Sawmilling Specialty High-Value Lumber in British Columbia

Veteran British Columbia sawmiller, James Dodich of Cats Eye Logging and Sawmilling, continues to find success after more than two decades in the sawmill business. “I’m into free time, and I’m into profit,” said James. When it comes to sawmilling as an entrepreneur, James has been through a constant learning experience. “I’ve done a lot of things that are so unconventional and that you’d never do twice. But you are so thankful that you did them once for what they taught you,” shared James.James owns sawmilling and moulding equipment that enables him to manufacture and sell specific, high-value lumber products to make a comfortable living. Lesson one, according to James, is don’t mess with success once you have found it. Lesson two has to do with managing production costs. James wouldn’t think of turning on his portable sawmill until he has a clear understanding of where the material produced will end up and what marketable product it will become. He knows that each cut costs him money and time that must be justified in the final product sold to customers.

Cats Eye Logging and Sawmilling opened for business in 1999. Initially, James, who has experience as a helicopter logger and certified hand faller, was focused on portable sawmilling. He transported his sawmill and various accessories to wherever the job was located. In addition to a Wood-Mizer LT40 Hydraulic portable sawmill, James invested in a bandsaw blade sharpener and tooth setter to maintain his own sawmill blades and minimize potential downtime from dull blades. At the start of his portable custom sawmilling venture, James says that he regularly moved his sawmill to as many as 100 different sites near his home.

Image: James Dodich

James was approached by an experienced local sawmiller who was making a living by selling custom material for windows and doors which included high volumes of clear, vertical grain Douglas fir framing blanks. After this, James started selling custom wood products in high demand and reduced the portable sawmilling services of his business. He found that it was more efficient for him to establish a permanent home for his Wood-Mizer portable sawmill and have clients haul logs to him. He tapped into that market, purchasing culls, and rejected logs from a local plywood plant as his primary source of raw material. This taught him a valuable lesson of how he could use his Wood-Mizer LT40 sawmill to make more with less.

The experience with providing window and door framing led to adding more value through planning and moulding material. His first equipment purchase beyond the sawmill was a single-head planer. James describes the planer as a device well-suited for making rough lumber blanks into material that is all the same thickness.


Along came an opportunity to saw and mould a large order of 1”x6” tongue and groove pine boards in 16’ lengths. That’s when time and profitability really connected for him. James filled the customer’s order and still had a considerable amount of rough stock left over. So, he chose to finish it and have some inventory. “That material sold itself,” said James. “The first person came by and bought 50 pieces to finish his porch. He told his friend and on it went. Within a short time, the tongue and groove wood was sold out. I liked how people just called in the morning, asked about the tongue and groove, showed up an hour later and picked it up. Done deal.

That pathway to success is now the foundation of James’ business. His supply chain works in a very similar manner to how it began. He edges and resaws rough and dried, lower-grade Douglas fir lumber on his Wood-Mizer LT40 sawmill, and then adds value to his planer, moulder, and shaper line.

Leaning on his experience of making more with less by tapping into an inexpensive wood supply, James rarely processes full logs anymore. He prefers to purchase surplus lumber like sideboards from other sawmillers as they are eager to sell him their surplus 1” lumber and ungraded 2” lumber in shorter lengths of 8′ to 12′ long. Aiming for that raw material is a conscious choice. Given their length, they can be protected from the elements with a couple of sheets of plywood. James has a definite preference for kiln-dried wood.

James’ Wood-Mizer LT40 portable sawmill comes equipped with hydraulic controls, a debarker, and a resaw attachment with auto-feed. Today, he uses it primarily as a lumber resaw, which also provides him with the ability to produce high value bevelled siding. The Wood-Mizer sawmill has proven to be a very dependable workhorse for him with parts readily available as needed.

The Wood-Mizer LT40 portable sawmill was the first critical step in his supply chain. The second key piece is a planer/moulder capable of processing wood up to 14” wide. Some of the products James has been able to produce on this unit are tongue and groove flooring and paneling up to 1″x12″. It works well processing both 1” and 2” material. A third piece of equipment is his single-head planer, used when he needs to produce high volumes of lumber components that are all the same thickness. James describes both his portable sawmill and planers as “money makers” because of the products he has focused on.

At one time, James worked with all wood species available in the area. Now he works almost exclusively with Douglas fir, producing a wide variety of interior trim components, paneling, flooring, exterior siding, and trim. Since he has built a significant customer base, these pieces don’t sit around very long. James is generally able to handle all the production by himself on both the portable sawmill and planers. 

With a focus on high-value and profitable wood products, James finds that he needs to purchase less raw material and needs to produce less volume to achieve his profitability targets. Having just reached 50 years old, James is right where he wants to be with a profitable wood processing business that provides him with adequate free time to hunt, fish, and even gold mine.

Tony Kryzanowski is a contributing journalist with more than 35 years of experience focusing on writing about alternative energy, forestry, biological sciences, business, and government policy.

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