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Timber/beam sawmilling specialists
B.C.’s Hyde Sawmill has found a successful market niche producing high quality timber and beam products using three Wood-Mizer band saws, and a Mahoe circular saw from New Zealand.
By Paul MacDonald
Like a lot of sawmills, B.C.-based Hyde Sawmill produces wood products that end up in new homes.
But the homes that the company is supplying product for tend to be on the pricier side vs. the standard subdivision homes which use dimensional lumber from the big sawmills. Hyde Sawmill recently provided timbers for a new home for an Alberta family on Mara Lake in B.C.’s Shuswap region that clicked in at a breathtaking $5 million.
Other recent projects included major marine docks in Kelowna, B.C. and supplying timbers to the prestigious Predator Ridge golf course, also in Kelowna.
Not all of their customers—through the home builders they sell to—are like that, but the company, with its high quality timber and beam products, purposely steers away from commodity markets, such as dimensional lumber.
After a quieter couple of years during the economic downturn, wood shipments have picked up again at Hyde Sawmill, and in addition to dealing with local B.C. builders, they are shipping large timber and beams to high end home builders in Alberta, Quebec and even the U.S., using the services of a local broker.
“People are building again now and they are building some pretty fancy homes,” says Al Hyde, who manages the business with his son, Tyler. “Markets have picked up.”
They have builders who will build 10 homes a year as customers—and builders who will build one home a year. “They stick with us—we provide them with high quality wood. People are loyal if you supply a good product. We try to focus on the free of heart timber, and there is pretty good demand for that.”
The massive and beautifully-grained timbers and beams are on the premium side, and that’s based as much on the cost of obtaining the select timber, as well as how much it costs to manufacture the wood. Hyde Sawmill takes pride in being a producer of value, rather than volume wood.
“We’ve never been the cheapest,” says Al. They really can’t be, he says. “We can’t get caught producing low margin products—we have to achieve a good amount of revenue from each log because from the start, the logs are expensive.”
And for that, the builder gets a high level of service; they can get everything they need, from the large timbers to window and door stock, molding, and even veneers. “Whatever the customer wants, we’ll produce it,” says Tyler. “We never say, ‘No, we can’t do that’.”
And that broad range of products works well for the company, too, since they have to use every part of the logs they buy because of the high costs of these logs. “Sometimes you get a log that works out for long beams, but sometimes you get a crooked log or a log with rot, and you can use some of it for clears. But you’ve got to do something with every part of the log or you could never afford to buy these logs in the first place,” explains Tyler.
Any leftover pieces are processed with their own home-made, and very efficient, firewood manufacturing set-up.
And they have plenty of sawmill tools to get the best of the log. In addition to three Wood-Mizer band mills—two LT 40s and a LT 70 super hydraulic—they also have a Mahoe Super 24 circular saw, from New Zealand. They have a Coutts headrig that does a primary cut on the larger wood before it goes to the smaller saws. All of milling equipment runs on diesel engines.
“We don’t have a debarker because we go anywhere from a six inch top to a six foot log, in terms of sizes,” says Al.
The Wood-Mizers and the Mahoe are ideal for the work that Hyde Sawmill does and the up to 55-foot long timbers they produce.
“The mill equipment we have is the best for cutting timbers—the operators are looking right at the piece all the time. They’re not up in a booth cutting wood that might not make it,” says Al. “The sawyers are right there so they can see cracks or pitch, and adjust the cutting accordingly. We are not blasting out 2 X 4 or 2 x 6’s. They are slower, but they turn out a nice product.”
And keeping on top of all the saws on all of this of this equipment is veteran sawfiler, Dennis Sirvio. On a busy day, he’ll handle up to 20 saw blades.
The Wood-Mizers are proven products in the Canadian forest industry. Much less seen, though they are very dependable, are the Mahoe mills. Al says they demo-ed a smaller Mahoe mill, and then bought the largest Mahoe mill, which was shipped from New Zealand. “It’s quick and it’s very accurate.”
The Mahoe mill features hydraulic rise and fall, which offers the opportunity to increase the value of the cut wood and production. The hydraulic lift and fall feature allows the sawyer to quickly and easily change sizes as he cuts the log, to maximize conversion. It also features taper cut, which allows for quick set-up of logs, and helps to get the best timber out of the log.
And all of this equipment, and the Hyde Sawmill operation as a whole, is flexible, which they need to be on an ongoing basis. While they pretty much know what they’re going to be producing on a week to week basis, Al says they often don’t know what they are going to be producing next month. And even on a week to week basis, they will work hard to fill orders that come in on short notice, provided they don’t disrupt the orders for existing customers. “Our order file extends about a month out—and that’s about the maximum,” he says. “But we’ll have a lot of quotes out there, at any one time.”
At one time, Hyde Sawmill produced more commodity-type products, such as railway ties, most of which could be produced with the Coutts headrig.
“But times changed, and we changed what we are producing,” Al says.
He says they are doing well with the mill equipment they have now; while some of it is getting longer in the tooth, all of it is producing well.
“I have a dozen guys now, and I don’t want to get any bigger,” he says. “I have a good crew, and most of them have been with me for a very long time.
Like a lot of sawmills without tenure, getting wood to feed the sawmills in the Hyde yard is a constant effort. Al notes that they get a lot of their wood from the major forest companies working in the region, such as Louisiana-Pacific, Downie Timber, Tolko and Canfor. “We’ve dealt with them all through the years, and they’ve treated us well,” he says.
All of the forest companies have wood coming into their mill yards from their logging operations, and they sort the wood. But as Al notes, Hyde Sawmill needs particular pieces of timber. “We’re looking for specific logs, long lengths up to 55 feet, and straight.”
They don’t want to inventory too much wood simply because of the fact that they really don’t know what orders might be coming in next week, or next month. At times, when the log supply is tight, Al and Tyler will hit the road to try to source wood directly from the mills or local woodlots. The supply can be uncertain. “You can be expecting a load of logs from a farmer who is running a woodlot, and all of sudden, he’s cutting his hay instead. And then you’ve got to find the wood somewhere.
“That’s probably the biggest part of my job. We’re not a huge operation, but we can go through 150 to 200 cubic metres a day, more if the headrig is running.”
Sometimes, when logs come in, they can be on one of the mills within hours of landing in the yard.
Tyler started working in the business as a teenager, and these days helps to look after operations in the yard, and the office work. He is happy to move around from the Cat loader to working on the headrig, to doing some planer work.
These days, Al focuses on the quotes, which, he says, “have to be right on the money”.
“An advantage we have, though, is we can do the long timbers—a lot of mills can’t do them.”
The 15 acre graveled site they have in the small community of Malakwa, about 50 kilometres northeast of Salmon Arm, works extremely well for them. They are almost right on the Trans-Canada Highway, making shipping relatively easy. Virtually all of their orders are shipped by truck.
Their yard manager, Jim Spelay, is adept at putting all of the order packages together. He knows where pieces can be pulled to fill the orders, and at any time may have 10 or more orders on the go, some of them consisting of many different-sized pieces. He goes over every piece, and every order package to make sure customers will be happy with the quality.
That quality is what keeps customers coming back. They are very quality-driven—and they don’t send an order out, whether it’s to Quebec or Quesnel, unless it’s right, and the wood is exactly what the customer wants, says Al.
And they are bang on when it comes to delivering on time. “That’s one of our biggest advantages. So many people have switched to us because other guys don’t deliver on time. If we have two weeks for an order, it’s delivered in two weeks—we make sure of that.”
And that takes solid efforts to co-ordinating things, since the drying is done offsite, at Gudeit Forest Products, in nearby Vernon. They also use the services of a resaw operation, as well, Legacy Log and Timber, of Lumby. Some drying and planning is also done at Okanagan Timber Frame Inc., in Salmon Arm.
“We’ve thought about putting in a kiln, but it is expensive, and it would take away from what we are doing—the milling. We focus on what we do the best. And the people running the kilns focus on what they do best.”
They are fortunate, says Al, in having a solid group of employees that turn out great product, day in, day out, on the sawmills.
“It’s not the right work for some people,” Tyler added. “We’ve hired some people to saw, and they just can’t do it. A sawyer is someone who has to figure out what’s in a log—and some people just don’t get it. You’ve got to visualize that round log in square pieces, what square you can get out of it here, and what you can get out over there.”
As for finding the wood to go into the saws, Al says they work hard at sourcing wood throughout the region. “We do our best to get out there and find it. We have people who are depending on us, with the company, and our customers, and you’ve got to find that wood.” And they do.
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