"More than Wood" Leads to "More Work Than You Can Handle"
By Dave Boyt
A used Norwood, and a leap of faith, got the ball rolling for one couple. They thought they would starve to death. Far from it! – Their sawmill has been the catalyst for their business booming, diversifying and giving them more work than they can handle.
When Mark Sharp hired a local sawyer to mill some logs for him, he was so intrigued by the process that the sawyer, who was getting ready to retire, offered to sell him the Norwood LumberMate 2000. Mark brought the mill home with him, unsure exactly how it would fit into his home remodeling business. “We thought we‘d starve to death when we first bought it,” he recalled. But when word got out, he soon had requests to mill lumber for neighbors and area businesses.
Mark and his wife Marci soon started the business “More Than Wood”. Although it began as a sawmill, the demand for furniture from his wood led to the building of a woodworking shop... then a kiln... then more equipment, including a loader, a oneton truck and log trailer. “We‘ve been busy, and I see no slowdown,” Mark says, “You can turn it into as big a business as you want it to be. It‘s been amazing!” He noted that the loader was a particularly important piece of equipment. “We put a winch on it and use it to skid logs out of the woods and load the trailer. Around the mill, we use it to load logs and move beams and slabs.” More than Wood is a place where people can bring a log and, in a couple of months, pick up a finished piece of furniture. A lot of the wood he mills has sentimental value to his customers. Several years ago, Mark milled and made furniture out of trees that had blown down during a tornado. “People wanted something of their homes to remember. It was great to be a part of that,” he recalls.
“We‘ve been busy, and I see no slowdown. You can turn it into as big a business as you want it to be. It‘s been amazing!”
Mark says he had never run a sawmill until he bought the Norwood. He took to it right away and, although he is mechanically inclined, he credits the simplicity of the machine with his quick success in sawing quality lumber. Within a week, he had taught himself to cut perfect boards. With Michael as a teacher, Marci learned even more quickly. “After thirty minutes of showing my wife how to work it, she was cutting hackberry. She had such a good time, I didn‘t think I was going to get the mill back,” he laughs.
The economics of the mill was what initially attracted Michael to the Norwood. He had considered a bigger mill, but decided to “test the waters” with a smaller investment in the LumberMate. “Now I realize I don‘t need a $40,000 machine. This one will do everything I need it to do,” he said. He also noted that the machine is reliable and inexpensive to operate. “We‘ve probably run the mill at least 25 hours a week for the last four years, and never used up a tank of gas in a day.” Other than gas, oil, blades and belts, he says his only expense in all that time has been replacing a track roller.
“It‘s crazy that this machine can handle that big a log. You put a log on it that dwarfs the machine, and it will saw right through it.”
Mark says he is amazed at the size of log that the mill can handle. He has cut white oak logs as big as 40" diameter on the big end. “It‘s crazy that this machine can handle that big a log,” he says. “You put a log on it that dwarfs the machine, and it will saw right through it. It‘s been a neat machine to have.” The ability to cut 24" wide boards on the mill has given him the ability to tap into the market for fireplace mantles, bar tops and other custom wood that other sawmills find too challenging or too time consuming to produce.
On the other end of the size scale, Mark has found the mill‘s ability to cut thin, straight boards makes it ideal for cutting cedar lap siding and paneling. Many of his customers use his “rough” lumber right off the mill, but even when he surfaces the wood, he just skims 1/16" off each side with the planer. The versatility of the mill and Mark‘s sawing skill give his business a diversity that makes it possible to cut whatever a customer wants.
His best customer may be his wife, Marci. When she isn‘t helping around the sawmill, she is running the well-equipped furniture shop with two part-time employees. “She got a pattern for Adirondack chairs on the internet, built a few, and now she builds and sells them.” Other products include chests, cupboards, cabinets, tables, and entertainment centers. “She loves running flooring through the four head molder,” he added. “That‘s her baby.”
To the Sharps, there is no such thing as waste. The farmer may brag about using “every part of the pig except the squeal,” but Mike and Marci use every part of the log, including the bark. Large slabs go for rustic furniture or firewood. They chip edgings for mulch, and bag up planer shavings for animal bedding. Short pieces are set aside and sold to wood turners. “Business seems to double every year, and I don‘t see it slowing down any time soon.”
Michael says he would welcome a little competition. In fact, he says he has more customers than he can handle. “There‘s plenty of work out there for everybody,” he exclaimed. “I‘ve helped neighbors five miles away that have a sawmill. If they need cedar, I‘ll get them some cedar logs, and if they have some oak I need, I can get it from them. Business seems to double every year,” he continued, “and I don‘t see it slowing down any time soon.” When asked what he likes best about the sawmill business, Mark says that he likes the independence the business provides. He and Marci set their own hours and rely on their work ethic, business sense, and willingness to try new markets to create a rewarding, profitable business. “I wouldn‘t hesitate to recommend that anyone who wants to start a sawmill business and has enough land to store a few logs to go ahead and do it. The only thing is, you may find yourself with more work than you can handle.”
This article was origninally published in the June 2016 edition of TimberLine magazine