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Rick Van Dis

Sawyer Showcase:

Couple's Beautiful Dream Project Born From "Ugly" Wood

This simple project spiraled out of control, says Rick Van Dis, who says he didn't really have a plan when he started

Rick Van Dis’ property is evidence of his love for woodworking, with custom ceilings, walls, doors, kitchen cabinets, bathroom counters and more all handmade and originally milled on his Woodland Mills Portable Sawmill.

This two-and-a-half year project originally started as just an expansion to his barn and a place to do family gatherings, but the scope exploded as he and his wife Sue continued to build.

Now this ex-barn expansion will become the showroom for their future business they plan to start after they retire.

Storage and shelving in the cabin
The kitchen under construction covered in sawdust
Kitchen island table being assembled

The couple originally purchased the mill in June of 2020 with the goal of harvesting some of the trees they planted on their property 30 years prior.

But it’s ended up becoming a key tool in the creation of their dream project. The ceilings of the home, some of which are made of 27-inch-wide boards, were cottonwood logs cut down by the power company and left stacked on the edge of the neighbour’s field more than 15 years ago.

"This is part of why I love milling. Every log is like a Christmas present, you never know what’s inside.”

Custom built bathroom with dual sinks being installed

Rick says when he originally saw the logs he thought “no way, they look terrible. Besides, who in their right mind would use cottonwood?”

But the neighbour convinced him to mill it up and see what it looked like on the inside.

“When we sawed the first log we loved the spalting and decided to use it for the addition to our barn,” he said.

Interior shelf with lanterns
Epoxy resin table with thinly sliced decorative logs
sliding door built from one large wood slab
Rick's portable sawmill in action, slicing a large tree log with ease

This barn addition, which snowballed as the couple worked on it, became their passion project. The boards on the walls are all milled dogwood, which came from a friend’s property and had been felled 10 to 15 years prior.

“I wasn’t interested because who uses dogwood? Again, we cut it open and loved the grain,” he said. Between that and the cottonwood is he says they are “two cases of ugly logs with inner beauty. This is part of why I love milling. Every log is like a Christmas present, you never know what’s inside.”

custom cabinets built from scratch
coat rack with animal furs and coats hanging

Meanwhile the walnut came from a local city park, where city workers were removing a tree. Rick offered to mill it up for the workers, in exchange for keeping some slabs.

And the end results from all of this saved wood is evident throughout their barn-turned-business, especially with all the custom cabinetry done by Sue.

Though Rick says he actually didn’t have a plan for this project, and he was just making it all up as he went.

But that’s sort of like those ugly logs Rick milled up, where he found beauty in the unexpected.