Made in Eastern Iowa: By The Foot and the art of slicing massive logs

By  | 

NORWAY, Iowa (KCRG) While watching the skies decades ago, Allen Root decided to alter the business plan for his sawmill.

Allen and Linda Root have run By The Foot Sawmill for decades in the foothills of Norway as trucks come from all over, with logs to slice.

“We started in 1993 as a portable sawmill and we sawed for three years, portable, in the state of Iowa,” said Root. “When I was in Clinton one day, I was almost hit by lightning and, when I came home, I said ‘we’ve got to stop this’ so we located this piece of property, purchased it and set up shot. This was a bean field when we first started.”

Root and his wife, Linda, now have the logs come to them, in the foothills of Norway at By The Foot Sawmill.

Noting that he ships logs out to Wyoming, Texas and Florida, Root acknowledges the trucks that come from all over with massive logs to cut.

“Our customers haul their logs in, at least from 100 miles away, on a regular basis,” said Root. “We’ve gotten out as far as 150 miles where people haul stuff. We can handle up to 32 inches on this sawmill, easily, and anything that is larger, we have to break down and then we can process it. The biggest log that has ever come in has been 7 foot in diameter and we broke it down.”

Linda Root guided us through the lumber room for the copious variety of wood that has come through.

“We had some Brazilian cherry lately and it is super hard and that was unique but from the native woods, we deal with hard maple, soft maple, cherry, walnut, red oak, white oak, a little bit of spruce, a little bit of pine,” said Linda Root, who said that some of the wood that comes out of By The Foot also goes to other small operators, such as Hilton’s Custom Made Furniture, just a few miles west on Highway 6.

The Roots operate By The Foot alongside their two grown sons. It’s a very precise, very loud and a, yes, dangerous calling.

“The hobbyist thinks it looks like a good time but, once they purchase the machine, they realize it’s a bunch of hard work and there’s not a lot of money in it,” said Allen Root. “That’s why you see more lawyers in the phone book than sawmills.”

Blades constantly break when splitting up the logs, especially if a nail is in the wood. The cost of time, both in money and in time.

“Machine maintenance, blade maintenance, yard maintenance, we do all aspect but it does take a lot to keep the business going,” said Linda Root. “A lot of time goes into it. It’s not unusual to do a 12-hour day but that’s not all sawing.”