for pistol grips, gunstocks, bows, furniture and flooring. The sturdy black locust was often used as wagon hubs and spokes. Because it has a unique natural oil, it doesn’t dry out and shrink and cause problems with variable weather conditions.

Evans’ biggest order for black locust was designated for decks and flooring on ocean-bound ships. Evans’ operation is very much fam-ily-oriented. Sheridan is about 45 minutes northeast of Sacramento, in the foothills yet close to a metropolitan center. Demand for specialty wood and a need for skilled contractors keep Jim and his contractor-licensed sons Cody and Jason more than busy. The Evans Brothers Construction Company is currently doing a small housing development, and they have a booming firewood sideline; in fact, Jim helped design and build the first cello wrap for firewood in 1981. “You know the California economy,” laughs Jim. “We’ve got to stay busy to pay the rent. In California it takes $11.15 to make $10!” Although Evans claims the sawmill speaks for itself, his skillful use and helpful explanations sold several mills, and Wood-Mizer offered him a dealership. Jim and at least one other family member set up the mill for demonstrations at public events, like the Sierra Pacific Logging Show in Anderson, where interest was very high.

Jim Evans with a big Chinese elm log.

He’s had the much bigger Model LT 300 on display in his yard, and Glen Heiner, Wood-Mizer sales rep from Portland, helps set up demo runs. The 300 system wows the audience. It is equipped with a large cutting head and a fast hydraulic package. It is fully automated, computerized, and joystick controlled. It can handle a 19’ 6” long log with a 36” diameter. For the opening cut a laser shines a line and locks that reference. It cuts off a slab of bark, which is fed by conveyor to a transfer deck. The operator sits up high, with a good view of the system and of what is being cut. Three people can handle the entire operation.

Early struggles
Evans admits he has come a long way from his early days when he helped his dad in the woods south of Eureka. By age 14 he was working in a sawmill, but his family moved around a lot, and jobs were catch-as-catch-can. After high school he married, and started cutting firewood and hauling cedar logs down for fence posts. Several accidents kept him temporarily on the brink of survival. Son Jason was nailed by a rattlesnake as they worked on a project. Jim himself spent 24 days in the hospital when a load of burls collapsed on him and sheared off his left hand. Attached only by a ligament, the hand was sewn back on and the arm immobilized in a cast. Evans knew he had to get back to work to pay the bills, so he cut the cast at the elbow and tied the hand to a chainsaw with a piece of inner tube. Today he still has somewhat modified use of the hand. He credits the vibration of the chainsaw for helping with blood circulation and general healing. The Evans’ family fortune took an upswing, and Jim began acquiring the machinery that makes his business viable today.

Jim Evans is completely sold on his smaller LT-40.

In addition to the Wood-Mizer LT 40, he has picked up necessaries like a Caterpillar D9, pickups, a Kenworth and a Mack, a 644 D John Deere log loader, a 1450 Case skidder, and a 540B John Deere line skidder with over 30 thousand hours. He likes to keep his off-site work within an hour-and-a-half radius of Sheridan so that he can spend his nights at home. Always innovative, Evans enjoys figuring out solutions to problems. When the Army Corps of Engineers despaired at the cost of design and construction of a 110-foot bridge on the Alioto Ranch, Evans did a little figuring. Using a Cat D9, local sugar pine, and about a hundred dollars’ worth of spikes and waste wood, Jim and his sons had the bridge built in six days. “Waste nothing, and figure things out first,” advises Evans. With gasoline prices up, it is often more cost-effective to move the portable mill to the source, rather than truck the logs back to Sheridan. This eliminates the hauling of less valuable bark and slash, some wear and tear on the big trucks, and a glut at the home yard. “At the price of fuel,” says Cody, “this is a big savings.” Awareness of details like this keep the Evans family going strong. “It’s a strange business,” muses Evans. “Most of my logs I get for free. Someone needs to get rid of them, and I get paid to take them out. I can use other people’s junk wood and short logs. And I see some beautiful and unusual lumber.” Strange business? Maybe.

But insight and innovation, appreciation and determination, and an awful lot of hard work all have contributed to the success of Evans’ Far West Forest Products, Inc.


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This page was last updated on Tuesday, September 28, 2004