By Tony Kryzanowski
After 20 years, veteran British Columbia sawmiller James Dodich knows what he wants—and how to get there.
Given the number of hours Dodich has carted his portable sawmill around, dealing with the subtleties of customer service, and experimented with various wood product combinations, he feels that he has found the right formula for his operation.
“I’m into free time and I’m into profit,” he says plainly.
Who would blame him, considering where he lives. The area around Golden, British Columbia, where his business is located on a windy road up a mountainside, is one of the most pristine mountain environments in Canada. This is his playground for sawmilling, mountain climbing, skiing, hunting, fishing and even gold mining.
When it comes to the business of sawmilling, Dodich has been through the wars. It’s been a constant learning experience. Now, he has found the right combination of raw material at the right price, sawmilling and moulding equipment, and very specific, high value lumber products that sell to make a comfortable living that fits his lifestyle.
Lesson #1 here is don’t mess with success, once you have found it.
Lesson #2 has to do with production costs. Dodich wouldn’t even think of turning on his 1997 Wood-Mizer band sawmill until he has a clear understanding—in advance—of where the material he is producing will end up as a marketable product. He knows that each cut costs him money, which has to be justified in the sale price of the final product to customers. As he says, he’s into profit.
Cats Eye Logging and Sawmilling opened for business in 1999 with a specific focus on portable sawmilling. Dodich transported his sawmill and various accessories to where the custom sawmilling was required. His interest in the business started when he was in his early teens, after he and his father rebuilt a headrig on the family property.
Once he finished high school, he began a career as a hand faller for a helicopter logging company, while in the off-season harvesting trees for heli-ski landing pads and ski runs at various locations in B.C. Through his 20s, Dodich gained experience logging and operating heavy equipment.
However, Dodich found logging and travel was too demanding on his time. Meanwhile, he had discovered what was possible in small sawmilling with an MSG Industries band sawmill that his father had purchased in 1996. After taking some time to learn the pros and cons of this style of sawmilling through trial and error, he was able to upgrade and purchase a gas-powered LT40 Wood-Mizer band sawmill, as well as a blade grinder and tooth setter. That was in 1999, the year Dodich started the business—and he hasn’t looked back since.
At the start of his portable custom sawmilling venture, Dodich says that he worked at as many as 100 different sites between the communities of Donald and Invermere, in southeastern B.C. As business changed more to manufacturing, he found it most efficient to keep the Wood-Mizer band sawmill at his property and have clients haul logs to his mill.
“I’ve done a lot of things that are so unconventional that you’d never do them twice, but you are so thankful that you did them once for what they taught you,” Dodich says.
He started selling high demand wood products while backing off the portable sawmilling aspect of his business.
Dodich was approached by an experienced local sawmiller who was making a living by custom sawmilling components for windows and doors, producing high volumes of clear, vertical grain Douglas fir framing blanks. Dodich tapped into that market, purchasing culls and rejected logs from the local Louisiana-Pacific plywood plant in Golden as his raw material. That was his biggest challenge, trying to find clear lumber in what essentially was a pile of log rejects. It wasn’t particularly easy or profitable because he ended up with a lot of leftover 8’ long logs in his yard in his quest to find and saw clears. It was the typical story of trying to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.
So that’s when he struck on the idea of adding value through planing and moulding. His first purchase was a Woodmaster Tools of Canada single head planer. Dodich describes it as a device well-suited for making rough lumber blanks into material that is all the same thickness.
“You can also take the planer fixture out and put a mandrel in so that you operate knives specifically for shaping and moulding the wood,” he explained.
“As soon as I got that machine, I made money with it,” he adds. “I did a stairs, deck, and railing package for a motel in Golden. The demand was there right away, and if I was careful and went slow, I could make a good product. It just showed me that there was a lot of room to move in that direction. I discovered that I could make money with small size lumber products.”
The planer/moulder also opened up an entirely new avenue for raw material, because by focusing on small lumber sizes to plane, mould, and shape, he didn’t need to start with high quality logs or lumber. However, Dodich says that he was still custom cutting to customer needs, which was not always easy to supply as large, premium logs are not always available.
Along came an opportunity to saw and mould a large order of 1” X 6” tongue and groove pine in 16’ lengths. That’s when the ying and yang of time and profitability really snapped into place for him. Dodich filled the customer’s order and still had a considerable amount of rough stock left over. So he chose to finish machining it and have some inventory.
“That material sort of sold itself,” he says. “The first person came by and bought 50 pieces to finish his porch, and he told his friend and on it went. Within a short time, the tongue and groove wood was sold. I liked how people just called in the morning, asked about the tongue and groove, showed up an hour later and picked it up. Done deal.”
That pathway to success is now the foundation of his business. He edges and resaws rough, dried Douglas fir lumber on his Wood-Mizer and then adds value on his planer, moulder and shaper line.
At present, his equipment consists of the 1997 Wood-Mizer LT40 with hydraulic controls, debarker and auto-feed resaw accessories. Today, he uses it primarily as a lumber resaw, which also provides him with the ability to produce high value bevelled siding. The Wood-Mizer has proven to be a very dependable workhorse for him, with parts readily available as needed. It can produce timbers and lumber up to 20’ 10” long.
The value added line consists of a Canwood BW-200P planer moulder, capable of processing wood up to 14” wide. Some of the products Dodich has been able to produce on this unit are tongue and groove flooring and paneling up to 1” X 12”. It works well processing both 1” and 2” material.
He deploys his Woodmaster Tools of Canada single head planer when he needs high volumes of lumber components that are all the same thickness.
Dodich describes both his band sawmill and planers as money-makers because of the products he has focused on.
At one time, he worked with all wood species available in the area. Now he works almost exclusively with Douglas fir, producing a wide variety of interior trim components, paneling, flooring, exterior siding and trim. They don’t sit around the yard very long as, over time, he has built a significant customer base.
Dodich is generally able to handle all the production by himself on both the band sawmill and planers.
He rarely processes actual logs any more, preferring to purchase surplus lumber like sideboards from other sawmillers. They are eager to sell him their surplus 1” lumber and ungraded 2” lumber in shorter lengths of 8’ to 12’ long. Aiming for that raw material is a conscious choice as given their length, they can be protected from the elements with a couple sheets of plywood. He has a definite preference for kiln-dried wood.
With a focus on high value and profitable wood products, Dodich finds that he needs to purchase less raw material, needs to produce less volume to achieve his profitability targets, and thus has created more time for his other interests. Now in his early 50s, Dodich is right where he wants to be.
On the Cover:
Veteran British Columbia sawmiller James Dodich is parlaying his experience working with a variety of wood product combinations into producing high value wood products, with his company Cats Eye Logging and Sawmilling. Having experimented with various combinations with his Wood-Mizer LT40 band sawmill , Dodich feels that he has found the right formula for his operation. Read all about some of the lessons Dodich has learned beginning on page 36 of this issue. (Cover photo by Tony Kryzanowski).
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