March 2007 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal
BEING THE SAWMILL BOSS
Small sawmiller Kevin Shelden decided to take the leap—after 20 years of working for someone else—and set up his own small sawmilling operation in Quebec’s Eastern townships, and loves being his own boss.
By Martine Frigon
Four years ago, Kevin Shelden made a big change in his life. After working more than 20 years in a granite plant, he decided to start his own business: a small sawmill that he could run himself. This former granite hand polisher has become a happy entrepreneur. He works in his small sawmill without employees, and says quite frankly that he wouldn’t change his life for anything in the world.
Born in Ogden, Quebec, Shelden is 41, married with two kids of 11 and 13. He’s always lived in this small Eastern Townships community, which is a 10- minute drive from the Vermont border and about 100 kilometres from Montreal. The economy of Ogden and nearby villages is based on tourism, agriculture and forestry. In addition, granite, a natural resource found in large quantities in the region’s soil, is the raw material for a half-dozen granite plants, most of which specialize in making cemetery monuments.
Seeking to increase his chances of success with this new business, Shelden did not work full-time at his new business from the outset. Instead, he decided to keep his job at the granite plant while gaining some business at his small sawmill. “I started slowly,” he says.
“I opened my business on a part-time basis and did not leave my job. All of this lasted two years. When I saw that it was working well, I finally quit my job.” That was three years ago.
Shelden acted in the same cautious manner when he bought his equipment. His first acquisition was a Wood-Mizer 40LT Super Hydraulic, which he set up in a specially outfitted outdoors location.
“I began with a brand new Wood-Mizer. I took time to get information on other brands on the market but I decided to buy this one.” Shelden also obtained a Hardy loader bought second-hand from someone he knew, a purchase that has worked out well. He contracted to build his approximately 1,000 square-foot shop. Its walls are panelled with wood, which gives it a rustic atmosphere.
Shelden keeps on top of both management and maintenance. Everything is well-organized, clean, and orders are classified and sorted. There is no rubbish and nothing scattered about—even the tools on the workbench are perfectly stored. It’s the same situation in the yard, where trucks come to unload, using a route determined by Shelden.
He seems to have thought about every detail to facilitate production and save on energy costs. The shop is heated through the floor from an outside wood burning furnace, a Nova Scotia-made Wood Doctor Converter, which uses slabs for heating. The wood furnace uses a water-jacketed stove. Water in the jacket is heated and pumped underground through insulated pipes to heat the building.
“I bought this furnace because there is a distributor located three miles from my shop, so there’s no problem for service and maintenance. And they did all my set-up under the floor.”
In 2004, Shelden purchased a L200 kiln dryer from Nyle. The company, created by Samuel Nyer and Donald Lewis—its name consists of the first two letters of the owners’ names—is located in Bangor, Maine. Shelden bought the model, which is designed especially for small sawmills, from a Montreal distributor.
The Nyle L200 drying system in operation at Sheldon’s shop falls into the medium lumber drying system category. It runs with a 1/4-horsepower/1000 CFM internal blower motor, 4,000 watts of auxiliary electric heat, and two circulating fans of 1/4-horsepower each. It has a 16-inch diameter fan, two manual temperature vents, an operating temperature range between 80 to 120 degrees F, and nominal water removal of 250 pounds per 24 hours with load capacity of 2,000 to 4,000 board feet. Wood is dried to between six and eight per cent.
“My dryer can hold 1,200 to 1,500 board feet of lumber per charge—it’s the size I needed,” says Shelden, who especially likes the equipment’s energy savings. “Once it’s running, it draws heat off the electric motors, and it recirculates. It’s remanufacturing its own heat.” The Nyle lumber drying system at the shop operates year-round.
Shelden works mainly with pine and cedar. To process flooring, moulding and other products, he purchased a bench from Bosch and a Logosol PH260 planermoulder two years ago. The Logosol model is made especially for small production lines. It has an adjustable feeding speed of from 11 to 52 linear feet per minute and is available in one-phase
Clientele for the mill is made up of local and regional people in the renovation market, with no nearby competition.
A couple of years ago, Shelden began to make reddish moulding using sunken logs recovered from nearby Lake Memphremagog, a 30-mile long lake which runs into Vermont. The project using sunken logs from Lake Memphremagog was run by businessman Ross Spencer of nearby Georgesville. “Sunken wood is harder, but it provides a beautiful finish,” says Shelden.
Unfortunately, the project ended shortly after it began—they lost the distributor for the wood product. It was a bit disappointing for everyone because it was such an interesting project.
To publicize his business, Shelden uses good old fashioned word of mouth. “I’ve never bought advertising for my shop and I always have a lot of work.”
Asked if he has ever had to decline jobs—which can often happen to the self-employed—Shelden said he has been able to postpone some work, and that has not caused any problems. “I haven’t really lost a client. I just do one job at a time and move on.”
Though he sometimes has more work than expected, he very much wants to remain small. “I don’t want to hire people, I prefer to work alone.” Shelden says the days of being an employee are well behind him. “Sometimes, being your own boss brings more headaches but I earn more money and best of all, I work for myself."
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Monday, August 06, 2007