CALEDONIA, Mississippi – The path to Summer Breeze Sawmill, Accents by Jenna, LLC includes many places — Afghanistan, Kentucky and Chicago, and varied experiences — 29 years of service in the U.S. Army and summers spent logging as a boy in the Bluegrass State.
Louis Wilson, owner of Summer Breeze Sawmill, Accents by Jenna, explained that when he joined the U.S. Army at age 18, he never thought he would return to the wood products industry. “I didn’t want to be a logger,” he said. “I went completely full circle.”
“We are a custom saw mill and specialize in large timber frame beams – up to 24-feet long and 27-inch wide, and we saw slabs up to 54 inches,” said Louis. “We saw lumber that most big mills simply do not have time to produce.”
Two mills from Cook’s Saw Mfg. are at the core of Louis’ operation. They are a Cook’s Super Wide and a Cook’s AC-36 hydraulic with computer setworks. Cook’s Saw is based in Newton, Ala.
“I have the first Super Wide that Cook’s built,” said Louis. “It is a completely manual mill and I like it because it is simple to operate.”
With the Cook’s Super Wide, Louis can saw logs that are as long as 17 feet and up to 54 inches. The Super Wide runs on a 35 horsepower Kohler gas engine.
Louis took delivery of the first Super Wide that Cook’s built. And he has provided feedback to Cook’s about the machine. The Super Wide is used to saw table slabs or anything wider than 27 inches. It takes between 90 seconds and two minutes to produce a slab.
The Cook’s AC-36 can handle logs up to 10,000 lbs. “Right now I am sawing 100-year-old heart pine boards,” said Louis. The AC-36 is capable of sawing boards up to 24 feet long and logs up to 36-inches in diameter and will saw 27 ¼ inches in between blade guides once the log is canted out.
For the power source on the Cook’s AC-36, Louis chose the 62 horsepower Perkins turbo diesel engine. The Perkins engine is one of several power options, which include gas and electric. “It will saw through anything,” said Louis of the Perkins and AC-36 combination. “[The engine] is not as loud as you would think. [And] I can let it idle while I’m placing another log on the mill.”
The Cook’s AC-36 gets many high marks from Louis. “The mill saws super straight, the hydraulics are very strong and maintenance on the mill is minimal,” he said. “Also, the log loader is capable of picking up very heavy logs. I’m sure I’ve had 6000-lb. logs on it and it picks them up.”
Before making his first purchase from Cook’s Saw, Louis had tried other mills. “I like Cook’s because their mills are what I would describe as heavy duty,” he said. “I visited Cook’s and found their mills to be very strong, well built, and capable of sawing straight lumber – with very little maintenance time.”
The artists, woodworkers and do-it-yourselfers that purchase lumber from Summer Breeze appreciate the results that Louis obtains with the mills from Cook’s Saw. “[The mills] saw so straight, there’s very little finishing work – very little sanding, planing,” he explained.
Louis chose the Cook’s Dual Tooth Setter for his AC-36. Another option for buyers is the precision Cook’s Single Tooth Setter. For sharpening, Louis uses Cook’s Cat Claw bandsaw blade sharpener.
The range of species sawn by Summer Breeze is great. “I have sawn everything, but currently it is pine, cyprus, poplar, walnut and cedar,” said Louis.
Wood is procured in several ways. “We fell trees at a reduced rate if we are allowed to keep the logs,” said Louis. “We buy logs. And customers bring their own logs in with them.”
For felling, Louis uses chain saws – six and all Husqvarna, wedges, ropes, a 1974 F600 log truck, a 1986 Champ loader. “We’ve got a boutique operation,” he said. “We have a little mobile shop with saws and equipment and a latrine. I’m a saw miller that goes and finds trees that need to go.”
Recently, Louis felled a 56-inch white oak for a woman whose husband was a Vietnam veteran. He felled the tree, which was in danger of toppling, in exchange for the wood.
Vintage equipment – finding, rehabilitating and using it – is important to Louis. He and his fiancé, Jenna, a 25 percent owner in the company, drove to Chicago to pick up the Champ loader. The trip took longer than the weekend planned, but was worthwhile because a good machine was kept in service.
Louis laments that “people just don’t know how to work with their hands anymore” and he is gratified every time he finds that there are individuals reversing that trend. The efforts that keep the intricate and integral ties of the world together – plumbing, wiring, truck driving, for example — should be valued, understood and undertaken, he explained.
Moreover, Louis believes people want to know how to do things. They just need to be taught how. He introduced his fiancé, an artisan, to sanding, planing, jigsaws, routers and more and now, she has expanded her repertoire of creations. That was just the beginning.
“We’re building a 40×50 redwood barn,” said Louis of a joint project he and Jenna have undertaken. “We also do post and beam barns with steel bracketry.”
Summer Breeze Sawmill, Accents by Jenna is a small company that serves customers primarily within four hours driving distance of its home in Caledonia, Mississippi. Caledonia is a town in Lowndes County with a population of 1,041. It is approximately 170 miles east, northeast of Jackson, Miss.
Although Summer Breeze hires contract workers if needed, the operation generally runs with two people. “We have our mill set up so efficiently that I rarely need additional assistance,” said Louis.
The can-do spirit of Louis is mirrored by those at Cook’s Saw. Stephen Cook, the owner of Cooks Saw, told us about how Louis came to own the first Super Wide his company built. The story began in a church parking lot on a Sunday. Someone had brought a big stump to church. The person was actually looking for Stephen, hoping he could get help with sawing the stump wood into rounds for very large Lazy Susan trays and end tables.
Stephen took the stump to his facility, but it was a bit too big for the AC-36. Deciding to meet both a challenge and a need, on Monday, he and his team began the design of the Super Wide. Three weeks later they had a prototype. Louis arrived to pick up his AC-36 and saw the prototype – and he was interested in it. In short, after the giving the owner of the stump the opportunity to saw it, the prototype went to Louis.
The key to the Super Wide, explained Stephen, is that it is manual, unlike a very large hydraulic mill the company had made years earlier. That wide hydraulic mill proved just too massive, he said. “This time, we used the manual mill approach…We have since added a power feed and power up and down options.”
The Cook’s Super Wide project also had a big effect on the Cook’s team, said Stephen. “[It] has really lit our fire to keep adding new products that are beneficial to our customers.”
Making things, doing and doing what you love have all come together for Louis, since starting establishing his company in 2014. “It’s something you have to love,” he said, adding he did not plan to both saw and fell trees. To get it right in every instance, though, requires being in contact with the trees. “You eventually have to touch that wood.”
Starting Summer Breeze was therapeutic for Louis, who lives with combat related stress. “It was a way to do something completely different,” he said.
Louis completed two deployments in Afghanistan and one in Kosovo. He served in the U.S. Army as a helicopter maintenance test pilot during his 29 years in the military.
Although Louis’ grandfather was a logger (and county judge) and his father was a logger, he planned to not log. “It’s very hard work,” said Louis, adding emphatically that hard work is a good thing. “No job is too difficult with the right equipment.”
The focus on creating beautiful products – a must when sawing – is a way to take a break from the realities of a complex world, explained Louis. “The life of a sawyer is early-rise mornings, hard work, heavy lifting, and late-late nights. If you want to be profitable in this business, you have to stay at it, work hard, focus on sawing very straight lumber, take care of your equipment and never feel that a job is too small for your saw. You also must love doing it.”
In free time, Louis enjoys watching YouTube to learn how to create new products and watching videos of lessons learned from mistakes made felling trees and sawing lumber. “I love to watch singing competitions…I’m hooked on ‘America’s Got Talent’ because I love seeing average, everyday people succeed.”