CANORA - With the arrival of the worldwide pandemic in early 2020, it caused many people to make all kinds of changes to their lives. Damon Paley of Canora decided it was time for he and his family to become more self-sufficient.
They had some trees around their property that had been knocked down in a wind storm, so he chose to use that wood for various purposes around the yard. Paley had access to his father-in-law Andy Oystryk’s old sawmill, but it was nearing the end of its useful life, and required a crew of about five when it was working.
Paley decided to purchase a new sawmill which can cut logs up to 20 feet long. He calls the unit the “weekend warrior” because with its hydraulic and electronic features he can run it by himself if needed. It takes the majority of the back work out of the cutting process, and is even equipped with a de-barker for removing excess bark. Using a tool called a Cant hook, Paley rolls the log on to the hydraulic arms of the sawmill, and then hydraulically rolls the log into position for cutting.
“I look over the log, measure it and think about what dimensions I want to make out of it,” said Paley. “I check for twists in the lumber and try to work around them, because you want to keep the lumber straight. Then I start up the 25 horsepower Kohler engine and begin making cuts. It’s mainly just a huge bandsaw.”
From a single log that’s 13 inches in diameter, Paley can make a six by eight-inch piece of lumber, plus second cut slabs and numerous one by eight inch planks which can later be cut into one by fours if needed. Paley regularly applies a mixture of water and pine sol to the saw blade for cleaning and to keep it lubricated. He wears safety glasses and ear protection to protect his eyes from the sawdust and his ears from the noise.
“We like to make use of as much of the wood as possible,” shared Paley. “The leftover pieces of wood are sold by our kids in their firewood business. A local gardener likes to use the sawdust around her trees for weed suppression.”
Paley and his family have come to enjoy the time spent together around the new sawmill. He said learning how to cut wood efficiently is an art, and he’s always learning. “The old-timers can just look at a log and know right away the best way to cut it,” he said with admiration. “I still have a lot to learn. I really appreciate all the help I’ve been given by Willie Jakubowski of Preeceville and Vivian Morgan of Canora, with getting the sawmill set up and learning how to make cuts. Another big help has been the YouTube video series I’ve found by the Northwest Sawyer, who has the same sawmill that I have.”
Paley’s sawmill has a memory feature which makes it easy to make numerous cuts of the same thickness. After he punches in the size of the first cut, the unit can just keep making the same size of cut over and over again.
He’s learned the importance of keeping a supply of bandsaw blades on hand, since a blade normally wears out after two to three hours. After the lumber is cut it needs to be stored off the ground with spacers between the layers to prevent problems such as warping or moisture damage from direct contact to the ground.
As Paley continued cutting his own lumber, word got around and before long, he had a number of steady customers; mainly from the immediate Canora area but a few from as far away as Moosomin and Saskatoon. “Some of the customers are looking for live edge lumber, which has seen a comeback in popularity for creating unique edges for tables, shelving, fireplace mantles and so on,” he explained. “A number of my customers in the immediate Canora area like the second-cut slabs for making livestock fences. Some like to come here for firewood.”
Paley noticed a significant jump in demand for his services in the fall of 2020, which was when lumber prices everywhere else “went through the roof” while his price pretty much stayed the same. “I’ve also noticed that people like the convenience factor. Second cut slabs are hard to find in lumber stores and the next closest sawmill is at Archerwill, which is about a 90-minute drive.”
He now sources his wood from north of Canora where a windstorm knocked down a large number of spruce trees. “Probably the thing I enjoy most about doing this is that it keeps me physically active and also keeps my mind active in trying to figure out how to cut each log,” shared Paley. “The most challenging aspect is getting the logs out of the bush and cleaning off all the branches to get them ready for cutting.”
The sawmill was purchased new in May 2020, and Paley already has over 250 hours on it. His future plans include building some type of a roof over his sawmill to allow him to cut in bad weather. Paley’s “day job” allows him to work from home, but if he decides to retire at some point he’s seriously considering making the sawmill operation more of a full-time venture.