GALESBURG — What started as a hobby just four years ago has blossomed into a Galesburg-based company dedicated to preserving and recycling urban wood.
Urban Milling Co. is the brainchild of Justin McNaught, a longtime employee of the City of Galesburg and for 10 years the supervisor of the city’s traffic division.
But more than a side business, Urban Milling Co. has become a passion for McNaught, who grew up in East Galesburg and graduated in 2001 from Knoxville High School.
“I took up sawing as a hobby in 2018,” McNaught said. “As word of mouth spread that ‘Justin had a sawmill,’ I found myself doing a lot of service and side jobs for others.
“As the potential of this hobby turned into that of a business, my wife, Elvith Santoyo-McNaught, and I decided to make a new business out of it. That’s when Urban Milling Co . came into play in 2021.”
McNaught is proud to point out that all of the lumber it uses is locally collected in Galesburg, but Urban Milling services extend within a 50-mile radius of Galesburg.
A passion for trees
“Trees are a natural resource that keep on giving, even after they’ve been cut down,” McNaught said. “I love the concept of preserving and recycling a tree, and knowing that it will continue to provide in a different way. It’s such rewarding work. You are literally the first person to see what the tree is like. inside this particular tree.
“The work is intense, but really worth it.”
McNaught took the time to further explain Urban Milling Co. in a Q&A with The Register-Mail.
What kind of services do you offer?
McNaught: At Urban Milling Co., we provide live planks and slabs from local trees, fresh and/or dried. We offer a mobile sawing service and will offer on-site services once we have a permanent location for the business. The best part is that we can come to you and machine your fallen trees/logs into beautiful usable wood.
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Urban Milling Co. also offers wood products for purchase. Again, live planks and slabs of over 5 different species are currently available, and we hope to expand these over time. I have made various sizes of furniture and tables, including large dining tables, for clients and although I am not offering this service on a large scale at the moment I also hope to expand this opportunity over time. and space.
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Are you currently working on any special projects?
McNaught: We are currently working with the New Galesburg Public Library on a table project. I contacted the director about harvesting a century-old oak tree that was to be removed from the new library site. I didn’t want to see this beautiful tree eliminated any other way, so I’m going to create reading tables from the tree to use in the new library.
How did you become interested in milling?
McNaught: Urban Milling Co. started as a hobby with a small hand sawmill. I quickly realized how much I loved him. My hand mill really limited me to the size and length at which I could cut wood. So I invested in a bigger one. I went to Oklahoma to pick up a used Woodmizer Lt35, which was ideal for lumber production. But as production continued to grow, I soon left that factory too. In June 2021, I picked up our Woodmizer Lt40 Wide, from Woodmizer which is located and builds factories in Indianapolis. The wide head cutter gives us the ability to cut boards up to 34″ wide and 20′ long.
Growing up I was always around woodworking with my dad and especially my grandfather. I took carpentry lessons in school and really enjoyed making things out of wood.
Oak, walnut, cherry… which is more popular?
What is the process? Do you find items for buyers or do they come to you?
McNaught: With practice, the process may seem quite easy, however, the labor and intensity of each job will vary depending on customer demands and the weight and size of the wood. My mill, Woodmizer Lt40, is fully hydraulic and is able to lift heavy logs onto the mill bed, which takes the work out of me and makes it a one man job. Really, with a large sawmill like this, no other heavy equipment is needed. Once the log is loaded, I clamp it in place and begin cutting to the customer’s desired width or in reference to the proper use of that particular log. The end result is always a nice stack of fresh cut tiles ready to be kiln or air dried, incorporated into furniture or even your new home.
As word of mouth continues to spread, I also get a lot of phone calls about particular tiles, mostly for DIY projects. Oak and walnut seem to be the most popular so far, but we also offer cherry, sycamore and a few other species. I have a large amount of inventory and customers choose what they want. I’ve also built items for clients, but since sawing is my biggest focus, it’s very rare that I take on a project for a client.
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Q: Where do you find materials?
McNaught: So far, all of my wood has been sourced locally and our goal is to continue to source it that way. I have found many owners who need certain trees removed from their properties. Tree removal is very expensive and although I do not cut trees, I collect or transport them and help find a new home for them. This has been the majority of the ways I’ve collected most of my wood so far. I show up with my portable sawmill, chop down the fallen tree(s) into beautiful slabs, and the earnings are split between the tree owner and myself.
I should mention that not all fallen trees are worth saving, in which case I charge an hourly rate. I haven’t quite gotten into the process of buying trees yet as there was no need for them, but we plan to expand this opportunity, again, with time and space.
From dining tables to cutting boards to bar tops…
What are some of the more unique items your products have been used for?
McNaught: We haven’t seen any super unique crafts from the wood we produced and sold, but we have received many rewarding photos from customers and their finished products. From beautiful dining tables, cutting boards, nightstands, entertainment centers and even bar tops, the wood we supply will be put to good use.
How many employees does Urban Milling Co. have?
McNaught: My wife, Elvith Santoyo-McNaught, and I are currently the only employees, and I have to say that’s the best part of this business. I only rely on my work and my efforts. Once there is more time, she will lead the sales and marketing side of the projects while I take over production inventory and labor. We’re a pretty good team.
Where do you operate from now and do you have plans to create a showroom?
McNaught: Currently we are operating from our home. Much of my past work so far has been sawing for others or mobile sawing, which takes place at the client’s premises and thus alleviates the need for a current location. Our goal is to find a new family home with plenty of square footage and expand our business there. Mobile sawing will always be a big part of my services.
We currently have a vacant building, the former Carriage House – sister building to La Cantinita, which we have considered converting into a showroom/storefront for Urban Milling Co., in which we would display all of our inventory ready for purchase . But since we know from experience how laborious, time-consuming and expensive it is to rebuild an old building, we have rejected this option for the time being.
Can you give me a biography?
McNaught: I have worked in the Galesburg area since I was 15, which has given me the opportunity to learn about the town and its people. My mother is Nancy Eborsole and (father) Michael McNaught, who is deceased. I completed my associates in science from Carl Sandburg College and recently graduated from ABC’s electrical apprenticeship program.
I have been employed by the City of Galesburg for over 20 years, including 10 years as a traffic division supervisor where we maintain traffic lights, streetlights, electrical services, pavement strips and traffic signs. City-owned signage.
I met my wife in 2013, Elvith Santoyo-McNaught, here in Galesburg. His great entrepreneurial heart has opened many doors for us and together we have The Cantinita in downtown Galesburg. We have two boys, Otis and Jonas, and our dog Freddy.