By Tony Kryzanowski
While plying his skills as a sawyer for other custom sawmilling businesses, Gary Francis of Nipawin, Saskatchewan, had dreamed of one day working from home and putting up his own shingle. A few years ago, he took the plunge, with a business simply known as ‘Gary’s Mill’.
Located about 20 kilometres north of Nipawin, business at Gary’s Mill is steady. The equipment backbone of the business is a TimberKing 2200 portable, one-man, band sawmill that Francis purchased three years ago. It replaced an older, slower, and more labor-intensive mill that he used when the business started up about five years ago. TimberKing says it is the oldest manufacturer of one-man sawmills in the U.S., and is located in Kansas City, Missouri.
“The wood doesn’t sit here for very long,” says Francis. “There’s a big demand for band saw lumber because it has a smoother finish and the boards are true from one end to the other.”
With faster moving circular saws, especially with logs that are partially frozen, the saws can produce tapered lumber if the sawyer is not careful. However, with a slower moving band mill, that is rarely an issue.
“And a lot of my customers like rough lumber because planed lumber is too thin for their needs,” Francis adds.
An avid gun collector and hunter, with many years of experience working in the forest industry, Francis is definitely in his element. He has worked for decades in the industry; he started piling lumber at a sawmill owned by his dad and uncle at just eight-years-old. The family sawmilling business operated for years, supplying planed and graded lumber to many lumber yards at locations throughout that area of Saskatchewan.
Francis says given his experience, his close proximity to a vast forest resource right in his own backyard, and plenty of demand for wood products particularly from the local farming community, he and his wife, Joanne, decided a few years ago that the time was right to start their own custom sawmilling venture.
“I’ve kind of been in milling and logging forever,” says Francis, “but I was tired of working away and decided to invest in this mill to sustain myself, instead of having to go away to work.”
Gary’s Mill manufactures a variety of custom wood products. His most popular products are dimension lumber from 2” X 4” to 2” X 10”. He also markets live or rough edged 1” lumber primarily for corral windbreak boards, and timbers in a variety of dimensions, some as large as 10” X 10”. Lately, he has also been manufacturing thick and wide planks for customers wanting to use the material to make tables and benches.
There is a good, local market for 2” X 8” and 2” X 10” dimension lumber for use as corral planking. Francis is investigating if he can qualify for a grade stamp so that his dimensional lumber can be used in building construction, as well as the addition of a planer/moulder to expand his product line.
While plenty of business is still done over the phone or by customers driving into the yard, Gary’s Mill does a significant amount of business from their website as well as their Facebook presence.
“Having that Internet presence definitely helps, because you can post photos and some video clips,” says Francis. “After people have seen what we have on our website, we’ve had them come out just to have a look—and when they do, they are quite impressed with the quality and say that they will be back.”
The Nipawin area has deep roots in both farming and forestry. So, it should come as no surprise that custom sawmilling isn’t Francis’s only involvement in the forestry sector. Again, recognizing demand based on his work within the industry, he now owns a logging truck that he operates in partnership with his son, Tyrell. Business has also been very steady in the log haul and equipment moving side of the business.
“I’ve driven log trucks forever too,” says Francis, “starting when I was 18, hauling wood in the wintertime for about 15 years for other contractors. My son liked trucking, always riding around with me as a kid. He wanted to get into it and eventually, I will probably turn that over to him.”
When Francis decided to start his own custom sawmilling venture, he looked at a number of band mill suppliers.
“When I went shopping for a bandsaw mill, I wanted fully hydraulic features, with a board return and debarker, which to me is critical because wood logged in the summertime can get pretty dirty. Dirt and bandsaw mills don’t mix,” Francis says. “And I wanted a diesel powered unit because it is more user-friendly and cheaper to operate than gasoline.”
His previous mill was gas-powered and it burned considerable fuel. With the TimberKing 2200, it burns about three gallons of diesel fuel in eight hours of sawmilling.
Among the features Francis appreciates about his TimberKing 2200 sawmill is its sturdy construction. The company began manufacturing portable band mills in 1989, making the TimberKing 2200 model available in 2008. With a 49 horsepower Kubota diesel engine, there is good reason why this particular model is built strong. TimberKing’s goal was to offer a heavy industrial mill that was well-suited to tackle the biggest trees from old-growth woodlots. So it comes equipped with what the company describes as its “most massive solid-welded Big 3 Super Structure.”
The sawmill will process logs up to 24’ long and 39” in diameter. Typically, Francis prefers to process logs 16’ long, which gives him the option of producing two, 8’ board lengths. Although he is equipped to log, it’s cheaper for him to purchase oversized logs from other suppliers, and he also has family connections with woodlots containing larger diameter timber.
Advertised as a one-man sawmill, Francis says that based on the TimberKing 2200’s design, one person can definitely both operate the sawmill and stack lumber, estimating that with the right log mix, he can manufacture about 800 board feet per hour. Sawing a 16’ long, 12” wide log takes him about 40 seconds per cut. But with a history of back problems, he often calls on a neighbor to help pile the lumber, and he appreciates that the band mill’s setworks and hydraulics minimize the amount of manual labor required while also speeding up production. This is important when cutting primarily building material from white spruce.
The band mill comes equipped with direct-action hydraulic log handling, and what TimberKing says is its most advanced computer setworks. Among the hydraulic features on the band mill are blade feed, blade up/down, log loaders, bi-directional chain log turner, direct-action log clamp, four vertical log stops, and roller toe-boards. The setworks are also fully programmable.
Other standard features on the sawmill include a massive cut throat, electric blade clutch, side-wide support jacks, greaseable blade guides, moveable guide roller, tandem axle, and operator-height swing command post.
Francis says he appreciates the large cutting throat on the mill, its ability to saw 24’ long logs, and the tandem axle for towing. But as he attests, a sawmill is only as good as the sawyer.
“The most crucial point is the blade sharpness and set,” says Francis.
“I mainly saw white spruce, and what I’ve been told is that white spruce is the most fussy wood you can saw in this country on a band mill because of the soft wood and hard knots.” He says that it takes a lot of skill because if the sawing is done too quickly or the set on the blade is not quite right, the result is wavy lumber.
Francis also produces wood products from jackpine, although larger dimension pine logs are harder to come by, poplar for trailer decking, and the occasional tamarack.
He uses 1.5” wide, 7/8ths pitch, double-hard blades that are 177” long. Blade use and sharpness varies depending on the logs he is sawing. He uses TimberKing’s Talon automatic sharpener and manual setter to prepare his blades.
While the sawmill is portable, Francis has it set up almost on a permanent basis in his yard. He has discovered that with the four post head on this TimberKing band mill, it is extremely important to take the time to ensure that the sawmill is level before starting production. This ensures that the band mill is cutting accurately. For that reason, he prefers to leave it in one place. But on the positive side, with the support provided by the four post head, there is very little side to side movement on the carriage.
The TimberKing one-man sawmill story dates back to 1929, when the company began operating the Belsaw circular mill. It was in production for nearly 70 years, with tens of thousands of sawmills sold worldwide.
“It’s such a great heritage,” says TimberKing President, Will Johnson. “Every week we get a call from someone who’s still cutting with a Belsaw mill his dad or granddad bought. I want my children to get those calls from my customers’ children, saying their 50-year-old mill is still going strong.”
Francis says TimberKing’s experience helped to make his purchasing decision.
“Since they’ve been in the business that long, I figured that they should know mills,” he concludes.
On the Cover:
Rod Dillman Contracting crews were recently harvesting wildfire-blackened timber in the south Cariboo region of British Columbia. The fire-ravaged timber is the legacy from B.C.’s worst forest wild fire season, in 2017. Read about how they are approaching the salvage logging in this issue of Logging and Sawmilling Journal, beginning on page 20 (Cover photo courtesy of Southstar Equipment).
Spotlight: First Nations and forestry partnership
A new training program in B.C.—adopted from Ontario—hopes to help make a difference for First Nations youth, and the forest industry.
Big yarder investment
B.C.’s Western Forest Products has invested in logging equipment big-time recently, with the purchase of a LC650 grapple yarder from T-Mar Industries.
Australian Salvage Logging
Two Australian entrepreneurs have mastered a means of harvesting still-standing drowned forests from the bottom of hydro lakes in the Australian island state of Tasmania, and it involves some pretty interesting equipment.
Harvesting B.C.’s fire-ravaged forests
Rod Dillman Contracting is now tackling harvesting fire-salvage timber in the Cariboo region, one of the areas hit by B.C.’s worst forest fire season, when more than 12,000 square kilometres was burned by megafires.
Veteran sawyer chooses veteran mill equipment
When it came to setting up his own business, veteran sawyer Gary Francis decided to opt for decades of mill manufacturing experience, and purchased a TimberKing band mill—and it’s now at the centre of the business, known simply as … Gary’s Mill.
New and Noted at the Interior Logging Association’s 60th
We take a look at the new products that were one of the highlights of the 60th annual Interior Logging Association Conference and Trade Show, held in Kamloops in May.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre, Alberta Innovates and FPInnovations.
The Last Word
The Softwood Lumber Board may have a low key approach, but it has delivered some very solid results, says Jim Stirling.