Living Off the Land in the Alaskan Wilderness

Reader Contribution by Mark Miller and The Wood-Mizer Team
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In 1976, my youthful dream started to unfold as I began building my remote fishing lodge, The Talaheim Lodge, in the wilderness of Alaska. Most of the state can’t be reached by road, so many Alaskan fishing lodges, like mine, have to be reached by either helicopter or plane. Everything from a toothpick to a gallon of gasoline has to be flown in to our site.

During my younger days we built stockades with local timbers. Large cargo, single-engine aircrafts on skis are expensive to charter, so most of my lumber was cut on-site with a chainsaw mill. Our first crude building was built from logs and chainsaw cut lumber and went up like a kid building a tree fort. For the next 30 years, I used a chainsaw to cut as much lumber as possible in order to keep costs down when building miles away from roads. We only averaged about one board an hour but most of our lumber didn’t have to be flown in which saved us money.

All our logs are skidded to our site by snowmobile in March and April when the snow is deep and settled. Everything out here comes by air except our snow machines that we drive out in the winter – a 50-mile journey from the nearest road system. In 2006, I purchased a very large wide-tracked snowmobile, which was capable of pulling in much larger logs than I was able to in the past. Glaring at my log deck of about 100, 12’ long and 16” diameter logs, I suddenly started to tense up thinking about all that back breaking chainsaw milling I would have to do.

Cutting timber with chainsaws is slow, tedious and a backbreaking chore from being bent over for long periods of time. Not to mention chainsaws burn up gallons of fuel and oil, and the 3/8” wide kerf produce piles of sawdust that could be used as lumber instead. There had to be a better way. Shortly after, I found a Wood-Mizer LT10 bandsaw mill featured in a local outdoor magazine. It caught my eye as it was lightweight and could easily fit onto a ski plane. The local dealer 100 miles away had one on display that I could try. Seeing the mill in action secured the sale.

After the snow left, we had a running sawmill in one day and a friend and I cut those 100 logs into lumber in about five days. With my LT10 sawmill and a small tractor rigged with a forklift attachment, we weren’t just in the fishing business, we were also in the lumber business. My mill paid for itself in the first season with savings on lumber cut on site instead of flying it in. Most of our timbers are cut and used “green” with the exception of our hardwood cuts. We cut primarily slow growth spruce for building and “house dry” birch for flooring.

Since having the bandmill, I’ve built five new buildings from three-sided logs and timbers cut from our mill and cut in excess of 40,000 board foot. The sawmill has saved me thousands of dollars on lumber and has allowed me to cut huge beautiful beams that would be impossible to fly out. I’ve had great factory and local Wood-Mizer support from Anchorage, Alaska and with about all my buildings completed for my lifetime, I am now focusing on the fun stuff like birch flooring and birch and spruce furniture!

I still love living in the wilderness and building with materials I’ve gathered locally. Today I manage with my band sawmill, a tractor with a front-end lift, and snow machines capable of bringing in large logs over the snow. Not only do I save money, but also I enjoy working the land. Robert Service once wrote, “It’s not the gold we seek, but the seeking of it”. For the past 38 years, my fishing lodge has given me the opportunity of “living off the land” in the Alaskan wilderness.

The Wood-Mizer Teamincludes a diverse group of individuals including woodworkers, farmers, homesteaders, arborists, entrepreneurs and more who are excited to share their knowledge and experiences of working with wood from forest to final form. Read all of The Wood-Mizer Team’s posts HERE.

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