Restoring Men Through Christ, a Sawmill and a Woodshop
By Greg Wetterlin, Director, Restoration Sawmill and Hardwoods
When Restoration Men’s Residential Ministry opened in 2016 with the goal of helping men overcome addiction, the financial model was simple – provide excellent addiction help without financial burden by teaching men to work hard and support the resources that they were receiving. At this point, we had no idea who Wood-Mizer was and how important of a partner they would become.
The ministry is housed on a beautiful 100-acre property in Lafayette, Indiana. It started with one house with the capacity to help 6 men seeking freedom from addiction. Although the goal from the outset was to start a business with the men that would support the ministry, no plan had been settled when the first men arrived. At the beginning, the plan was to start cleaning up and caring for the property which included an old 1800s barn. Part of cleaning up the property involved cutting down some dead trees including one that was a walnut tree. I knew nothing about lumber or woodworking, but the volunteer working with me when the tree was taken down knew that walnut was valuable lumber. He told me that it was a real shame to cut walnut into firewood and wished that we knew someone with a sawmill.
That’s where Wood-Mizer became an invaluable partner in our mission of helping men overcome addiction.
That one walnut tree sent our ministry in a direction that we are still heading. Days after the walnut tree came down, a friend from church brought out his 1990s LT40 Wood-Mizer sawmill. From there, we wondered if there was a way to repair the 1800s barn with fallen trees on the property. Another volunteer mentioned that his brother owned a Wood-Mizer LT15 sawmill and we were able to borrow it for 2 months to complete the project. The only goal at the time was to cut enough lumber to repair the barn floor. We had never dreamed or thought of starting a sawmill or custom woodworking business, but that’s exactly what happened.
After 2 months of having a blast borrowing the LT15 sawmill and cutting any log we could get our hands on, a church member who volunteered at Restoration looked at all the lumber that had been milled and estimated that it was worth between $15,000 and $20,000. At first, I didn’t believe him. I had no clue what lumber cost, let alone hardwood lumber. I started doing some research and found out he was right! That’s what led me to reach out to Wood-Mizer and I took the opportunity to explain that a sawmill would help men trying to overcome addiction by providing an opportunity to learn hard work and help support the resources they were receiving at Restoration. In June of 2017, we purchased an LT40WIDE hydraulic sawmill.
We had considered lots of options for business ideas up to this point. The problem with most of those ideas was that they were capital intensive without much promise for quick and sustained return. Therefore, they would require more traditional funding than we were set-up to make or were willing to do at this point in the ministry’s life. The Wood-Mizer made it a safe investment that wasn’t capital heavy and had already proved the ability of returning on the investment by immediately being able to saw lumber to sell and saw lumber for customers.
More than just financially making sense, the sawmill operation provided a nice balance of fast paced, hard work for the men coming to Restoration without having a tremendously steep learning curve. The work has also been perfect for men seeking freedom from addiction because for many of them drugs or alcohol has been where they have turned to for comfort, satisfaction and pleasure. Many men wrapped up in addiction haven’t been taught or ever experienced the satisfaction and joy of working hard in order to serve others. The sawmill has become a perfect hands on place to help them learn exactly what Jesus Christ taught in His word, “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39), and to “work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” (Colossians 3:23)
Restoration Sawmill and Hardwoods, the name of the non-profit business, quickly grew beyond just sawing lumber and we began making custom wood furniture and products. In this way, the men got the satisfaction of seeing wood go all the way from log, to lumber to final product, and finally to the end user. When men are stuck in addictions, they are consumed with serving themselves rather than working hard to bless and serve others. That’s one of the most important lessons to learn in order to live in freedom from addiction.
The growing pains of starting a new business became a powerful parable for the men in the program. As you get into something new there are always new challenges. For the first year of the program, I was the only staff member and my woodworking experience and knowledge was little to none. A couple of the volunteers had construction knowledge, but no one was a furniture builder. But through lots of reading, YouTube videos, networking and plenty of trial and error, we’ve become furniture makers training men coming out of addiction how to also make furniture.
The model that we have is quite unique when you think about it. We accept men into the program and employ them in our sawmill business. These are men that a typical business wouldn’t hire or give a second chance. While they are here, we train them how to be good employees, how to serve others, how to work hard even when no one is looking, how to develop a learner’s mindset and how to solve problems. Then when they are valuable employees, we graduate them from the program and they move on to other places of employment. It’s kind of backwards, but that’s the goal of Restoration—take men who are struggling and teach them how to thrive through the transformational power of Jesus Christ and then send them back to be productive and service oriented in their communities, churches and families.
In 2018, because of need for long-term residential programs is so significant—especially programs that are not going to enslave people in debt—we raised $200,000 in order to expand the ministry to a second house in order to double the capacity of the program from 6 to 12 men. Because the work is such a key component of the men’s growth and the financial model, the work for the men had to also be able to sustain 6 more residents. By God’s grace, Restoration Sawmill and Hardwoods had grown to the point of being able to justify having its own full-time staff member. We were even able to utilize money that was left over from the new house in order to build two wood kiln chambers, which can each dry 3,500 board feet of hardwood lumber at time. The ability to dry lumber for furniture has been one of the largest value adding improvements we’ve made.
What started with a large shop space with basic tools like a used table saw, a 12” chop saw and a collection of my own and volunteers’ tools, grew to be a full-fledged woodworking shop with the capability to dimension rough lumber and make custom furniture. The 12” portable planer that we borrowed when we dimensioned all the 2x4’s we cut on our sawmill to build a sawmill shed was replaced by a 20” planer. A 12” jointer was added to the repertoire, followed by a shaper, a 24” bandsaw, a table saw, an assortment of woodworking tools, and most recently a Wood-Mizer MP260 4-sided planer moulder. The story of each one of those tools is that men in the program worked hard, produced lumber and furniture that profited in order to be able to purchase those tools without going into debt.
Recently, we have connected with a couple of customers who have cleared trees in order to build their home. Rather than waste the trees, they’ve come to us to have their trees turned into useable wood for their home including hardwood flooring. At this point, sawing trees, drying the boards in our wood kiln, dimensioning and making tongue and groove boards was straight forward which we had often done for making interior barn doors. But being able to move at a pace fast enough to produce 4,000 square feet of flooring while providing competitive pricing demanded a machine capable of cutting our production time down significantly. Again, Wood-Mizer proved to be an integral partner so we purchased a MP260 planer/moulder and chip extractor. Not only have these flooring jobs more than paid for the machine, but the capabilities that it has opened up for us are enormous.
Companies like Wood-Mizer and Wildcat Creek Tree Service in Lafayette, Indiana a tree service that has donated countless logs to Restoration Sawmill and Hardwoods—have been absolutely critical in helping Restoration men’s ministry accomplish their mission of helping men find freedom from addiction through Jesus Christ.
Addiction takes a serious toll on the men, their families and communities. However, because of Wood-Mizer, there is real hope for men to be changed, and for their families and communities to be changed as a result. I genuinely believe that everything we do at Restoration from the biblical counseling, to Bible studies, to attendance at church, to making meals, to work in the sawmill is all part of helping men make the heart changes that will lead to the next 30, 40, 50 plus years of their life to be completely different.
If you had asked me what Restoration would have looked like 3 years ago, I would have never guessed this is where the Lord would have taken it. It’s better than I could have ever dreamed.