Tree Faller Becomes Custom Sawmiller in British Columbia
By Tony Kryzanowski, Wood-Mizer Contributing Author
As an experienced tree faller, Jimmy Pleym is sure of how much quality wood he can saw from a log just by looking at it. So, he brought a good skill set to manage the front end of his custom sawmilling and retail lumber venture.
Attracting a master sawyer and mentor to the business was the final piece of the puzzle and has proven to be a winning formula, supported by Pleym's wife, Val, who is a social media savvy writer who keeps the name, Alpine Wood Products, front and centre on Facebook.
Calling Golden, BC home, the Pleyms were looking for an exit strategy from their seasonal whitewater rafting business. At that time, they were building their log home.
The builder was an experienced sawyer named Mark Thornley. Mark was using a Wood-Mizer LT15 bandsaw mill to create the structural components he needed for the home. This was Jimmy's first experience with bandsaw milling. They talked as they worked together on the home, and the notion of a custom sawmilling venture to replace their whitewater rafting income began to take hold.
In 2017, they finally decided to sell the whitewater rafting business after two decades, which offered them a less hectic schedule with more family time.
After the home was built and the business sold, Jimmy purchased a Wood-Mizer LT40 bandsaw mill and continued to toy with the idea of custom sawmilling. Both he and Val were amazed at how they were being kept busy just through word of mouth.
Val soon decided to announce on their Facebook page that Alpine Wood Products was open for business. Though they were nervous, Jimmy offered a wealth of log-quality knowledge to the business, and they already had the Wood-Mizer LT40.
Mark retired from log home building and came to work for Alpine Wood Products. Jimmy says it is highly unlikely that he would have jumped into this custom sawmilling venture without his mentorship. Now at 73 years old, he has passed on his knowledge and today Jimmy is not only a log quality expert, but also a confident sawyer.
Golden's local economy is booming as the town transitions from a commercial/industrial centre with a major forestry presence to more of a resort community. As a result, custom wood products are in high demand, especially among building contractors.
Today, Jimmy actively seeks out high-quality, exclusively Douglas fir logs to support the business and leverages his local connections to purchase logs from private woodlot owners.
Jimmy has used his skill to fill in the niche local demand from contractors for heartwood-free lumber. His ability to spot the right logs and produce these premium products keeps customers coming back.
At present, about 60 percent of their business is with contractors and 40 percent with the public. They open only from 11-5 pm Tuesday to Friday for retail sales, which gives them enough time to keep up with their backlog of custom-cutting orders.
Their product mix ranges from 1" x 2" batten material to as large as 12" x 16" timbers from 8' to 26' long. They avoid cutting anything shorter than 8' unless it is a premium product like live edge lumber. The timbers they manufacture are typically used structurally or for cosmetic purposes befitting the area's alpine theme.
Orders arrive over the phone or by email, some as large as timber home packages. When they aren't busy, which is rare, they replenish their retail stock for walk-in traffic. Their lumber products are air-dried under cover, but they also produce and sell green material.
Another bonus for Alpine Wood Products is that the Kicking Horse Pass on the Trans-Canada Highway through the Rocky Mountains east of town is being rebuilt from a windy, two-lane road to a modern, four-lane highway. They are benefitting from this long-term project, selling massive custom-cut timbers to the road construction company, which uses them as work platforms for heavy equipment like cranes.
Once he made the leap to full time custom sawmilling, Jimmy soon upgraded to a fully hydraulic Wood-Mizer LT70 portable sawmill "with all the bells and whistles."
"I really like the auto clutch feature, I really like Accuset, I really like that it is fully hydraulic, I really like that the Lube-Mizer feature lubricates the blade with water while cutting, and I really like the diesel engine that runs it," he says.
Accuset is the bandsaw mill's computerized measuring system and Jimmy says he wouldn't even consider operating a sawmill without it because of its ease of operation and consistent measurement accuracy.
His Wood-Mizer LT70 bandsaw mill also comes equipped with a log debarker. "The sawmill is awesome in every way," he adds. It has a 26' bed and they have added accessories such as a resaw and a lap-siding jig.
Recently, Alpine Wood Products purchased a new Wood-Mizer LT15WIDE bandsaw mill.
It has the power feed feature and a 17' 8" bed and was purchased to saw live edge wood products up to 36" wide and 10-1/2" thick. They can charge twice as much for live edge material and still be incredibly competitive with live edge lumber retailed in big box stores. It is used in everything from tabletops to countertops to shelving. Demand for live edge building material is strong, so Jimmy feels that the sawmill will pay for itself in no time.
Their LT15WIDE portable sawmill is being used to breakdown logs 36" in diameter into smaller dimensions so that they can manufacture wood products more efficiently on the LT70 bandsaw mill. Also, the ability to break down larger logs helps with their heart-free lumber recovery program.
Currently, all of their custom sawmilling takes place on their property. However, Jimmy intends to purchase the trailer package for this sawmill so that he can expand into onsite portable sawmilling, which will add a new dimension to the business.
Their manufacturing equipment complement includes a Wood-Mizer EG200 twin blade edger to maximize recovery and improve efficiency. Jimmy says that while he could edge lumber on his bandsaw mill with some effort, the edger is so much more efficient. "Now that I have an edger, I could never not have one," he says.
He also has a stationary planer that is able to plane material up to 20" wide, a number of hand planers, an automatic Wood-Mizer bandsaw blade sharpener, and a Wood-Mizer tooth setter. He uses Wood-Mizer DoubleHard and SilverTip sawmill blades on the bandsaw mill and has excellent parts and service support from the local Wood-Mizer dealer in Salmon Arm for all the company's needs.
Jimmy also uses a Caterpillar 262C skid steer to transport both logs and lumber in the yard. "I'd never even consider buying anything other than a Wood-Mizer," Jimmy says. "I've always thought that it was the most sought-after mill and I've noticed that they don't actually go down in value. They go up."