Plan For Sawmill Business In Maine Is Plane

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Versatility of Logosol planer-molder boosts small company’s production, opens door to new markets.

CORINNA, Maine — Melvin Yoder decided he’d had enough of working for other people. While living near State College, Pennsylvania, he’d worked as the foreman of a sawmill for five years, but he really wanted to be in business for himself.

At the same time his wife, who is from Maine, wanted to be closer to her family. So the Yoders packed up and moved to Corinna, Maine. Melvin bought a portable sawmill and opened Yoder’s Custom Sawing in 1999, moving from site to site to make lumber for customers.

“Before long I got tired of working in the hot sun in the summer time and the deep snow in the winter time,” he said. Instead of operating his portable sawmill to provide on-site custom sawing, he decided to use it to get into the lumber manufacturing business. “So I started buying logs and cutting and selling lumber.” He put his portable sawmill in a building and converted it into a stationary sawmill.

“Cedar is a big thing for us,” said Melvin. “At least 75 percent of what we do is white cedar.” He mills white cedar logs into 5/4 decking and v-matched tongue and groove paneling. “We’ve also done some white cedar flooring,” he said.

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Recently Melvin began exploring the feasibility of milling hardwoods. “We’re just kind of dabbling in the hardwoods right now,” he said. “We just recently got a dry kiln and might do some flooring in the hardwood. It’s certainly something we’re looking at.”

Melvin has developed a strong niche market among consumers in the region surrounding Corinna, which is about 30 miles west of Bangor. “Seventy-five percent of what I cut, I sell to homeowners,” he said. “During the summer, I sell just about 100 percent of the cedar that I cut to homeowners. They buy enough to do a deck or paneling or flooring for a house. The little bit of hardwood that I cut goes to small guys who are building furniture, and they’ll buy a hundred board feet at a time.”

In the winter he sells cedar lumber wholesale to several different companies. “Most of that goes to people who build gazebos or barns or things like that,” he said.

Business has been so good that Melvin brought in his brother-in-law, Nevin Miller, as a minority partner in the business. “He can do pretty much anything I can do,” said Melvin. “We swap off stacking lumber, running the saw….whatever needs to be done. I’m mostly in the management part of things, and he’s in there with me doing a lot of the labor.”

When he has time — which he says he doesn’t have enough of — the 30-year-old heads for the woods to hunt or fish.

“The thing of it is, when I bought the planer, it’s such a time-saver that I thought I’d have a lot more time to hunt and fish,” Melvin said. “But it only has created more business, so now I have to work more!” He was referring to a Logosol Planer-Molder that he bought about nine months ago. “I’m really happy with it,” he said. “It works really well for me.”

The two main reasons he decided to buy the Logosol Planer-Molder were the price and its capabilities. “I don’t know where I could have found another machine that can do what this one can for the same kind of price,” he said. “It can plane all four sides of the piece of wood at the same time, which makes it very versatile. It’s easily affordable by someone who works on a small scale like we do, but at the same time it’s also capable of making a lot of different moldings. We’re using it for a lot of different things.”

Whatever concerns Melvin may have had about getting up to speed with a new piece of equipment, they vanished when he started to work with the Logosol Planer-Molder. “It was very easy to set up,” he said, “and it’s very easy to use. It only took me a few days to get to where I could set it up within 10 minutes. It doesn’t take a college degree to learn how to operate the machine. I expected a well-built machine, and that’s what I got. It’s worked very well for what we do and has performed above my expectations.”

Melvin uses the Logosol Planer-Molder in making the white cedar decking that his business produces so much of. “Every summer we’ve run thousands of board feet of decking,” he said. “When we got this machine, it sped up the process very much. It does a very nice job on the decking.”

Yoder Custom Sawing also makes a good volume of shiplap siding for barns and garages. “The Logosol Planer-Molder is very easy to set up for that,” said Melvin, “and it works very quickly.”

Overall, Melvin considers the Logosol Planer-Molder a very good investment for his company. “It saves me a lot of time and labor,” he said. “Before I had it, I used a single-sided planer. We had to run a single piece of wood through the machine four or five times to get it sized and to get a good product. Now it’s just one time through the machine. What used to take us two days now takes four hours. Every week this machine saves me a day and a half of labor because of the speed at which it operates. It’s a great machine, it does a very good job, and I’m really happy with what it does for us.”

Melvin said that once he sees how well the hardwoods work out for him, he’ll be better able to plan where he wants to take his business in the next five years. “What I’m aiming for is to focus on the hardwood market for trim, molding and flooring products,” he said. “In the next several years I’d really like to shift completely over to hardwoods. And I’m sure that when we get into that market, this machine will do a good job with whatever we throw at it.”

Nevertheless, there will be a lot of challenges along the way, he acknowledged. “The biggest challenge I’m going to have is competing with larger companies,” he said. “There are a lot of those companies around me. We have a weekly magazine that comes out that has 200 pages, and it is all advertising. In the building materials section, there are always five or six different companies advertising hardwood flooring and trim products. So the competition with the big companies is there.”

Melvin plans to identify a specific niche market that has clearly defined needs and to orient his business to serve that market. “That way I can make my dollar as a small company without having the big production costs that the big companies have,” he said.