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Bontrager's Sawmill is more than meets the eye

CENTREVILLE, MI -- Summertime is when project lists are never ending and the favorite jobs and chores are outside. A small sawmill near Centreville, MI may seem like they offer a limited variety of wood for those endless lists but looks can be deceiving and in this case, they truly are.

Bontrager’s Sawmill began as a logging operation in the late 1990s and continued until the owners, the Paul Bontrager family, decided they wanted to expand into offering a variety of lumber themselves. They found a source for the milling and offered wood for do-it-yourselfers and campers. By 2006, Bontragers had a milling operation of their own and were specializing in fine woods for furniture makers and building contractors.

“We buy timber from woodlots and woods within a 70 mile radius,” Bontrager said. “We mill upwards of 3000 logs a month with an additional 4000 being milled in other places.”

The myriad of choices that Bontrager’s offers makes anyone’s head spin with delight. They specialize in hardwoods with cherry, walnut, red and white oak, hard and soft maple, basswood, tulip, hickory, locust, mulberry, elm, butternut, sassafras, cedar and knotty pine being offered through the wood shop.

Quality is very important to Bontrager and he demonstrates that by offering his staff training to improve the efficiency and reputation of the business. Within the sawmill is a debarker and a few of the employees are trained to grade the lumber. Bontrager hosted a NHLA (National Hardwood Lumber Association) training session at the shop a few years ago and is looking to repeat the workshop for his employees. The finer the grade, the higher the price as the wood is a better cut with less “flaws” in it. A popular choice for home décor is knotty pine which is actually considered a low grade of wood because of the numerous knots in it. Due to Bontrager’s involvement, he has learned how to produce a finer product no matter what the wood.

“If you want quality, you turn the wood,” Bontrager said. “We have found this to make a higher grade piece which will be better to work with.”

And his reputation is known worldwide. The last few years, he has worked with some Japanese buyers who come to the states and choose some of his acquired logs to be sent back to Japan for making furniture.

“They cut the logs across for tabletops,” Bontrager said. “Some of the logs are four foot across and they will use them for ornamental tables.”

In addition to the fine hardwood products Bontrager’s sells, he has found a way to deal with the ‘waste’  that comes from the processing of the lumber. He offers truckloads of sawdust, mulch, fire wood, and slab wood for gardens, farm projects, home décor, and outdoor activities.

“We’ll even help you load it,” Bontrager said with a smile.

In between buying logs and shipping wood products around the world, Bontrager and his family farm 70 to 80 acres of tillable land producing hay and corn, and providing pasture for their livestock. They also support their Amish school where the children go by hosting an annual chicken dinner on their farm.  

Bontrager is living proof that one of the old adages is true: “If you want something done well, ask a busy person.”