In 1991 when Ken Walraven retired for the first time, he used his retirement to get more serious about his woodworking hobby.
But Ken got so serious that his woodworking led him to kiln drying and sawmilling, and this has turned into a second career. Now Ken is trying to figure out how to retire a second time!
25 Years at Local Power Company
Ken worked for 25 years at the Consumer's Power Company in Pinconning, MI. He started out in the maintenance department, later moving into fuel handling.
"Five years ago July," Ken recalls, "the company came along with an early retirement deal. Right then I said that's it, I'm gone!"
Just before retirement, "I was building furniture and stuff around the house," Ken says, "but I got disgusted with the wood I was buying at the lumberyard, so I bought a small kiln, just a couple of thousand feet at a time."
Before long, Ken was filling in extra space in his kiln with wood from some of his woodworker friends.
Soon, Ken was getting so many requests for kiln drying he couldn't fit all the wood in his kiln.
"So I put in another kiln, and I still couldn't keep up with the business, so I put in a great big kiln. Now I can do 10,000 board feet at a time."
Profit Potential of Sawmill
Ken was getting up to 18 cents per board foot for drying the lumber customers brought to him, but he saw potential for getting more profit out of his operation if he cut the lumber himself.
"I'd wanted to buy a sawmill for the last couple of years, but the wife was against it," Ken laughs. "But my neighbor Grant Bauer wanted to get into it, so we went in together."
TimberKing Stands Out
As Ken looked at the various brands of sawmill, one stood out from the field. "I liked the way the TimberKing's controls were laid out. It's far better than the others: you don't have to walk. I also like having the auxiliary for your hydraulics because that leaves all your big motor power for your saw, which gives it a lot more power."
Ken gets almost all of his business through word-of-mouth and some business cards he had printed up. And the business keeps coming.
"I'd say 75% of what we cut we're also drying for our customers," Ken says. "I get 18 cents a board foot for cutting, 15 cents if they furnish a man to help. I think we should be charging 18 to 20 cents at least."
In the last month alone, Ken has had four jobs of over 4,000 board feet each. "Tomorrow," he said on the day we talked, "We're going on a job of 3000 bft."
In addition to what he charges for cutting, Ken still gets 18 cents per board foot for drying, and he gets 15 cents a board foot for planing. At 51 cents per board foot for sawing, kilning, and planing, this adds up to a tidy profit.
"The equipment is paying for itself. Only problem was a toggle switch we replaced locally and got going again!"
Woodmaster 718 Adds to Profit
Last year, Ken also bought a Woodmaster 718 planer to add another dimension to his business. "I wanted the Woodmaster mostly to make molding and tongue and groove flooring."
Ken charges about 25 cents per lineal foot for molding if he's cutting from a customer's wood. He charges from 95 cents to $1.15 a lineal foot for molding made from his own wood. Ken usually splits the cost of custom molding knives with his customer if he thinks he can use the knife again.
"The 718 does a real nice job, especially with that variable feed. Sometimes we run 1200 to 1500 lineal feet of trim a day."
Looking for Second Retirement
"I'm supposed to be retired," Ken laughs, "But I'm working six and seven days a week here. I'm hoping to find some young fellow that wants to buy the business."
What will Ken do in his second retirement? "Well, I've got a couple of daughters down in North Carolina. I kind of like it down there."
If Ken does sell his business and move to North Carolina, chances are he'll take one look at those Southern pine forests, and his second retirement will end as fast as his first one did!