By Judy Garrison and Buffy Calvert
Dick Liddle eyes the log clenched in the teeth of his Wood Mizer saw, lowers the blade, switches the lever, walks the apparatus to the end, flips off the bark slab, returns, re-sets the blade and repeats. He raises the teeth to give the log a quarter turn and slices each face until the smooth inner wood is revealed. Then he lowers the blade to the halfway mark, slices the 12″x12″ in two and is ready to make a dozen 6″x2″ boards. He cuts the engine and comes over to answer our questions.
Dick Liddle is a painstaking, careful workman giving himself a rainy day off from haying to pursue his hobby: running the sawmill. When the boards are cut and stacked, he will wrestle another log from the enormous pile with his tractor and fill the next order on the list hand-written on a half sheet of yellow paper by a local contractor. He gives us a wry smile, “This is where I come to play!”
When Dick and his partner, son Roger, lost the old mill, a 1924 stationary model, in a fire 5 years ago, he was deeply moved (“shocked” is his word,) by the compassion shown by the village which proposed to hold a fund-raiser. Dick and Roger’s choice was either go out of business or ante up for a new, and, by definition, expensive new mill. Once the decision to go ahead and buy the 28 horsepower, power-feed Wood-Mizer hydraulic portable mill was made, the transition has clearly been a happy one. One can see that Dick thoroughly enjoys working with this immensely safer and exceedingly more versatile piece of power equipment. We watched how Dick, now having acquired the many skills needed to operate this mill, was “in the flow” as he manipulated the throttle and other settings, mechanically turned the huge logs, internally calculating board feet as he went, to produce cuts and dimensions of wood for a complex order (see photo of the specs). Among the capacities of the gas-powered Wood-Mizer is the capability of sawing boards as thin as 1/2″.
In addition to taking orders for people who deliver logs for custom cuts of lumber, the Liddles acquire their own logs, usually hemlock and pine, which they typically prepare for board and batten siding. A fine example of their work is the sawmill building itself, which was constructed by Walt Baker of Andes. To what use do they put all the sawdust generated? It’s repurposed as bedding in the cow barn. What becomes of the wood scraps? In possession of a burn permit, they will wait for a lightly scheduled day after a big rain to burn the huge heap that has accumulated. Being visible from the road as he works, the famously gregarious Dick Liddle is a magnet for volunteer helpers and spontaneous drop-by visits; just the way he likes it!
Before he goes back to his hobby, he laughs, “I’m 76 years old. You’ve got to have a little fun on the way through or there’s no use going!” ~