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Raven Farm Sawmill

Listing #312   Listed on: 05/22/2010

WOODWEB Content Editor, Brett Hagstrom, Interviewed Kelvin Potter in March 2014.

As a kid Kelvin Potter garnered an interest in woodworking observing and helping his grandfather build furniture in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and he especially enjoyed helping his grandfather build birdhouses. Kelvin’s enjoyment of woodworking continued in middle school and high school where he participated in as many woodshop classes as possible.

Before Kelvin left for college, his grandfather passed away. After Kelvin graduated college with a teaching degree, it didn’t take him long to venture back to his woodworking roots, doing remodels and built-in projects for homes. While completing remodels and built-ins Kelvin began taking on projects for himself, including coffee tables and armoires. Although his woodworking interest was high, his lumber budget was low, and he mentions that some of the coffee tables and armoires he built were constructed with milled 2x4 stock from a local lumberyard.

Kelvin was able to get by with the milled 2x4 stock, but wanted to work with higher quality lumber. He started salvaging logs locally and bringing them to a sawmill near his home. After a couple of batches of lumber were sawn, Kelvin realized that the mill was not very accurate, so he then hired a local person with a Wood-Mizer mill to saw the stockpile of logs that had been accumulating.

Continue Reading about Raven Farm Sawmill

Cutting big dead white oak

  ripping big white oak to load and quarter saw. Got some nice 18

  Lumber from big white oak log

  Another large white oak recovery. Took two cranes to set in truck. Notice the blue stain from metal? Reason why they are called Urban waste logs!

  Log arch for fetching single logs

  Air drying in the yard before going in the Nyle kiln

  Recently slabbed american elm log. Alaskan mill with 6' bar

Company Name:   Raven Farm Sawmill
Contact Name:   Kelvin Potter
Location:   Bath, MI  48808
Year Founded:   2000
Sq. Footage:   6,000
Employees:   1
Gross Sales:   N/A

Product Specialties:
    Hardwood Lumber
    Milled Lumber / Lumber for construction
    Softwood Lumber

Service Specialties:

Sawmill Equipment:
    Kilns - Nyle 200
    Planers - Powermatic 20"
    Sawmills: Portable - Woodmizer LT40 Super diesel
    Woodworking - 16" jointer

Viewer Comments:

Posted By: Rich Ryan     [10/12/2011]
I live in South Haven, Michigan. Last week the big black cherry tree in my back yard was uprooted during the wind storm. It was on the garage and has since been removed. I salvaged the main trunk. It is 18' long x 19" at the base. It has a limb at 15'. Have the limbs and stump also. If interested I can send pics. Best offers are being accepted. Rich

Posted By: Sparky senior     [12/15/2012]
Kelvin - stopped in Ann Arbor and picked up some quartersawn sycamore from your place. If anybody needs some stunning q-sawn oak call kelvin! It's great looking stuff. I could tell you really make the effort to produce quality lumber.

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Company Description Continued

The hired sawing continued until Kelvin had a substantial lumber supply and enough money to purchase a mill. When Kelvin did purchase a mill, he quickly realized it was a gift and a curse. He didn’t have time to complete woodworking projects; however, he was finding a plethora of logs to saw for local woodworkers. Even with the busy schedule Kelvin says that he “really enjoys the woodworkers he’s met and sawed material for and that they have been glad to help spread the word about the millwork.” Another enjoyable moment: sawing the lumber used to timber frame his house.

One thing Kelvin has noticed during his time milling is a significant increase in lumber prices. To combat the increase in lumber prices, as well as utilize the abundance of sawing logs acquired, Kelvin and one of his dad’s friends (who owned a sawmill) teamed up and sawed the logs into lumber for their own use. They initially sawed with an Alaskan chainsaw mill and then built a bandsaw mill from scratch. They eventually upgraded to a Wood-Mizer mill, however they sold it a few years later and purchased an electric Wood-Mizer mill. The electric powered mill helped reduce expenses compared to the gas powered Wood-Mizer mill.

Kelvin is satisfied with his use of Wood-Mizer mills and mentions that the “customer service has been stellar.” Electric motor driven bandmills really intrigue Kelvin “as gas motors have been more cumbersome to work with and the cost and power of electric motors seems superior to that of gasoline motors.” Kevin mentions that he currently owns a mill with a 15hp electric motor and it compares similarly to the 25hp Kohler gas motor he’s run previously.

Kelvin uses his old county plow truck (equipped with a crane) to acquire the locally salvaged logs from tree services. The crane enables Kelvin to pick up the logs on site, efficiently load the truck, and drop the logs off at Raven Farm Sawmill. Kelvin says that the crane “is critical to the operation due to its efficiency.”

Cherry is his preferred species to work with, and walnut and quarter-sawn oak are at the top of the list as well. Kelvin mentions that his customers “are willing to drive long distances to pick up the cherry, walnut, and oak because they saw into really nice lumber.”

Lumber is dried in a 2,000 board feet Nyle 200 dehumidification kiln. The kiln “has been an important asset at Raven Farm Sawmill,” according to Kelvin, and he strongly recommends “investing in the drying aspect of lumber.” The kiln has also “eliminated the time spent waiting for someone else to dry the lumber.”

The lumber is sold to local cabinet shops and hobbyists, as well as a number of local retail shops, and word of mouth is a critical component of advertising. Kelvin stresses that “bad news travels ten times faster than good news and you can wreck your business in a hurry by not doing what you say you will do.” Kelvin notes that “taking the time to choose quality logs for sawing goes a long way in attracting customers’ attention.” Even after ten years in business Kelvin mentions that “once in a while a local resident will stop in and mention that he or she has never heard of my business and wished he or she had known about Raven Farm Sawmill before purchasing lumber at higher prices from other businesses.”

Kelvin says the business has managed to survive “by purchasing quality equipment and knowing the amount of equipment needed for actual demand.” He advises to “do your research about how much people are paying for lumber as there are many wholesalers and small mill operations selling at rock bottom that you may not be aware of.”

In a handful of years Kelvin envisions himself entering into more specialized sawing fields such as producing wide planks, increasing quarter sawing, and sawing for custom markets, including green builders. He says that he would like to move away from the theory of “selling based on the lowest price around.”

Kelvin mentions that “the kiln and planer are an integral part of his operation, and owning a planer saves the traveling time spent dropping off and picking up lumber.” The use of carbide inserts in his planer reduces planer maintenance and downtime, thereby increasing production.

Fortunately he’s managed to avoid hazardous objects while sawing and “a couple of bolts are the worst objects sawn so far.” A log scanning metal detector is used to check logs before sawing, and Kelvin has this to say about it: “even though it is expensive, the peace of mind, money saved, and preservation of equipment justifies the price and makes it an essential component to the sawing operation.”

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