Ash borer’s spoils give rise to a house

Theology teacher armed with a sawmill and a dream is turning dead trees into materials for a home he is determined to build on Port’s Chestnut St.

PORT RESIDENT Jason Lane attracted a crowd on Moore Road recently when he set up a portable sawmill across from the Street Department garage to mill boards and timbers from the large trees piled at the site. He plans to build a house in the city using wood he cuts himself. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Jason Lane and his friend Brian German drew a crowd on Moore Road in Port Washington recently. The pair had set up a portable sawmill and were transforming large trees killed by the emerald ash borer into timbers destined for a home Lane plans to build.

“There were about 10 guys who came by to watch,” Lane said. “They said, ‘This is awesome. I have to watch you for a while.’

“And there was some rubbernecking as people drove by.”

He and German milled several 10-by-10-foot timbers, Lane said, noting it was an accomplishment.

After all, he said, he had just bought the sawmill.

“The pioneer in me is still there,” Lane said. “I had just gotten the sawmill up and running. I wanted to try it. It runs wonderfully.”

It should be said that Lane isn’t a typical lumberjack. His father was a carpenter, but he teaches theology at Concordia University, as does German.

But Lane, who with his wife Marta and six children lives on Grand Avenue in Port, recently purchased a property on Chestnut Street intending to renovate the house there.

“We’re looking to demolish it and redo the foundation, then build a timber-frame home there,” he said, noting his mother-in-law Ann Hintze lives next door.

It’s a task he’s determined to take on himself, Lane said.

“I’ve had the itch to do it,” he said. “I’ve been studying up on it. I have tons of plans — it’s just a question of how easily they can be executed.”

His wife’s uncle lives in Montana and builds timber-frame homes, Lane said, adding, “I’ve got tons of advice coming as I begin.”

Lane said a timber-frame house can be built with green timbers, noting that in Europe there are many buildings that have been constructed that way — including Notre Dame Cathedral.

He plans to construct “a very green home,” he said, using insulated concrete forms for the structure. 

He wants to do as much of the work as possible himself, with the help of his family, although he acknowledged he will need to bring in contractors for such things as plumbing and electricity and act as the general contractor.

Doing as much of the work as possible himself will help bring down the cost and provide him with a sense of satisfaction, Lane said.

“My father was a carpenter and I grew up around it,” he said, adding, “I love having something I can build that’s a project that ends. If I can do that and provide a home for my family, that’s amazing.” 

Lane wants to start small, building a garage to see if he can do it. He’d like to incorporate living quarters above the garage where the family can stay while working on the house, if the city allows it.

Now that he’s tested his sawmill, Lane is ready to take on as many trees as he can.  He’s not sure how many timbers he will need.

“It’s going to be a lot,” he said. “I fear it will be more than I’m expecting.”

But the good thing is that ash trees are coming down, Lane said, victims of the emerald ash borer, and they provide hard wood.

He’s trying to network and find contractors who are taking down trees and might let him take the logs. 

He’s been in contact with one woman who is removing a number of trees in her yard and will let him have them. In return, he will make her a few boards for a table.

Lane said he’s also willing to take down trees too, although he isn’t insured for that work.

“I’m just crazy enough  to do it,” Lane said.

“Everything’s on the table,” he said. “We’ve got a sawmill. We’re committed, and we’re excited.”

Lane said he would like to build the house in the next year.

“I hope it all works out,” he said. “I’m not sure it will all work out, but we’re going to try. 

“I’m trying something most people don’t try, but it is possible — with some good planning, and some prayers, I think it’s possible.”


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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