Success Stories

Log Splitter and Sawmill Provide Economic Benefits for Company in Oregon, USA

Log Splitter and Sawmill Provide Economic Benefits for Company in Oregon, USA

by Jack Petree, Contributing Author

Clifford Goins’ approach to his wood products business is as neat, clean, and straightforward as his production facility. A graduate of what he terms, “The school of hard knocks,” Clifford has parlayed a Wood-Mizer, rented in 1996 on a board foot basis in partnership with his brother Jason, into a successful, multi-faceted, wood products business serving industrial clients, small business customers, and the custom sawmill marketplace throughout Central Oregon. The sustained success of Clifford’s business for more than 20 years has come, as he describes it, from applying the lessons learned “as I got an education” about wood, customers, and sawmilling over the years. Methodically applying the lessons learned on a daily basis has resulted in the implementation of a thoughtful, professional approach to sawmilling anyone in the portable sawmill business can learn something from. “It’s really just a matter of putting in the time,” Clifford comments.

Clifford’s company, Curly Burly Milling, is located in Cottage Grove, Oregon, a small town near the southern extremity of Oregon’s famed Willamette Valley. The valley’s end at the confluence of the Cascade and Coastal mountain ranges means an extraordinary mixture of tree species grow within a few dozen miles of the Curly Burly location; species typical of several western climate zones ranging from lowland valleys to high mountains, and coastal regions. Clifford concentrates on the hardwoods of the area with oak, madrone, golden chinkapin, and big leaf maple predominating.  Custom milling is available both on-site and off. “The business is split about 50/50, he comments. “About half of the business consists of hardwoods I purchase then mill here, and the other half is custom milling, done either here or at the customer’s place.”  

Clifford’s customer base is as varied as is his product line. “I have a retailer who takes quite a bit and I sell regularly to cabinet makers, furniture makers, and woodworkers of all sorts,” he reports. “I also have individual customers who come in regularly and other who just show up wanting anything from a few pieces to a large amount of lumber or timbers for personal building products.  You can never tell, from day to day, who might show up and what kind of product they might want.”

To accommodate the random needs of his customer base, Clifford maintains a large variety of kiln dried lumber under cover along with a selection of both air dried and green material generally available as well and, of course, he can mill and process to order.  “You never know what people will want when they come here,” he says. "So I keep enough variety of products I know will sell to satisfy most customer requests.”

Curly Burly Milling has been Wood-Mizer based from its beginning according to Clifford. Today the primary equipment includes an LT50 Hydraulic sawmill, a DH4000 kiln, and an FS500 log splitter. Secondary processing is accomplished inside a well-equipped shop. The mix of equipment designed for both primary and secondary processing allows Clifford to serve the customer with virtually any wood product imaginable if sufficient time is available to allow for special orders to be fulfilled.  

The professionalism Clifford strives for is evident on arrival at his place of business, a bench on a hillside overlooking Cottage Grove and the surrounding valley below. Sawmill operations are, of necessity, sometimes untidy but anyone familiar with the thin kerf, portable, band sawmill business would be hard pressed to recall a site maintained in as excellent condition as Curly Burly. According to Clifford that attention to the appearance of his site is both a personal choice and a sales enhancement. He says he believes a clean and orderly looking facility creates a positive impression. It’s a matter of professionalism to Clifford.

According to Clifford, an important part of his approach to marketing consists of educating both himself, and the customers who come to his facility, about the wood being bought and sold. “People will come up here eager to get going on a project,” he smiles.  “They’ll want to pick up a walnut slab that was maybe only milled a week or two ago and go home to make a table. If you don’t tell them about the importance of proper drying and the time it takes you do both the customer and yourself a disservice. They will be unhappy with the results, and, of course, blame you and, in the long run you’ve lost a customer and hurt your reputation.”

Learning about the wood you’re milling is, Clifford says, an ongoing and never-ending process but, he continues, he’s found a publication, “Understanding Wood: A craftsman’s guide to wood technology,” to be an invaluable resource that covers most of the basics; “One of the most helpful books I’ve ever read,” he puts forward.

Every tree species is different, offering its own opportunities and its own challenges, Clifford points out; juvenile wood is different from the wood added as a tree grows. Different woods act differently as they are dried so it is important to learn how to put milled lumber through a kiln. As is important as the physical characteristics of the wood, according to Clifford, is the use the purchaser intends. “Learning how people are going to use their wood is important to making sure you provide them with appropriate information and that you are milling what the customer wants. You’ve got to spend some time asking about what the customer wants if you really want to serve that customer; that discussion will dictate what you cut.

The most recent addition to Curly Burly’s processing capabilities came recently when Clifford purchased Wood-Mizer’s flagship wood splitter, the FS500 model.

Clifford contends the wood splitter has been paying off significantly for Curly Burly even though conventional wisdom would say he underutilizes the machine. “To me, in my operation at present, the wood splitter is more of waste management tool,” he says. “I’m a sawmill operator, not a firewood processor. Like any other mill owner waste management is a constant challenge, especially because it takes time away from the mill. This wood splitter took a whole bunch of waste product I had and turned it into a product I can sell. Just in terms of handling the waste management situation here it more than pays for itself.” 

Clifford is particularly impressed that his machine can take huge pieces of oak, walnut, or other difficult to split and nearly useless wood, like a 30” log from the crotch of a tree he points to, and process it down into firewood nearly effortlessly. “I looked around and didn’t see anything that would work for me until I saw Wood-Mizer’s product,” he says. “I thought I might like the [FS500] so I kind of shocked them when I asked if I could show up and try it with my own firewood. They told me that would be okay, so I tried it out and was impressed.

“I really like the height of the thing,” he continues. “I have access to baskets that fit off the end of the machine and allow the wood to drop right into them without having to bend down all the time and the splitter really worked on some very tough material. I know I could do more with it if I wanted but for my operation it is already doing almost everything I wanted it to do—handle my waste wood.”

With Curly Burly Milling, Clifford Goins is demonstrating that an operation doesn’t have to be a mega-mill to provide a good living, personal satisfaction in the providing of a desired product to customers excited to have the product available, and service to the community. Clifford also demonstrates that, when it comes to an operation of any size, professionalism and a thoughtful approach to customer service pays off.

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