March and April 2006



Specialty Cutting

Mike Hurley builds a second career,Wetset Enterprises

By Clay Clayton

Mike Hurley, owner of Wetset Enterprises, expresses an exceptional enthusiasm for sawmilling lumber when he states, "I get a tremendous thrill from making beautiful lumber out of ugly logs."

Mike gives voice to his enthusiasm on a 128-acre homestead near Mossy Rock, Wash., utilizing a Wood-Mizer LT40 thin kerf band sawmill to produce that "beautiful lumber" while simultaneously fulfilling the needs of local customers and providing materials for his own special building projects. To accomplish the task, Mike uses a combination of logs supplied by clients, logs purchased on the open market and fiber removed from his own carefully tended lands.

The environmental benefits of very thin kerf sawmilling include optimization of the resource and greenhouse gas reductions. Those enhancements are one reason Mike Hurley chose Wood-Mizer to provide his sawmill.


Fascinated for More Than Five Decades

Mike's attraction to sawmilling goes back to the early 1950s when, as young men, he and his four brothers felled and bucked timber with crosscut saws, first on ten acres near Castle Rock, Wash., and later on 40 acres in nearby Longview. Logs, mostly Red Alder, were yarded to landings by the brothers using horses, then bucked into 8-foot lengths and hand rolled with peaveys onto flatbed trucks.

Not all of the logs went to the sawmill. One of Mike's vivid memories is of his father hiring a portable sawmill operator to cut lumber on shares so that a barn could be built."Ever since, it has been my dream to saw lumber from my own trees and build my own house from that lumber," says Mike.


Change of Careers

Nearing retirement from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in 1993, Mike bought a diesel-powered Wood- Mizer LT40 ultra thin kerf band saw and began to operate the machine as a business. For the first two years he had to hire an operator for custom cutting for a mill in Tacoma, since he was often traveling with his job.

In 1996 a vehicle towing Mike's LT40 lost a wheel when a bearing failed, and the accident severely damaged the band saw's head rig. Consequently, that mill was retired and replaced with a hydraulically equipped Wood-Mizer LT40 powered by a 24-horsepower gasoline engine. By then, Mike had also taken up sawmilling as a full-time venture.


Full Service, Stationary Sawmill

A recent trend in the "portable" sawmill industry has seen innovators like Mike Hurley utilize their mills as stationary operations rather than taking their shows on the road. The mill's production capacity, durability and low initial investment (in terms of sawmills), allows operators like Wetset to fill a void in the industry. Today Mike saws lumber four days a week without, for the most part, ever moving his saw.

The stationary concept, he says, allows him to arrange everything to allow for maximum productivity."Even though my Wood-Mizer is easy to move and can be set up and sawing lumber in about 20 minutes at another location, I stay plenty busy where I am," he adds. "So why move?"

The blade on a thin kerf band sawmill like Wetset’s LT40 can be changed in two or three minutes so downtime is minimal.


Customer Work & Sustainability

A custom sawyer, Mike mills a broad variety of Northwest species on behalf of his customers - primarily cedar, Douglas fir, hemlock, and hardwoods like alder and maple. Most milling is charged out at a flat hourly rate, although occasionally, under the right circumstances, Mike is willing to work on a board footproduced basis.

After an order is placed, Mike determines whether it can best be filled by sawing selectively harvested logs from his own carefully managed timberland, or by purchasing logs from his log buyer who delivers them with a self-loading log truck. Mike says that if the order is large he is more likely to purchase the logs, but adds that even with smaller orders, his time and effort are factors he considers when using his own trees.

On deciding to use trees harvested from his own holdings, Mike not only selects trees to meet the need, but also assesses what will be best for his timber stand in the future. As trees are selectively cut, they are systematically replanted. Mikes says his goal is to establish mixed stands of timber so his heirs can always live off the property. He plants for variety,
establishing species like Incense Cedar, Blue and Sitka Spruce, White Pine, Noble Fir, Black Locust, Quaking Aspen, Red Oak, Redwoods, Cedars and others.

The desire to get the most out of the trees he does harvest is one of the major reasons Mike has stuck with Wood-Mizer through the years. He says the quality, speed, and durability are all important, but the yield and value enhancements very thin kerf sawmilling allows, along with the environmental benefit it creates, are of even more significance.

In addition to serving the needs of customers, Mike has constructed nearly all the buildings on his own homestead with quality lumber sawn on his own mill.


From Tree to Specialty Lumber

On the Mossy Rock property, trees are felled either by Mike, or by an experienced feller hired to do the job. Bucked and limbed trees are moved to the sawmill in one of three ways. Full-length stems are yarded with a D6 Caterpillar where they can be picked by a self-loading log truck. Logs up to 16 feet long may be loaded by a Case 888 excavator equipped with a bucket and thumb onto a trailer pulled behind a one-ton truck. Smaller logs are handled by a logging arch-equipped ATV that Mike says, to his amazement, can handle logs up to 16 feet long and 24 inches in diameter.

At the mill site, logs are scoured using a pressure washer to protect the saw blade from needless wear or damage. A Bobcat equipped with forks manipulates logs up to 12 feet long and 24 inches in diameter. The Case positions larger sticks on skids aligned with the LT40's hydraulic lifting arms. Mike says he typically processes logs between 8 and 21 feet in length and between 4 and 36 inches in diameter. He adds, "Shorter logs represent a little more work, but the LT40 is versatile enough to saw shorter pieces if needed."

Secondary processing is accomplished using a 25" Wood Master planer/ molder/sander/edger and a Logosol PH260 four-sided planer/molder that Mike uses to produce tongue and groove car-decking, bead board and other specialty lumber. A small drying kiln with about a 1,000-board feet capacity is also available when needed.

To Mike Hurley, sawing lumber is more than a way to make a living. He enhances the environment, provides a valued product for his friends and neighbors and, as a bonus, is able to realize his own dreams.



This page was last updated on Tuesday, September 19, 2006