ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

After 42 years, Lester River Sawmill owner sells business

The former owner said the small sawmill is in good hands.

Man pointing.
Mike Biron, left, points out something to Will Feyder at Lester River Sawmill on Wednesday. Biron recently sold the business to Feyder after owning it for 42 years.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
We are part of The Trust Project.

RICE LAKE — After 42 years, the owner of Lester River Sawmill is retiring and has sold his business on Rice Lake Road.

Former owner Mike Biron, now 68, started the sawmill in 1980 when he stepped away from logging at age 26, so it’s “bittersweet” to retire, he said. But he said it will be in good hands under Will Feyder, 30, who bought the mill Nov. 1.

“He’s like me at that age,” Biron said of Feyder.

Man handling lumber.
Mike Biron handles a piece of just-cut lumber coming from the sawmill Wednesday.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

“I feel so good about handing it off to Will. … We just look at things the same way so far,” Biron said.

Feyder, who went to school for and worked in engineering for several years, said he knew pretty early on that it wasn’t the career for him — too much time indoors in front of a computer.

ADVERTISEMENT

Mike Biron.
Mike Biron.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

In 2015, a windstorm at his parents' home near Brainerd knocked down trees throughout the area, and it got him thinking about what uses, other than firewood, there could be for all the logs. He found himself down a rabbit hole of articles and YouTube videos on sawmills.

“So I built a sawmill,” Feyder said. “It took me way too long. But it was a good process. I’m glad I did it. I learned a lot about how they work and other things. So I got that running, finally made my first cut and it was like, ‘OK, this is really sweet and really fun.’”

After a few years of using his homemade mill, he upgraded to a portable mill he could haul behind his truck to different properties and mill logs on site.

Man running a sawmill.
Will Feyder operates the sawmill Wednesday.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
Saw cutting a board.
The Lester River Sawmill’s circular saw cuts a board from a squared-off log Wednesday.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

He got to know Biron 14 months ago when he was looking for more customers for his portable mill and heard Biron could connect him with some.

Then Feyder heard Biron was getting ready to retire and sell the business.

“That got my wheels turning as well,” Feyder said. “And my goal was to move to a more stationary operation and this kind of ended up working out.”

Boards in a lumber yard.
Lumber sits in racks at Lester River Sawmill on Wednesday.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Biron buys the wood he mills locally from loggers who drop it off. He then cuts, dries, straightens and turns the wood into products including furniture-grade lumber, molding, trim, tongue-and-groove, beadboard, shiplap and mantels.

Thanks to its natural resistance to rot, tamarack boards from the mill have become a mainstay along the bridges and boardwalks on the North Shore’s Superior Hiking Trail and Duluth’s Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores mountain bike trails.

ADVERTISEMENT

READ MORE
Roger Hill, owner of The Snake Pit, had his first tarantula at 12. “We weren’t interested in sports. We were interested in keeping animals and raising animals, but nothing normal,” he recalled.
The one-stop shop offers wine making kits, accessories, services and space to share a glass of wine.
Kathy Ruberg always wanted to own a fabric store. When the perfect space opened up, she dove in and now has 1,300 bolts of fabric to sell at One Old Loon in Two Harbors.
Superior FunLand opened Saturday, Jan. 14, in the Mariner Business Center. It provides a play space for children ages 2-12.
Members Only
Duluth Cosmetic Tattoo Studio, North Shore Tattoo and Duluth Tattoo Company all opened within the last few months.
The Original Louis' Cafe opened Dec. 16.
Owned by a veteran from Poplar, the business will have room for up to four tattoo artists.
The business has been at its current location, 1424 Tower Ave., since 2013.
Here are some of the folks featured in 2022.
The store will change hands Jan. 1. The partners who are buying the building plan to continue selling collectibles.

Feyder plans to keep making those products but he also wants to expand into hardwoods, which will need to be sourced from southern Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Feyder will use his engineering background to make changes to the process, but jokes it will also cause him to “overthink things and over analyze things.”

“But I also don’t want to change everything. … There’s lots of time and lots of wood that’s gone through this exact process,” Feyder said.

The logs are first cut into planks by the 1980 sawmill and its 48-inch saw powered by a large Detroit Diesel engine. After being kiln dried, it’s passed through a 1930s straight-line ripsaw to get the correct dimensions.

Man starting a diesel engine.
Will Feyder starts the diesel engine that powers the sawmill, including the 48-inch saw blade in the background, on Wednesday.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

If it’s going to be tongue-and-groove or shiplap, it’ll pass through a 1952 or 2000 molder where it’ll be shaped by knives.

Will Feyder.
Will Feyder.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

“I don’t want to discount what that (process) is, and so I think it’s going to be some small tweaks to the process.” Freyder said.

Eventually, it could mean adding more products and a few employees (it’s currently just Feyder, but Biron is helping him out for his first few months).

As for Biron, he’s looking forward to getting away from the stress of owning his own business. He’ll be able to ride his bike more and walk the trails throughout town, often over structures built with the wood he milled.

ADVERTISEMENT

“It is really fun to see your end product out in real use. I don’t know why, that's just a thrill,” Biron said. “Especially now that I’m basically getting retired, it’s fun to look back and see these products being used still. They don’t just go away for a very long time.”

Still, he’ll miss the customers he’s gotten to know, some he’s had for all four decades.

“My customers are just incredible,” Biron said. “It’s a really unique group that uses Lester River Sawmill. I’ve gone through two recessions at this mill and it’s because of them … that I was able to survive here in this niche market.”

Two men handling a board.
Mike Biron, left, and Will Feyder handle lumber at a straight-line ripsaw Wednesday.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Jimmy Lovrien covers energy, mining and the 8th Congressional District for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at jlovrien@duluthnews.com or 218-723-5332.
What To Read Next
Artificial intelligence can now act as an artist or a writer. Does that mean AI is ready to play doctor? Many institutions, including Mayo Clinic, believe that AI is ready to become a useful tool.
The set of bills would require up to 24 weeks of paid family and medical leave from all Minnesota employers, regardless of size.
Bankruptcy information gathered from cases filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Duluth.
Recently sold properties from St. Louis County.