WASIOJA, Minnesota – Colin Cabalka sees a lot of possibilities in his business, Wasioja Wood. He is ready and eager to help customers transform their dream for an heirloom quality piece of furniture into reality.
However, Colin doesn’t actually do all the work himself. He specifically focuses on one important part of the overall process, to which he believes is the key to successful fabrication – drying the lumber with his iDRY vacuum lumber kiln.
“I’m the vision capturer,” said Colin. “Right now, my vision for Wasioja Wood is expansive.”
Colin will help customers that want one piece of furniture or those who are looking for a small batch of high-end furniture. He sources high end hardwoods from logging contractors as well as his own property and reclaims logs from both rural and urban areas that otherwise might wind up chipped, burned, or buried in a landfill.
The iDRY vacuum kiln is easy to use. Colin Cabalka cites the mobile controls easily accessed by smartphone as a huge benefit along with the trolley system for loading and unloading. ‘It’s super easy to get started on a load. Just push it in and hit start on the control panel.’
By partnering with local sawmill owners and offering custom sawing on-site, all based on demand, the logs are taken to the mill and cut into premium hardwood lumber and slabs and specialty products – products not otherwise found in most lumber yards or stores.
The freshly sawn lumber is cleaned and stacked into stickered piles to be air-dried for several months. “Vacuum kiln drying is a core business strategy we have landed on,” Colin stated, “we dry our own wood and dry for others. We wouldn’t dry our wood any other way.” After air-drying the material is dried in his iDRY vacuum lumber kiln.
Then the wood is ready to be used by a craftsman contracted by Colin to make the product for the customer. He offers similar services for individuals or woodworkers who need slab material that is ready to work with – services that include slab flattening, resawing, and sanding.
Colin, who is in his mid-30s, is ready and eager to help those who want to transform a dream to a reality. Their dream may begin with a certain species of wood or even a certain tree.
In addition to being a facilitator, collaborating with other small business owners to make furniture and other wood products, Colin uses his iDRY vacuum lumber kiln to provide custom lumber drying services for small companies in the wood products business. They can use a page on his website (www.wasiojawood.com/dry) to estimate the time and cost to dry their lumber and even schedule it.
Colin hasn’t always worked with small forest products businesses. He worked for years as a commercial and documentary filmmaker based first in Los Angeles and then in Oregon. In Oregon he did occasional work with wood – renovating his home and refinishing mid-century furniture. “I was in a place in life where I was thinking I wanted to work with my hands,” said Colin. He also wanted to be near family.
Colin and his wife and children moved to a house on an 8-acre parcel along the Zumbro River in Minnesota in 2020. His home and business is in Wasioja, which is located in southeast Minnesota, about 50 miles south of Minneapolis.
He saw an opportunity to begin a lumber drying business and in the process to also dry wood for himself. Colin invested in a standard iDRY vacuum lumber kiln in June 2022. The kiln holds 1,500 to 2,000 board feet per load. Why did he choose an iDRY vacuum kiln? “I had been doing all my research,” said Colin. He had a few friends who had built solar kilns.
However, Colin considered solar kilns just satisfactory. When he learned about iDRY vacuum kilns, it “was very clear” that it was the optimal choice for a turnkey solution and quick turnaround for lumber drying.
“I believe in my own business enough to leap and buy top of the line,” said Colin about his decision to purchase an iDRY kiln.
The iDRY vacuum kiln is easy to use, noted Colin. He cited the mobile controls easily accessed by smartphone as a huge benefit along with the trolley system for loading and unloading as examples. “It’s super easy to get started on a load. Just push it in and hit start on the control panel.”
His iDRY kiln uses electricity for heat. Because Colin already had a 100-amp connection in his shop, he just added a 60-amp connector to be able to link to the kiln. (iDRY kilns also can be linked to a boiler for heat.)
Part of Wasioja Wood’s Heirloom Series…White Oak from a family farm reclaimed into a modern furniture collection of Dining, Kitchen Nook, Coffee and Side Tables.
iDRY calls itself the most experienced and largest vacuum drying technology company in North America. The company’s kilns are manufactured in Barre, Vermont.
All iDRY models promise the same fast, reliable, efficient drying, using a combination of heat and vacuum. The iDRY Turbo model kiln dries lumber and squares from 4/4 to 16/4 10 times faster than conventional kilns while the iDRY Standard and iDRY PLUS dry about 5 times faster.
The energy cost of iDRY kilns is pennies per board foot. Low electricity demand and very low and efficient use of heat energy means lumber dries faster with a smaller boiler and minimal electricity – a boiler the size of a home heating system and electricity that is comparable to powering a clothes dryer. A touch screen control system makes operation simple.
A vacuum lowers the temperature at which water evaporates. Wood is stronger at a lower temperature. By drying at a low temperature, the drying process can be accelerated without harming the wood. Vacuum pressure also sucks the water from the core to the shell.
When drying lumber it is necessary to increase the temperature while maintaining the vacuum. The kiln becomes superheated, and the equilibrium moisture content is reduced, causing the moisture from the wood to convert to water vapor at the reduced pressure. The moisture from the wood can then be condensed and removed via the floor drain or vacuum pump.
The iDRY system is very effective at heating the wood without damaging or darkening it due to the vacuum; the low oxygen environment actually contributes to the bright lumber color that results from the vacuum drying process.
Colin prepares a load of lumber and slabs that is almost ready to go into his iDRY lumber kiln. The iDRY kilns dry lumber in a vacuum, which lowers the temperature at which water evaporates. The vacuum accelerates the drying process without harming the wood.
The benefits of the vacuum lumber kiln technology are excellent lumber quality – color, flatness and stability – and up to a 20 percent increase in yield and 40 percent increase in throughput. By drying 5-10 times faster, product is turned around 5-10 times faster, and the lumber drying business gets paid faster. And the process is done at low cost.
(For more information about iDRY lumber kilns, visit www.iDRYwood.com or call (802) 520-9198.)
The team at iDRY has been “super helpful” in answering questions and making suggestions about best practices, said Colin. And when there has been a minor issue – the need for a fuse – the response from iDRY has been immediate.
The iDRY vacuum kiln is on a concrete pad. Colin built a shed around it and insulated the water intake pipes and dug a trench to bury drain lines. He took precautions to protect the control panel on the back of the kiln and to prevent water from freezing.
Colin can operate and control the iDRY kiln remotely with an app on his smartphone. He will dry about 70,000 to 100,000 board feet of lumber this year, he projected.
Wasioja Wood will hire its first employee this year and continues to grow through Colin’s extensive relationships with local subcontractors and neighbors to help with everything from loading and unloading the kiln, fixing heavy machinery, and cutting and stacking lumber.
Originally he envisioned only drying lumber for other small woodworking businesses. “I was just drying,” said Colin. “Then, people started asking for furniture.”
When a potential customer said he had a beautiful walnut tree that he wanted to fell, mill into lumber, and see made into furniture, Colin saw the potential to make it happen. He contacted other woodworkers to price different aspects of the process and contracted for the felling, milling, and furniture making. The finished product was a walnut dining table and two bench seats.
Colin bought a Wood-Mizer portable sawmill. He put about 300 hours on before selling it to focus on his drying business. An opportunity came up to partner with an existing owner on the use and ownership – sharing — of a Wood-Mizer portable sawmill. With that arrangement he is able to offer custom sawing based on demand. “I cut all our dimensional wood up to 34 inches,” said Colin. For larger logs, he contracts with other mills.
Colin usually buys logs from contractors that have seasoned for at least six months. After milling, the lumber is air-dried for several months before it goes into the iDRY vacuum kiln.
Logs are bucked with a Stihl chainsaw. Some, like white ash, are debarked. Colin uses the slabs to heat his home. He has a Bobcat skid steer to move logs.
Colin sees fabrication and furniture making in the future of Wasioja Wood. He has experience making fences and framing outbuildings, but he has become more interested in the craftsmanship of making furniture. “I didn’t previously have experience building furniture, but through experts I know and with the trust of my clients, I’ve been able to produce five dining tables, bench and side table sets, and multiple coffee tables. I’m on a journey of constant learning.”
For now, custom kiln drying lumber for other businesses is his primary focus. It accounts for about 80 percent of his company’s earnings. “There’s always a demand for custom drying,” he said.
He wants to expand into other areas, though. “One of my passions is highly specialized products,” said Colin. “I want to add value.”
Colin has a poetic sense of how trees fit into the scheme of life. The owner of the walnut table and benches, for example, might sit with his grandchildren one day and recall for them how their father or mother played in the branches of the walnut tree.
For now, Colin is immersed in being “able to serve clients with curiosity and creativity.”
Colin recently finished remodeling the kitchen of his log cabin. The project included beautiful bookmatched white oak slab countertops and floating shelves that he fabricated. The material was dried in his iDRY kiln.
Colin continues to work as a documentary film-maker. Almost all of it is done on location.
Paul Grenier, sales director of iDRY, offers a podcast titled Whiskey and Wood (see www.whiskeyandwood.co) featuring owners of iDRY kilns who talk about their wood products businesses. Colin was featured in a recent podcast titled “From Media Expert to Milling with Wasioja Wood,” and he has supplied some video footage to Paul for podcasts.
Colin sees a lot of possibilities in virtually every direction and every place. His film-making work has taken him all over the world, but he also sees potential right around him.
For example, his property has many white ash trees that have succumbed to the emerald ash borer now endemic to the area. Because kiln-drying lumber sterilizes it at the same time from insects, the white ash can be harvested and used.
“I always go back to loving people and making the world a better place – uniting people around a shared story,” said Colin. Wood has “touch points” – how it grew as a tree, how it’s connected to an individual or family, how it’s connected to a community.
“It energizes me to think what kind of beauty we are going to be able to cultivate,” said Colin. “You exist in this world to create – whether you know it or not.”
Colin laments that “beauty and simplicity are underrated these days” and notes both are the essence of wood in its “rawest” form.
The property that is home to Colin, his family and Wasioja Wood is defined by a beautiful tree canopy, flocks of birds and waterfowl, and three resident owls. Needless to say, it’s a far cry from Hollywood, where Colin began his career shooting music videos in 2009. Music videos led to commercials for a top hotel chain and then a significant footprint in making commercials for the hospitality industry. Then he began making documentaries for international humanitarian causes.
Getting married led Colin and his wife to Portland, where they began envisioning a simpler way of life. Eventually they decided to move to Minnesota to be near family. Their goal was to have “land to roam on” and a “small homestead” in contrast to the “frenetic pace” he kept in the marketing world in Portland, Oregon, he said.
In his free time, Colin enjoys camping and traveling in the West with his family, or floating on the Zumbro River or having barbecues.