Success Stories

Sawmilling on Vancouver Island

Sawmilling on Vancouver Island

by Paul MacDonald, Contributing Author

Phil Ludwig has plenty of things that compete for his time, including two young children, but there’s little that he likes better than getting behind the controls of his Wood-Mizer sawmill. Phil takes great pleasure in seeing what he’s able to create from a sometimes twisted log—and he gets his fair share of those. “One of my biggest enjoyments is looking at a log, and seeing what I need to get out of it,” he says. “If I’m trying to produce clear lumber, it’s trying to figure out where the knots are, which way they are going, or if one side is more knotty than the other side. I’ll go over how I’m going to process a log in my head, and then do it and see if I got it right—or if the log throws me for a complete loop. And then I’ll go in a different direction in cutting

Phil has had plenty of opportunity to use his Wood-Mizer sawmill equipment the last few years, building a winery on the family property near Black Creek, on Vancouver Island, in Canada’s most western province of British Columbia. Coastal Black Winery is an award-winning 600 acre estate fruit winery nestled at the base of Mt. Washington, on the outskirts of the beautiful Comox Valley. The Ludwig Family - Phil, his wife Tara, and their two young daughters - take great pride in being the fourth generation of his family on this land—and they work hard to turn out products of the highest standard, whether it is wine, mead, fresh market fruit, raw honey, or custom milled lumber for a growing customer base. The business, which now also has restaurant and banquet facilities for weddings and other special events, also hosts a pumpkin festival each fall and summer art shows. It has quickly become a destination attraction in this part of Vancouver Island.

A good deal of the lumber they have produced has gone to finish the exterior and interior of farm buildings on the property, for the winery, and other structures. These days, Phil’s sawmill equipment lineup consists of a Wood-Mizer LT40 sawmill with a 24 foot bed extension, an LT70 sawmill with a six foot bed extension, an EG400 industrial board edger, and an HR300 industrial horizontal band resaw.

The equipment complements what Coastal Black Winery is doing as a business, big picture, and was integral to literally building the structures for that business. “When we started the winery, I started cutting a lot to build what we needed,” says Phil. “We had barns that had been used for a former dairy operation, and we needed to finish them inside for the winery.” Phil and Tara spent a lot of time closing in the interiors of the barns, and their hard work has paid off with the beautiful finished interiors of the buildings.

Their woodwork spoke for itself. Local people saw all the beautiful wood they had produced to finish the winery buildings and wanted similar wood for their own projects. “The sawmilling has been really kind of a neat operation that has fit really well into everything else we do here,” says Phil. And all parts of the logs get used. The sawdust is laid out on the floor of some of the buildings. And when they do their annual Pumpkin Festival—with attendance of some 20,000 people—they place sawdust in the rows between the pumpkins and in the farm fields, helping to keep the mud down in the fields.

In the beginning, Phil was cutting logs only from their own lands but he now also cuts logs from local loggers. And he pretty much cuts just one species. “On occasion, I’ll cut other species—like Douglas fir—but I’ve been cutting mostly western red cedar the last couple of years. I just found the demand for it, and the usability of western red cedar, is the highest, so I pretty much stick to that.” With its warmth and natural durability, western red cedar lumber is truly one of North America’s great wood species. But, Phil says, it can be a difficult wood to work with. “It’s a very difficult wood to cut because the cedar logs and pieces can have a lot of dry rot. It’s rarely a solid log—normally the centers of the log are rotted out.” Because of this, he often receives the raw wood in slab form, rather than in logs. 

Phil says he’s a big fan of the Wood-Mizer equipment. “I love the usability of the equipment,” he says. “It’s reasonably easy to show people how to use the equipment. And I like the accuracy of the equipment, especially when we are cutting really expensive pieces of wood.” He notes that it does not get much more expensive than western red cedar. “You want to make sure the accuracy is right on with your cuts, otherwise you are wasting a lot of money with a very expensive wood.” 

Phil also likes the ease of maintenance with the Wood-Mizer equipment and its reliability. When he first started work on the family dairy, Phil had no idea that he would one day end up seeing it transformed into a winery, but it’s been a great journey for both Phil and Tara. And their milling equipment has been integral to that transformation. “We have beautiful quality wood in our buildings that we have cut ourselves, and we’re able to cut that same high quality wood for our customers.”

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