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Three Fingers Sawmill provides custom lumber and furniture

Jim Dykema prepares an order of boards for a customer at his shop. The Dykemas' business, Three Fingers Sawmill and Rustic Furniture, is located north of Willmar. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)1 / 2
Jim Dykema and his wife, Lynn, opened their sawmill business in February. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)2 / 2

WILLMAR -- James Dykema said he doesn't consider himself an artist when he's making his handcrafted wooden furniture.

But there's little doubt that he looks at wood with an artist's eye when he's deciding how to use a board from an old barn or a limb from a tree.

"The wood tells you what you're going to do with it," he said. "I do whatever the wood wants."

Dykema and his wife Lynn opened Three Fingers Sawmill and Rustic Furniture in February. The sawmill, shop and drying kiln are located along Highway 71/23 just north of Willmar.

They opened the business after selling the trucking business they had owned for years.

Three Fingers sells wood cut to order. Dykema also does custom planing and sanding, and he builds custom furniture and outbuildings.

And despite the name of his business, Dykema, 60, still has all his digits. The name Three Fingers came to him in the middle of the night when they were trying to come up with a business name, he said. His wife didn't like it at first, he said, but the name grew on him. It's an homage to sawyers of long ago, who often had a finger or two missing.

A lot of his furniture or other projects are made using barn wood. "I'm not a tree hugger, but I don't want to see stuff wasted," he said. Often a family will ask him to build something with wood from the home farmstead or from a tree in their years.

"I make a lot of beams for timber frame homes or for fireplace mantels," he said.

The Dykemas live in a log house, and they had looked for appropriate furniture for years. The idea of opening a sawmill and building furniture grew from that search.

Dykema said he had not been a woodworker in the past. He used to be into auto racing. "I've always loved a cutting torch and a welder," he said.

"We've always cut firewood but never made furniture," Lynn added.

When he made a two-person bench for a United Way chair auction, he was given a nametag that identified him as an artist, but he didn't want the label, he said.

"All it takes is patience," Dykema said of learning to work with wood. He and his woodworker customers often learn from each other when they stop by, he added.

Dykema said he'll provide what a customer orders, whether it's a thick board for a mantel or an order for board feet.

"For my own use, I cut for grain," he said. "I cut where the knots are."

Sometimes, he'll cut into an old tree and see where a limb was cut off years ago. The tree grew around the cut, and the rings and wood grain tell the story.

Those old trees sometimes hold woven wire, fence posts, horseshoes or even hand tools. He imagines that a farmer working on a project long ago left the item in the crotch of a young tree intending to get it later. But it was forgotten and was eventually encased in the growing tree. The next time anyone sees it is when his hits it, he said, "and that's the end of my band."

When he's using barn wood, he'll sand it down and finish it, he said, but he leaves nail holes and places where horses have chewed on it. If a nail is deep, he just leaves it in place.

The furniture he builds won't be found in a furniture store, and the custom lumber he cuts wouldn't necessarily be available at a traditional lumberyard.

"It's a niche," he said. "You've got to do something nobody else is doing."

Numerous tree limbs, all sizes, lean against the back wall of the Three Fingers woodshop.

Some of them will be cleaned off and used as table legs, Dykema said. As for the others, he's not sure. Perhaps they haven't told him yet.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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