Saving trees is a 25-year dream come true for Stephen McGuire. The Lyons sawyer loves making usable products from what many timber folks consider “waste” wood.
“We as a state have very little appreciation of wood unless it’s conifers or Red Alder and can be logged on 40-plus acres and sold for a million dollars,” said McGuire, who first got sawdust on his hands some 25 years ago after moving to Lyons from Klamath Falls.
McGuire was shown how to saw on a portable saw mill, and tried for a year to make a go of it cutting trees that the mills didn’t want into usable boards.
“Damn near starved, but saved a lot of trees,” he said. “Big trees that the mills didn’t want were left in the woods. The grade was ‘utility cull.’”
McGuire has been a salesperson, beekeeper, college teacher, coin dealer and military man (including 21 years in the Oregon Air National Guard), among other career choices. Now he is chasing his dream once more, using a portable sawmill to save trees from rotting in Oregon’s forests.
“Sawyers and wanna-be sawyers like me are a small community and pretty much every body is willing to share information and experience,” said McGuire, who belongs to three Internet sawmill forums to boost his expertise. “The learning curve has been very steep the past three years. I have what I consider a mentor over in Dallas who helps me when I ask.”
McGuire lists cutting a 72-inch Douglas fir in his backyard as “near the top of my accomplishments along with saving a blown down tree from the firewood cutters on the North Fork that was over 400 years old.”
Since the building market calls for 7-foot lengths of woods, McGuire builds lawn furniture, benches, foots stools, planter boxes, and toys for the grandkids out of the “scraps.”
“When you have a sawmill, wood gets plentiful,” he said. “You’ve got to do something with it besides store it, and I can only use so many picnic tables.”
McGuire burns the waste wood and bark in his shop’s woodstove or in the burn pile on his property.
“So far the saw dust that I have from sawing on my property has been used in landscaping and weed suppression,” he added. “Some of the sawdust I generate goes to mushroom growers as growing media for the shrooms.”
To do most of his “sawing,” McGuire uses a Lucas sawmill, an Australian tool designed for portability and to cut big trees.
“I went to sawing ‘boot camp’ last summer, and one of the owners of the company was there,” he said. “He said this type of mill is a ‘swing mill.’”
The $20,000 unit has once circular saw blade that rotates 90 degrees to cut both horizontally and vertically. Boards and beams come off the mill “edged,” and no resawing is required, McGuire said.
“As I have it configured, it will cut a 20-foot log if it’s under 54 inches in diameter, or any diameter that’s less than 16.5-feet specifications” he said. “The maximum cut for the saw is 8 inches, so I can cut up to an 8-inch by 8-inch timber. That’s a big chunk of wood for a portable one-man operation, and I won’t do that without a helper.”
He also has a slabbing attachment that allows him to cut up to 60 inches wide, basically changing his mill into a 27 horsepower chain saw, he said.
“The mill is totally mobile,” he added. “It folds up and fits in the back of a pickup. I saw in my backyard or a customer’s site. I have also contract-cut big logs for sawmills when their logs were too big for their mills.”
McGuire likes to “see” what’s in a log.
“Every one is different, smells different,” he said. “And I like saving trees, helping people save a legacy that Grandpa planted when he was a boy, or a tree that they bought the house for and it started dying and had to be removed.
“I like making furniture for my grandbabies and nieces and nephews so they can say, ‘Grandpa or Uncle Steve made this for me,’” he added. “I like building with my own wood. I like seeing the wood shop teacher smile when I give him wood for his students.”
For McGuire, life is about helping more people to discover a love for wood and its uses. He’s thinking of expanding his business to make fireplace mantles in the near future.
“Everybody has a different idea of what they want in a mantle piece,” he said. “Trying to second guess what is wanted and cutting ahead can lead to a lot of dead inventory that takes up drying space. But the idea is there.”