The creative journey of a local sawmill owner.
About four years ago, Matt Ruben and his family decided to pack their bags and move away from city life to Denmark Township, on a five-acre hobby farm. With a desire to start a business, Ruben had a few ideas in mind. He thought about selling chickens or growing Christmas trees, but ultimately knew those things weren’t for him; then one day it clicked.
“I don’t know how it came about, but I ran across this guy in Tennessee who had a one-man milling operation. I kept watching his videos over and over again and that’s how I got hooked,” says Ruben.
He says he did a nationwide search on Craigslist for a sawmill and found one in Colorado. Four weeks later, he and his three of his daughters went on a trip to go pick it up. Once he got home, he had the urge to use the sawmill. He found a few dead trees on his property to cut down and “that’s kind of how it started,” says Ruben.
After finding a sawmill and kiln in 2020 Ruben launched Ruben Custom Sawmill & Woodworks specializing in live edge slabs, milling, vacuum kiln drying and custom finished projects.
Some of Ruben’s favorite work includes his custom black walnut tables and bar tops. “Everybody loves black walnut,” says Ruben. “When you can take it from a tree you’ve picked up, cut it and dry it; it’s pretty awesome.” One of his favorite parts of the process is delivering finished projects to his customers’ homes. Black walnut is his best-seller but he says, “It’s crazy how much interest there is for the live edge material. I’m still amazed at how much demand there is.” With keeping sustainability in mind, all of the logs are urban salvaged lumber or storm damaged, so none of the trees are ever cut down.
“Part of the reason why I got into this is because there’s such a rich history of sawmills along the St. Croix River. It’s how this area was built, by the loggers back in the mid-1800s,” he says. Ruben’s business logo was inspired by those loggers and sawmill workers who used the river to transport logs. He says, “I just want people to know that because there’s a lot of history here.”