Brendan Vande Kamp is a sawyer and log cabin builder, and was a guest on The Blue Collar Voices Show. I broke the episode into two parts, as it was just about an hour and a half long.
This is the transcript of the first half of the show with Brendan Vande Kamp of Log To Lumber.
The audio from the first half is: Log to Lumber – Brendan Vande Kamp – Part 1.
Enjoy the transcript below:
Well howdy guys, welcome to this episode of the Blue Collar Voices Show.
Today our guest is Brendan Vande Kamp. He’s the owner and operator of Log To Lumber. I’ve been following Brendan for a bit on Facebook seeing his sawmill work. Recently I saw one of his posts, and I realized he is building log cabins. I thought originally this was just a part-time venture. I asked Brendan to be on the show and he agreed. We had a phone conversation to meet each other, and we finally got together today. We are going to learn about Brendan’s background from a child till today, and dive into how he started his business, what he does, where he’s going, and have an awesome meandering conversation. I only have a little bit of what’s going on with him so we’re going to explore and learn together.
Brendan, welcome to the Blue Collar Voices Show.[Brendan] Hey John, glad to be here. [JohnC] It is good to have you. Sawmills is what kind of started this whole thing off as far as me following you. So I’m curious what first peaked your curiosity about sawmills and what led you to get one. [Brendan] Well, it’s kind of a funny story so, uh, April 2013 I bought 50 acres in Shenandoah County in Virginia, around the I-81 Corridor. I had been deploying as government contractor in Afghanistan, I had a bunch of money, wanted to buy some land. And we cleared a road, and a place for a pole barn.
And my excavating buddy said, “Hey, be a real shame to cut all these nice red and white oak trees into all firewood. I know an old guy who’s got a portable sawmill, and he can come and mill fence boards, rafters, whatever you want.” I thought, “Portable sawmill, huh?”. So it was probably a month or two later he was down the road milling for another neighbor. Clay took me down there and I saw it. and I just thought, “Hey this is super cool.” So I tried to get this guy, I call him the legend, his name is Doug Halber, he’s 73, he’s wore out three Woodmizers.[JohnC] Wow. [Brendan] I tried to, yeah, his current one has about 18,000 hours on it, it’s a 05 super lt40 with a diesel engine. He’s been milling 40 some years. I mean he’ll go to a farm and mill for a month. He’ll go to a Lumberyard and help them catch up on fence boards. But for about six – eight months I tried to get him to come and mill my logs. Well he was always busy or broke down.
So I have a background, uh, do the Army and Military Intelligence. I was an analyst so I’m good at researching. So I thought. “Well, I’m gonna see how much one of these sawmills costs.” So I just started looking at the ones that sit on the ground and, I already had my pole barn. And I thought, “Well, I’d really like to get one on wheels, so I could pull it in and out of the pole barn keep it covered.”
So I looked at all the different brands, and I finally settled on Wood Mizer because they started in 1982 and, they have the most dealers nationwide. And I, I decided I was going to pull the trigger and buy a LT35 manual mill. Now back in 2017 that was like a $15 thousand dollar mill. It didn’t have any hydraulics, but it did have a power feed head and a simple set which allows you to put one setting in there, so if you want to cut one inch boards you set it at one and an eighth to take the kerf for the blade into account, and then it it’ll automatically keep track.
I got that mill probably three weeks after I ordered it, brought it back from Woodmizer in Pennsylvania, milled one log and immediately was like nope, I want the hydraulic mill. So, called them, they had the LT35 hydraulic. Brought that other mill, and they have a three-day money-back guarantee. Kind of where if you buy the wrong mill, you can upgrade within 30 days. In two, that was 2017 I think, Marty Parsons is the owner of Woodmizer said I’m the only one that’s ever done that.
So so I got the LT-35 and, I wanted to mill my own material. And, on my 50 acres I had an idea of, I wanted to build like four rental cabins. And that’s how I got into it. And the rest is just kind of all by accident.[JohnC] So tell me about how much lumber you have actually pulled off your property. [Brendan] Well here’s the thing. I don’t really take much off of my property. I maybe had 20 – 30 logs that I milled off of my property. So, you know I had the LT35 hydraulic. I was still, had a day job as a government contractor in Northern Virginia.
One day someone heard me say I had a portable sawmill. And the said, “Hey, I had a tree service come they took down a couple trees and I have logs at my property. Can you come and mill them?” I thought, “Okay”. Well you know that’s when I first got on Woodmizer owner’s Facebook page and I asked some questions. Like, “What does everyone charge?” and I ended up coming up with I think $55 an hour, with a $200 minimum to start and this was the summer of 2017. He agreed, I pulled my sawmill into northern Virginia on a Saturday. I got there and the logs were in the edge of the woods. I mean I couldn’t get the sawmill to him I said, “Hey I, we can’t mill those there. They’re in the brush.” He said, “Well it’s portable right?” I said, “Yeah it’s portable but, we got to get the logs to the hydraulic loader.” So I said, “If you got a chain or cable I’ll pull them out with my truck.” Which I did. I unhooked the sawmill, pulled them out, uh lined them up, uh in his yard, hook the sawmill back up, set the sawmill up. We rolled the logs onto the hydraulic loader, milled them up.
And after that I thought, “Well you know, that was kind of fun. People will pay me to learn how to you know, mill!” So I started advertising on Facebook Marketplace and, you know I was just doing weekends and, you know eventually it was like, I might do three jobs in a weekend. And then I started after about nine months, using some of my paid time off to mill on weekdays. So I did three days in March of 2018 at Lake Anna, for the same customer. It was like 13,000 board feet, maybe a little bit more. And that was my lt35 hydraulic, was a walking mill. You had to walk behind a sawdust chute all day. And that wasn’t bad because you can see how your blades milling, and then you could push boards onto their hydraulic loader to edge later. Well, soon after that I did a job for a customer who’s – I probably milled for six times since then, and he had a lot of ash trees from his hundred acres, and he wanted live edge slabs. And a standard Woodmizer, it only can cut 26 inches through the throat. And some of these were bigger so I had to, cut off the worst part of the log, turn it 90 degrees, and then live edge slab. So, then he had book matching sets. So after that I thought, “Well, you know I really like this”. The sawmill was paying for itself and then some. I only have 72 hours, I want to upgrade.
Because everyone wants as wide as you can mill and, so I started looking and I knew what I didn’t like about the LT35 hydraulic. I knew I wanted fine tune adjustable outriggers. I knew I wanted a command control station where I stand on the end of the mill. I wanted Accuset 2, where I have 32 different uh program settings. So all of that I wanted a board returner, so when I’m milling for by myself it’s a little handier. So that gave me pretty much one option which would be a Super LT40 Wide with the command control. Now you can get that in a 50 and a 70, but now the price point just goes up and up. So that was about a $45,000 mill. They gave me – I think $21.5K in trade-in value. It only took me about five weeks to get that mill. And once I got that mill I increased my hourly rate to $75 an hour. I mean things just took off. In May and June of 2018 I invested in that much bigger mill. I bought a heavy deck over heavy equipment trailer, and I bought a dually one ton Chevy truck. I invested 110 grand in my business. Oh and I started – yeah! And I started Log to Lumber as a business, that was in late 2017. So I mean that was kind of a risk but, uh, it just went from there.[JohnC] As you’ve done that as – I’m just going to go ahead and go fast forward a little bit – that I saw you’re building the cabins. So you’re continuing to sawmill, how did you progress and grow in your business, and then transition into also doing the cabins? [ Brendan] Okay well, when I upgraded this to this sawmill, that’s when I kind of had the epiphany that I want out of the government. I want to do this full-time. I mean I just enjoy it that much. My biggest model is doing custom milling for other people on site. And that over the course of – since 2018 getting the super LT40 wide – I’ve milled in nine different states. I mean I’ve gone to Newark, New Jersey for one log. One log. [JohnC] Wow. [Brendan] I didn’t want to do it. I mean, I tried to help the guy find someone else but the price they were giving him was just crazy. The whole transition was also…
I talked to a couple people, I found out, hey I really need a brand. I was on Facebook, as a business, as Log To Lumber, but I didn’t have a brand. I wasn’t on Instagram. So I talked to a graphic designer in Front Royal. I kind of gave him my vision, I didn’t want the same brand as everyone else. A lot of the sawmills where they have a circular saw blade. And, I wanted my my logo, my brand, to tell everyone exactly what I do. And he got my vision, and he came up with my Log To Lumber brand, which I think if you just see it on a sticker, or a magnet, or on my card, it’ll tell you exactly what I do. And I was so happy with that that I had him create a website for me. And I tell this to a lot of people. I went and got Google verified, as a business. And I learned when I did Real Estate years ago, after every transaction, ask your customer how it went, and if they were really happy with it, ask them for a review on Google. I do that, and most people are more than willing to do it. Some people say they will, and they never do, and that’s fine. But I think I’m up to 119 Five-Star reviews which drives me as a sawmill business. You know if you’re searching for portable sawmills in Virginia, I’m like at the top. And that’s just free advertising.
So going along this path of creating this business, wanting to get out of the government, I figured, okay. I need to have different revenue streams of money. And so custom milling for customers on site, that’s easy. But you can only do that so much a month, and weather gets bad, that’s not going to create any revenue for you. So I met at work a buddy of mine, he’s a woodworker, and he heard me say I had a portable sawmill so. He came out from work one day, to my property, he looked around and he said, “You know you need a solar kiln”. I’m like, why do I need a solar kiln? But granted I had no intention of selling Lumber. [JohnC]mm-hmm. He’s like, because you could dry lumber faster. I had, you know, some lumber in my pole barn that was stacked and stickered air drying. He already did the research, Virginia Tech had a model. So I said, “Okay”. We worked together, we created this design at work. Virginia Tech’s model I think is seven by fourteen. We decided to go by 8 by 20, and because I didn’t have power on my land, we used solar panels. And then we added wind turbines to charge a 12 volt battery, that runs our car radiator fans, that come on at 80 degrees to circulate the air. And the first one we finished was around, November of 2019? Uh, no, 2018. We finished that one so it’s been running for over four years. And that was a game changer, because now I can get logs, I could live edge slab them, I could cut into what I call furniture grade lumber, and then provide that to the public for sale. So now I have a whole big pole barn filled with live edge slabs, furniture grade lumber.
And we added a second kiln the next year, and that one’s 8′ by 24′. And what we learned from the first one that that we fixed on the second one. We had put our car radiator fans inside the kiln, and when they kicked on at 80 degrees, it kind of just blew the air around. -JohnC- No heat exchange. So yeah, it works, but it’s not optimal. So what we decided, we’re gonna mount our car radiator fans, right to our top vent, then we created a baffle, six inches from our clear plastic, and all the way down to the front. So what we thought was, okay our car radiator fans come on at 80 degrees. They bring air from outside in, it gets blown down that baffle. The plywood we painted all black. So hopefully it’ll get super heated as the air goes down. And if we over pressure the kiln, there’s only one way for the air to come out, and that’s the bottom. And now that kiln has been really working well. I do want to build one more, time is always against you.
Early on in the process, I decided okay, all businesses that are successful, they stay true to their core business model. And what is my core business? It’s that Sawmill. So I decided I’m not going to go more than one degree away from it. So custom milling for people on site? Core business. Getting my own logs from loggers, milling them into live edge slabs and furniture grade lumber and kiln drying them. Now the kiln drying them, is one degree away. And then offering for sale, that’s still within one degree. What I’m trying to do with the wood sells, is I would like to sell about 20 to 30K board feet a year, and average five dollars aboard foot. Now if I can do that, I’m not quite there yet, but that’s a really good revenue stream. Once that material is kiln dried and in my pole barn, it’s just money sitting there to get purchased.
So, I had both of those revenue streams, and then it just was kind of fate, I think. I love Barn Wood Builders, I love watching that show, I love what they do. But they take old barns and old log homes down, put them up at their boneyard, and then they resell them. And what they’re selling is, you know, old, old stuff. And that’s where the value is. Well I had a customer come out, and he bought, you know comes two three times a year, buys a couple hundred dollars worth of wood, and does woodworking projects. And he came out one day, and he’s like, you know Brendan, I got in trouble with my wife. I’m like, oh Lord, do I bite or do I not bite? And I’m like, I bite, I said, “What happened?” And he said, “Well, I turned our attached two car garage into a woodworking shop, and she couldn’t park her SUV in it last winter so she got a little mad at me.” And he said, “Well, she said I either gotta build a garage in the backyard, or get a shed”. He said because of zoning I can’t build a detached garage. But I can have a small shed in the backyard, but I don’t really like the sheds you can get from Lowe’s or Home Depot. I would really like a cool little cabin. That would be awesome and that would be my little “he shed”, my “man cave”. I was like, “Yeah, that’s a good idea!” So I started doing some research and I was looking at, you know cabin kits on the East Coast. And, they’re all these cabins that are either tongue and groove, and they’re stacked on you know logs, and they look manufactured. And I thought, “Well, I like the old rustic look”. You know when, I got a sawmill, I like the chinking, no one was doing anything like that.
So I came across the web page, a guy in Montana who, you can buy plans for his jig, dovetail jig. So, and I loved his website, and the little Hunter’s cabins and cabins people were making with his jig were super cool. So I ordered that jig, it came in a PDF. I looked at it and I really didn’t like it. I mean it would work, but my idea was I wanted to be able to make these cabins faster, and make a couple a year maybe.[JohnC] Is the jig kind of how the corners interface with each other? [Brendan] Yeah, ours is a half bevel with a dovetail, and I call them adult Lincoln Logs. [JohnC]Okay. [Brendan] And so they just lock into place. I gave the plans to my woodworking buddy who’s an Air Force guy, and I’m an Army guy, and I said, “Here, take a look at these”. He’s like, “Well what do you want me to do?”. I said, “Build a better jig because I’m an Army guy. We’re just gonna throw more infantry and artillery at it. That won’t solve this problem, but you being an Air Force guy, you’re gonna think about it. You’re gonna create a PowerPoint. You’re gonna have a meeting. You’re gonna go to the golf course. You’re going to go to the NCO Club. And then you’re still gonna hire a contractor to build the jig.” He’s like, “Yeah you’re right, but in this case it’ll be me”. So he took the plans, and I call him “Bill with the big brain” because his first name is Bill, he took the plans, made a left and right jig, and then he even went one step further. He made it a cant flattening jig, so that you can get both ends of your cant perfectly square. [JohnC] To each other. [Brendan] Yep, and then also that jig doubles as a lap joint jig, so if we want a longer cant, you know to make a longer run for a wall, [JohnC] Oh nice! [Brendan] Yeah. That’s why I gave the plans to him. So the first set, a little over two years ago he brought’em out, and uh, we started using them. We started stacking the cants and, I noticed there was way more than an inch gap. It was two inches. The reason why I want one inch on my cabins is, Perma-chink, the material that you put in there, it’s a name brand is not cheap – [JohnC] Is that that flexible gray material? [Brendan] Yeah, you can get it in like a caulking gun, [JohnC] Right. [Brendan] But it never really, truly, you know, becomes like concrete. [JohnC] It stays pliable just enough there’s the wood contracts and expands. [Brendan] Exactly. [JohnC] Okay. [Brendan] And so my idea is to put backer rod, which is foam, it usually goes around pipes, put that in the center because our cants are 6′ by 8′, and then you have a vapor barrier, and then chink on the outside and chink in the inside. So we had a two inch gap. So he did the math wrong on the bevel. So he reworked the jigs. We tested it all, now we have one inch. We started building them and, you know, I didn’t know how it was going to work. I decided I’m gonna build them all as a box. No doors or windows. So I built a 16′ by 16′, and then I built a 12′ by 16′. You know granted, that’s an interior wall. So if I want a 16′ interior wall, my cant needs to be 17′ 4″, because they’re 6″ wide times 2 is another foot, so that gets you to 17, and then we have 2″ of overlap on the end of each one. So that’s another 4″ you have to add. So, we just kept playing with this and trying to figure out “Okay, why is our joints not really tight?” There were some errors. You know we had to take in account for the chainsaw bar.
And we have poly plastic runners on our chainsaw bar so it rides on the jig. And then of course if you’re not paying attention you can cut your jig. That’s why we make them out of white oak furniture grade plywood, because you can use plastic wood and repair it and re-sand it. Like the current jigs we’re using have built five cabins now.[JohnC] Okay. [Brendan] So I started posting that stuff on my Facebook page, on my Instagram page, on Woodmizer Owners and one of Woodmizers official pages, and guys just they loved them. So that made me feel good. I’ve done two events. Down in Fishersville, Virginia. A sportsman show where we demonstrated cutting the dovetails, and you know building, bringing a cabin there. And now after the first of the year, I already had a concrete pad down. And I had the first two rows of the logs for my model slash office.
Well, after the first year I got reignited into this, and we started building that. And I started cutting doors and windows into it. So I started learning more about carpentry and framing, if you want a 3-0 door you need to have about 38 1/2″ to 39″ opening. And then if I know where I want doors and windows, then I could build it that way. And your material goes so much further that way. My office slash model, it has a half loft. We’re about to put the last couple courses on it and then we’re going to start building the roof. But there’s so many people that just see these boxes, you know, they don’t have the vision to see what it’s going to look like for the roof and stuff. So that’s been my the kind of slow, slow down in it,
Earlier, well just a month ago, it wasn’t even a month ago, I’ve been back for a week and a half. The place that I buy my saw blades from, Jerry’s Resharp in Kentucky, four years ago Robert and Madden Summers, they bought it from Jerry Doherty. You know Madden, he’s Robert’s son. He reached out to me because I bought my saw blades from there, and Robert started following me. And it was after the first of the year Robert saw my cabin coming to life on my land, he’s like, he called me, he’s like, “Dude I want two of those.” He’s like, “I got the land for it”. You know, he’s a logger, he owns three sawmills. Uh, but he doesn’t, his sawmills do what they need to do. He’s like, “Figure out a price, I’ll put you up in my lake house, and let me know”. I figured out the price for two of them, and he’d provide the logs, yellow pine. And I’d bring my sawmill out there, and one or two guys, that help me part-time. And I gave him the price for two, and he was like, “ooph, can’t quite swallow that”, and I gave him a fairly good deal because he’s a friend, and this is the first time we’re doing it. And he’s putting us up and everything and he said, But I could do one. I want to do one for sure.” And they’ll probably be more in the future. So I looked at my schedule, I figured out when I could get two guys to come with me that helped, and we headed 10 hours to Kentucky. And he had most of the concrete already poured. He had to finish it, because weather delays and stuff, but he had the logs out there. He had a hired guy out there with a big front end loader, and then he had a little John Deere tractor with a loader. Well, it would have took us probably only four days, but we had two half days because of issues. But uh, in six days we built, then he added a loft. Which uh, the price went up a little bit more. But in six days we built a 16′ by 16′ cabin, with a door centered in the front, and two windows on each side. In the back had no windows. He just loved it. Better yet, his wife loves it. Now he’s gonna have to put his own roof system on. I don’t do that. Even building them on site it gets a little bit away from my core business but. Even one degree away, it’s probably maybe one and a half degrees away. But I mean it was just a great experience and, he wants three more over the course of the next, probably a year and a half.
And then two neighbors stopped by, and they want one and.[JohnC] Its’s exploding. [Brendan] Oh yeah I mean, when people start seeing the finished product. I mean when I finish my office slash model. I mean, I’m planning to put a shed dormer in the loft of mine, where my desk is going to be. Once you see the finished product, it’ll be great. Now, I have a 14′ by 14′, because as I was telling you, we started building a 16′ by 16′, but the gaps were two inches. Well we finished that one, with the two inches. But then I had to cut it down with the one inch jigs. So now we ended up with a 14′ by 14′. Well it’s been sitting on my land for a year. You know it’s got all that nice gray patina on it, it’s white pine.
And I had a lady that came up to buy some Live Edge slabs from me, she’s building a brand new, it’s kind of like a Barndominium. It’s a big one bedroom house, uh, with a huge great room. When she came up, she saw my office slash model that is at the roof line. It has the doors and windows cut into it and she mentioned it, “Wow, that would make an awesome home gym”. When she said that, I kind of laughed that away.
But she bought some cherry and some red oak slabs, and I delivered them. Her builder put them in there. They made beautiful countertops. And so one day I texted her. I said, “Elizabeth, I heard you say something about, you know, needing a home gym. I don’t know if you saw that 14′ by 14′ down by the stream that’s up. It doesn’t have doors and windows cut into it, but I’ve been asking X for this. You know it’s cheaper than the one I’m building now. Are you interested? She’s like, “Oh yeah, I want it.” And I said, “Okay. Fine. You know I’m gonna go out there, do a site survey. I’m talking to another crew of guys that started their own little construction company.
She’s gonna make that her home gym. It’s going to have French doors in the front. A window centered on all the other three sides. We just gotta get a concrete pad poured. I’m selling it with the trusses. It’ll be 3″ by 8’s”. It already has the ridge pole and the outer ridge poles. It’ll have a foot of eve. I’m gonna help this crew of guys put it up. They’ll do all the finished work. I asked her if she’s, you know what she was gonna do for heat, you know, for air conditioning. She’s gonna probably put a little mini split in it. That’s kind of the reason why I was going with the no doors and windows, because I didn’t want to dictate where you’re going to put it.[JohnC] Because they’re going to have their own ideas of how they want the layout. [Brendan] Oh yeah, and she, she knew what she wanted. I mean she immediately said French doors and a home gym. Imagine someone wants a little studio. I could see some people if they sell flowers. You know maybe they want something like that. But at the core of this. I really only want to do. You know. I can mill. We proved it already. [JohnC] Right. [Brendan] We can mill it and put one up in a week. But I have a lot of white pine logs, I need to mill a lot of 6″ by 8″ cants and let them start air drying. And we put the one up in Kentucky wet. [JohnC] You’re just cutting those logs and you’re building. This is still green Lumber. [Brendan] Oh yeah. I mean this is the old way. I’m kind of going back to the old way. That’s what they did back in the days. That’s why you have those joints. And what we did putting it up, we have these 9″ log hog screws, that we put in the dovetail. Then we put braces in the doors and the windows. We also use spacers as well. So the one in Kentucky, it needs to dry for about three to four months, and then you can go ahead and put his roof system on and everything.
I just stayed at a white pine cabin in Stanardsville, Virginia, and it’s eight years old. And, it was kiln dried. It’s just a stacked, you know, white pine cants. During the night I could hear it still checking and splitting. As my woodworking buddy says, a tree doesn’t want to be a table or a desk or a cabin. It wants to be a tree. So real wood, you’re always going to have to work with it.
I kind of joke, now we went to Kentucky and we’re gonna probably go back again, and I talked to a guy who’s interested in my 12’x16′ cabin that I already have built with no doors and windows. He’s in Connecticut. When I told him I was going to Kentucky to mill and build one, he’s like, Well I do land clearing. I have tons of Spruce logs and White Pine, can you come up here to Connecticut and do the same thing?” And I’m getting plans for a 20′ by 20′ cabin that I’m gonna – with a three-quarter Loft – that I’m actually going to build on my land for me. And he’s like, “I would want that 20′ by 20′”. I said, “Well, I have to figure it out”. He’s like, “I can’t do it till like December”. I said, “Well, September reach back out to me.” And that came from Instagram.
You know, and this is just a little thought, and I think this is how it happens sometimes, this could become some HDTV or Nat Geo or Discovery show in the future. You know “Log To Lumber” traveling around the United States building log cabins.[JohnC] Oh yeah. There’s people that have sawmills all over. What makes this guy say, “I want you”? [Brendan] Well, I mean we’re Facebook friends, and you know he just saw that I was doing it, and he loved how I was doing it. He knew I was passionate about it, and he hadn’t seen anything like this. And he’s also my new sponsor. [ohnc] Okay. [Brendan] So I’ll never buy another Ripper 37 ever again. So that’s cool too. This was kind of a prove a thing. I’ve never built anything this big like that. Granted, I didn’t build it all. I had help from my part-time helpers, who will have a little bit more experience in it than me. It’s not rocket science I mean, I just always called them adult Lincoln Logs. [JohnC] Mm-hmm. [Brendan] If you’re gonna buy a kit from me, even if it’s not already milled. I’m gonna mill it, I’m gonna put it up on my site. You’re gonna come and look at it. And once you sign off on it and you write that check, we’re going to take it down. And when you take it down in reverse, we label it. You know front, back, left and right. So either F, B L or R. And when you take it down in reverse, stacked, and can be put on, you know, a flatbed traile. So your base logs are on the top of the piles. So we’ve taken one down on a 16′ by 16′, brought it to Fishersville, it took us an hour to take it down, and load it on the trailer. We put it up over three days, so you can’t really judge that. We took it back down, it took us about 50 minutes the second time, to put it back in the trailer. And then we put two of us, put it back up in about 45 minutes. And braced it. [JohnC] Okay. [Brendan] Really the hardest thing to do is to get the base level and square. And once that’s level and square, then they just stack like Lincoln Logs. And you know where each piece goes. We label them on the upper side of the cant, so you’ll never see the labeling because it’ll be covered in chinking. [JohnC] Right. [Brendan] And then when I stack the logs to let ’em air dry, we stack them with the face so they’re eight inches up, so that you’ll never have sticker marks on the outside. Robert’s wife wants it to remain white, like it looks now, But it, it’s wood. It’s going to oxidize. But they’re going to try to put a UV sealant on it as soon as they can and keep it that light color. Which I think if you did it that way, you’d want to get a darker chinking then, to offset that.
It’s just becoming a passion of mine. I think about the cabins all the time and there’s so many different ways you can build one, and wrap around porches, and covered front porches, and rock fireplaces on the outside, little wood stoves on the inside. When you actually get inside a 16′ by 16′, it’s a lot more roomy than you think, and especially if you put a half loft. [
JohnC] If you get a bunch of guys at your area, you could be building, pre-building a lot of these and then shipping them all over.[Brendan] Yeah, like I said, I would really like to do 10 a year. Two years ago when I had this idea, and I’ve had multiple people say, “I want to go into business with you. I’m a salesman. I want to sell these for you and in five years we’ll be selling 300 of them”. NO! That’s not what I want to do! I quit the government and I do this because it’s fun. And I want a high quality of life. And I’ve taken in this last 17 months, I’ve taken more time off than I had in the eight years previous. And I’m way happier.
The other problem is, good isn’t good enough for me. I want to be the best, I want to do the best. I have to constantly balance high quality of life and work balance.[JohnC] I like your idea of the, like the HGTV or whatever you’re going to make out of it, and then it becomes a combination of, you’re producing a product but it’s also an experience that people can enjoy. [Brendan] Oh yeah and I – Robert, he really enjoyed the experience because he’d come out, maybe not every night. We had it halfway up, he had to come out, and I don’t know, drop us off some diesel fuel for his tractor and he. You know he didn’t come down to the lake house and bother us or anything, which he certainly could have. But he Facebook messaged me he said, “Man, that is awesome”. When we got it done, and he saw the finished product, he’s like, “Oh my God I love it so much”. He’s like “I’m gonna want to live here.” I said, “Well it might be, you mean like, this is your dog house?” He’s like, “No, I’m going to want to just live here. My wife loves it too.” And I’m like, that’s always the bigger thing.
But I have, you know just around me locally I have, probably eight people who are like, man. This one couple said – they come and buy lumber from me from time to time – and they said, “You know once our youngest is through college, I got 40 acres, I want one of these. And I want to put it in the back of my 40 acres. And I want to go there when I want to get away from everyone”. And he said, “I’m just going to have a generator. You know it doesn’t need to be fancy”.
What I’m going to do with the one I’m going to build on my land, 20′ by 20′, is I’m gonna go totally off grid just to prove that it will work. So I’ve already dug out a wet spring. Which I’m on my land, which is on the side of the mountain, so there’s wet Springs everywhere. I’m figuring out a way to run PVC pipe in the base of the wet spring, cover it up with rock, then cover it back up with dirt, and then have it come out of the side of the hill, and get a water catchment system, and then be able to filter that water. And then I have two solar kilns that have been running on solar panels and wind turbines. Bill with the big brain, my woodworking buddy, he already has an idea of the daisy chain a bunch of batteries together. Have solar panels on the roof of the cabin. Have a one or two wind turbines, and then have a generator backup – so that if the batteries get to a certain level, the generator will kick on or it’ll tell me to turn on the generator to charge the batteries. And now if you do LED lights, LED lights don’t take a lot of power. The things that take power are, a microwave, a coffee maker,[JohnC] Air Conditioning. [Brendan] Yeah, but they make mini splits that are pretty efficient. Then everything else will be gas. Hot water heater, range. I’ve seen RV refrigerators, pretty decent size of refrigerators, that are 12 volt refrigerator and freezers. So I’m going to prove all that out. I’m not exactly sure what I’m gonna do for the septic yet. Whether I’m going to do a composting toilet and then leech off my gray water, or I’m going to actually put in a small septic, I’ll have to work that out with the powers that be.
And then in the future – and so I always think things happen for a reason – when I bought this plan in 2013 I was talking to two different timber frame companies. I’ve always loved timber frame houses, because they’re a mix between log homes and contemporary homes / traditional homes. But I couldn’t get these timber frame companies to give me like, “Okay, this is what it’s going to cost you to build this house”. You know they have a package for the timbers, and package for this. And well, 10 years later I own a sawmill business. I have one Sawmill.
I just was up at Woodmizer today, because I had an issue with my Super LT40. The power feed motor for the up and down went out. So I had to bring it up there, get a new motor put on it. I’m not super mechanically inclined. I know what I can do and what I can’t do.
And Marty Parsons up there at Woodmizer PA always takes good care of me. He just told me today – I ordered a Super LT50 wide with a diesel, back in January 2022 – He just told me today he thinks I might get it within the next month or two. Which I planned on July or August, when I get it I get it.
And oh by the way, January 2023, I ordered a Super 70, the biggest mill that Woodmizer makes. Because I just see my business growing to the point where I’m gonna need one, in a building. Because now I’m taking more custom orders of lumber. I have another opportunity that revolves around Poplar boards, where I could be milling about 400K board feet a year, for one customer. So we’ll see how that comes to fruition.
But the sawmills just keep going up in price, cost me a $1000 to order it, lock in that price so, why wouldn’t I do it?[JohnC] Yeah [Brendan] My current mill, I’m gonna keep when I get the 50, to make sure I get all the bugs worked out of the 50. And I already have it sold to a couple that live in Chattanooga, Tennessee who I’ve been kind of mentoring. And when I was in Kentucky they came up and they test drove it. I said they could have it on or before 1 May, 2024, and they were super happy with that. I wasn’t scared if I sold it locally.
When I really knew that this could be a business, be a sustainable business was, I was coming back from a custom job and I thought, “Is there really going to be that much wood for me to saw, and stay in business?”
And then I looked at all these guys who have mini excavators, and you know, track loaders, and skid loaders and they do excavating. And they, well, there’s a ton of those guys out there. The good ones are always booked months or years out. But even the ones that are bad, still get work, because there’s only so many people that have the equipment.
So if I’m good at what I do, and how I feel like, I’m good at what I do is, you know, yesterday a customer called me and I milled for ’em three years ago and they want me to come back now. And I’ve milled for some customers six – seven times. And I know for Alexander Brothers in Timberville, I do almost all their milling. I usually mill in there at least once a month, if not two or three days or more.[JohnC] What’s your scope? Like if you’re gonna go out and mill for people remotely, what’s your scope, what’s your radius? [Brendan] That’s hard to say, because I’ve been to nine different states. I mean I’ve been down to Johnston, South Carolina. It’s 25 miles from Augusta, Georgia. I don’t want to go that far. I didn’t want to go to Newark, New Jersey but the guy wouldn’t let me say no. I came up with a price which I thought was fair, and he put me in the hotel, and oh by the way he gave me 150 tip, and I was able to do another sawmill job up there that a guy was bugging me about. I went down to South Carolina, that customer bought a hundred acres from his, you know the farm he grew up on, from his granddad’s estate, but he lived in Maryland – that’s how he found me. And he had someone locally come down there, portable, and one day for $600. Did a horrible job.
So what I say is, anyone could buy a sawmill and slice bread, but not everyone understands how to look at a log. I didn’t know how to do that at first. How I learned was through my woodworking buddy. Because a woodworker looks at a log way differently than a farmer who wants fence boards, or wants two by fours.[JohnC] I could see that. [Brendan] You gotta understand the pith. Where’s the pith? You know what are you gonna do with that, because it’s going to crack and split.
And then, I always ask customers, Okay, what do you want done with it? So I get a lot of people in Northern Virginia, they have an oak tree or something come down, and they want live edge slabs because they want to build themselves a big table. Okay, so now I think the first part of my business talking to a new customer is education, and manage expectations as well.
So when did this tree come down? Uh it came down this month.
Okay, it’s June. Was the tree alive? Yes it was.
Okay, well here’s the problem.
What is in that tree, more so than it would be in the winter? How about a lot of sap.
Now if you said you wanted lumber, not a problem. But you want 24 inch wide slabs. What’s gonna happen when it has all that extra sap, it’s got to evaporate. And when that evaporates out of the wood, the wood’s gonna move, and it’s probably gonna check and split on you. So I could certainly come there, for $600 which is my minimum, if they don’t need equipment. I can bring equipment, I can bring help, since I went out on my own. I sell services too. Like I’m – someone’s called, and I said, “Well do you have a skid load or a tractor? “No.” “Do you have any help?” “No.” I said, “Well if you want, I can bring a skid loader with an operator, and an extra helper, and we can do everything for you. We’ll mill it to your specifications. We’ll stack it. We’ll sticker it. We’ll haul the slab wood off wherever you want. And at the end of the day all you got to do is write a check. And, well how much? And I give them a estimate, and they’re like okay. But I don’t dictate, I don’t know what everyone’s monetary situation is.
But I’d rather tell this customer who has this Oak log, “Okay so, $600 I’m gonna come out, you guys are gonna stack and sticker it under your deck and wait two to three years to air dry it, and hope, hope – and Bill my woodworking buddy says “Hope is not a method” – you’re gonna hope”[JohnC] The hopium. [Brendan] “that, yeah, you’re gonna hope that your material comes out good”. I said, “I’d rather have a happy non-customer, than an unhappy customer.
If I were you, you could take that $600 and you could come out and visit my business and you could pick out stuff that’s ready to go”.
And most people are like, “Thank you so much for being honest. I really learned a lot.”[JohnC] Absolutely [Brendan] You know, and I mean like I said, “I’d rather have a happy non-customer, than an unhappy customer”. [JohnC] Building relationships. [Brendan] Oh yeah! And, people remember that. So one of the things I’ve done lately, within the last year, just to get my name out there, and get me in people’s minds is – my mom and stepdad in Minnesota, they bought and sold three houses. Through one realtor. And I know why they did because every year she sends them a calendar. And it goes on their refrigerator. So three to four to five times a day, they see her name. They see that she’s a realtor. Subconsciously, she’s in their their head all the time. So I thought, okay I have stickers which woodworkers and customers love. Why not get magnets? You know a woodworker will put it, you know, or a guy who’s in his garage will put it on his beer fridge, or whatever. And subconsciously I’m always in their head. And so I add that to the marketing side of it. It’s getting to the point where I don’t advertise hardly at all.