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Big Timber On Manitoba Prairie

Building a farm workshop these days is as easy as picking up the phone.

But David Pogson and his brother Barry decided to take the cheaper, more labour-intensive – and they would argue – more fun route.

With a homemade sawmill, an apron-winch equipped tractor and a neighbour with a stand of 80-foot hybrid poplars that she wanted gone, the full-time farmers near Mather had all the necessary components for putting together a one-of-a-kind building.

So far, Pogson’s “free cabin” made of dovetailed 8×10 timbers resting on hand-poured concrete footings, and a massive ridge pole timber holding up a roof made of sturdy 4×6 common rafters sheathed with one-inch boards, has cost him about

LOG LORE: David Pogson answers questions from visitors in front of the partially completed workshop that he is building from giant hybrid

poplar trees taken from a nearby shelter belt planted in the late 1960s.

$1,500 in cash out of pocket for the concrete, spikes, Styrofoam insulation and some steel bolts and brackets.

“That’s just a guess,” said Pogson, who also farms 800 acres of grain and 150 cows with his brother. “If you were going to buy it the way it is right now, you’re probably looking at about $25,000.”

That’s because he and his brother and an army of timber-building-course students have spent about 1,000 hours logging the trees from a neighbour’s 40-year-old shelter belt, then hauling them home and sawing them into timbers and boards on his homemade 18-HP bandsaw mill.

Once the windows and doors are in, and the pipes for a heated floor are installed, he estimates the completed building would be worth $75,000 to $80,000. Again, not counting labour, he figures it will cost him about $10,000 to get it completely finished.

Some of the savings will come from his plan to saw oak shingles for the roof on his bandsaw mill instead of buying roofing materials.

The dovetail cuts for the wall logs were done with a chainsaw and a jig on green timbers fresh from the mill about a year ago, with the roof just recently installed. Building with green wood may seem contrary to common sense, but with timber buildings it is the preferred method because the timbers are easier to work with, and when they dry, the fit in the joints actually tightens over time, he said.

“If you put it up green, you won’t have to deal with shrinkage and warpage and you’ll have square logs to work with,” said Pogson.

In the end, the fourth-generation farmers with the lumber milling sideline will have a unique building that will add character to the place for decades – if not centuries – to come.

“Anybody can have a stick frame,” said Pogson with a laugh, referring to the modern practice of building with softwood 2x4s and 2x6s.

“We had the sawmill, we had the trees. We haven’t had to buy a stick of lumber yet.”

Shawn Dias, a woodlot forester with the Manitoba Woodlot Association, suggested the square timber design, and helped with the design and building.

The 20-foot portable sawmill capable of cutting a 27-inch log was built on a frame made from two old harrow bars at a total cost of about $2,500. To buy it new would cost at least $10,000, he said.

“Dad always wanted a sawmill,” said Pogson, who has a B-class welding ticket. “So, one winter, my brother and I just decided to build one.”

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