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EVERYDAY PEOPLE: Logging hours, and loving it

Pillsbury Forest Hardwoods owner Chris Nagel took a break at the lumber yard of

Lots of people “saw logs” on the job, perhaps out of boredom. Chris Nagel, on the other hand, saws logs everyday at work and he loves it. 

Nagel owns and operates Pillsbury Forest Hardwoods in Pillager. The sawmill is tucked away off of Cass County Road 1 near the Pillsbury State Forest. It’s one of those places that you probably wouldn’t even see unless you were looking for it. 

Nagel, a native of Pequot Lakes, has been operating as Pillsbury Forest Hardwoods for the last six years, but has been in the business of cutting wood for more than two decades. His role and location have changed several times, but he said he’s finally found his niche.

“I enjoy what I’m doing,” Nagel said. “I’ve always liked working with wood.”

Nagel got his start in the lumber business fresh out of high school at a small sawmill in Pequot Lakes. Two years later, Nagel got the offer to buy out the company. “That was the beginning of it,” he said. 

Relocating the business several times, Nagel finally landed in Pillager and now lives just over the hill from the sawmill. 

“It’s great,” he said. “I don’t have to drive anywhere.

“The best part is I get to spend a lot of time with my family.”

Pillsbury Forest Hardwoods deals with wholesale lumber. 

“To make it really simple — we buy logs from local loggers and saw them up into rough lumber,” Nagel said. “Then we sell all the products that we produce.” 

The company produces an average of 2 million board feet each year — that’s a foot long by a foot wide and about an inch thick per foot of board.

Nagel said most of his products end up in wholesale retail in the Twin Cities and St. Cloud.  

“About 80-percent of our wood will be made into a pallet or kitchen cabinet,” he said. Pillsbury lumber is also used for railroad ties.

At for the heart of the operation, the wood used at Pillsbury Forest Hardwoods is, in large part, local.  

“A lot of it is from Pillsbury,” Nagel said. “Most comes from at least within 50 miles of here.” Nagel said he enjoys working with local loggers and said the timber in the area is great quality.

Pillsbury Forest Hardwoods works primarily with red oak, but also uses white oak, birch, basswood and maple among others. 

While many outdoor industries close shop for the winter months, Nagel said his business thrives when the mercury drops. 

“It’s a lot easier to get to the trees when the ground is frozen,” he said. “You can drive right over the swaps and lakes.”

Pillsbury operates year-round. 

With saws buzzing and enormous logs rolling through the sawmill, it’s easy to assume that working at Pillsbury Forest Hardwoods can be dangerous business, but Nagel said they keep things under control. “It’s a fairly safe work environment,” he said. “You do have to be careful — training is key.”

Nagel has four full-time employees working with him and said one of the keys to their success is their chemistry. 

“Your whole workforce has to work together as a team,” he said. “Communication is key.”

SARAH NELSON may be reached at or 855-5879.