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Meet Grant Powers of Peponi Woods in Northwest Chicago Suburbs

Today we’d like to introduce you to Grant Powers.

Grant, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Our business grew out of a passion for renewable, high-quality lumber with a character that just cannot be found in the big-box stores. After having difficulty sourcing local, sustainable lumber products with the figure and character needed for our own projects, we decided to start selective-milling of trees into lumber ourselves. Eventually, we started offering our service to others to provide this same experience we enjoyed personally, to further the breadth of knowledge of everyone, and to show that anyone can take a raw material and make something function and beautiful. Some of the finest and most desirable lumber products are made from trees growing in our local suburban yards.

We enjoy keeping these trees from becoming mulch, firewood, or garbage so their beauty can be enjoyed. Sharing the experience with new or seasoned woodworkers is one of our greatest rewards; allowing them to be the first to see what really lies beneath the bark. By taking our portable sawmill to the customer, they get to witness an unveiling of intricate patterns of grain lying just beneath the surface of the tree they enjoyed in their own yard. From there, the customer can turn this freshly milled lumber into any wood product they envision: tables, shelves, benches, flooring, trinkets, toys, canoes, and kayaks even.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
We’ve been extremely fortunate that all of our customers share the same passion that we do for the beauty of wood; they’re truly ecstatic to witness the process first hand of a tree being turned into a functional piece of lumber. Many times we’ll even have our customers’ neighbors stop by to see for themselves what the sawmilling process is all about. It’s always a thrill when a spark is lit within these spectators and they become a customer as well with their own tree that they just didn’t know what to do with until now. This is illustrative of one problem we do face, getting the word out that you don’t have to throw that tree away, or cut it up into firewood, or pay someone to haul it away. That tree in your front yard that died and had to be taken down can be turned into usable materials.

Our business has really benefited by word of mouth in our local communities. The friendly suburban neighborhoods do present unique challenges however since we don’t use any heavy machinery. In addition to increasing costs, heavy machinery adds additional transportation, logistics, and environmental impacts such as disturbing the landscape. Given the size and weight of trees, we’ve had to come up with some unique methods to move these logs since we can’t always get the portable sawmill as close as we would like. We have cant hooks which are pretty common to the industry, they provide mechanical advantage to roll the log. For really stubborn logs, we also have a winch that runs off a chainsaw motor as well. Someday, we may add some larger log moving machinery to our business offering, but for now, we’ll keep perfecting the brute force methods of using lots of muscle, ingenuity, and determination.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Peponi Woods story. Tell us more about the business.
Peponi Woods specializes in custom sawmilling, we’re known as sawyers to the industry. Simply put, we turn trees into lumber. What makes us unique, is that we bring the sawmill to the customer. We use a horizontal, bandsaw sawmill; it has less kerf, or waste, than a circular sawmill. Being a hands-on operation, we can very closely look at each part of the tree and decide what the best way is to start milling that log to provide the highest quality, rich and characterful pieces of lumber at the end. Should we run into a hidden defect within the tree, we can turn the log and start cutting again; maximizing the good material within that log. Whether the customer wants live edge, plain-sawn, or quarter-sawn lumber, we can do it, all of them from the same log even. It truly is a custom, engaging experience catered to each individual customer and their tree. They are left with lumber useful to them, whether 1 inch thick boards, 12 inch thick timbers or anything in-between; we can do it.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I just feel lucky to have had the opportunity to have learned this skill and having been given the chance to share it with others. I’ve had the good fortune of a supportive family to help me along the way of starting and growing the business, providing thoughtful advice learned from experience I’ve yet to have the fortune of gaining first hand. Most importantly, I’ve had the luck of having wonderful customers to share the experience with; woodworkers are an amazing and passionate bunch. Being able to pass on a little of the desire I have for turning these trees into amazing pieces of lumber onto each and every one of my customers and to see it come to life in them is truly rewarding.

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