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Logging and Sawmilling Journal November 2014

August/September 2015

On the Cover:
Tolko’s Lavington, B.C. sawmill has recently seen a major upgrade that positions the operation well as lumber markets move in a healthy direction, with increased lumber demand, both in North America, and overseas. Read about the major improvements at the Lavington mill beginning on page 14 (Photo of Tolko mill by Paul MacDonald).

Learning from others
Canada’s forest industry will have to implement various approaches to attracting, recruiting, developing and retaining a skilled workforce—and it can learn from other industries and companies, from Apple to Telus, on how to do this.

Re-start for Resolute sawmill
Resolute Forest Products recently re-started its Ignace, Ontario sawmill, having invested $10 million on improvements, with a strong focus on the infeed area so that the mill can now receive cut-to-length logs exclusively.

New headrig and optimization improvements for Tolko Lavington
Tolko Industries’ Lavington, B.C. sawmill has undergone a significant upgrade—involving installing a new headrig from Salem Equipment and associated controls from USNR—that has delivered a solid improvement in recovery.

Rain Forest Sawmill … in the rainforest
Dale Crumback has recently moved from sawyer to company owner at B.C.’s Rain Forest Sawmill, and things are hopping these days with a wide range of customers looking for a variety of wood produced from their biodiesel-powered Wood-Mizer LT 70 sawmill.

Logging ‘n lobsters
New Brunswick logging contractor Drew Conley juggles running a logging operation—with most of the wood going across the line, to Maine—with helping out in the family fishing outfit, catching lobster.

Resolute’s wood pellets now generating power for Ontario
Resolute Forest Products recently completed construction of a $9 million wood pellet plant in Thunder Bay to supply Ontario Power Generation’s power plant in Atikokan with wood pellets as a fuel substitute.

Busy woodlot a welcome sign
One of the primary motivations in establishing the CVWPA woodyard was to diversify wood product production and, in turn, supply diversified markets.

Fearless Contracting: not afraid of diversifying
Vancouver Island’s Fearless Contracting is finding the best business approach is diversification, and as part of that, it is increasingly doing logging work on B.C. Timber Sales, for other larger logging contractors, and for log brokers on the Island.

The Edge
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre and Alberta Innovates - Bio Solutions.

The Last Word
With the federal election coming up, Jim Stirling says there may be a mood shift underway with voters, which could yield some surprising results.

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Rain Forest SawmillsRain Forest Sawmill … in the rainforest

Dale Crumback has recently moved from sawyer to company owner at B.C.’s Rain Forest Sawmill, and things are hopping these days with a wide range of customers looking for a variety of wood produced from their biodiesel-powered Wood-Mizer LT 70 sawmill.

By Paul MacDonald

Dale Crumback has a very short commute to work—from his home, he walks down a path to his small sawmilling operation on acreage in Black Creek, on B.C.’s Vancouver Island.

After years of being on the road as a certified utility arborist doing work for companies such as BC Hydro, it’s a welcome change for Crumback, who has also worked as a carpenter and run his own hardwood flooring business. In short, this is someone who knows wood, from the timber side right through to the milling side.

Over the past five years, Crumback was working as a sawyer for Tim Fairbank and Blacktail Sawmills, in Black Creek, in the Comox Valley on the Island. But last year, he took over the business and the mill, and has re-christened it Rain Forest Sawmill, an appropriate name considering their location smack in the middle of the rainforest of B.C.’s West Coast.

Rain Forest SawmillsRain Forest Sawmill uses a special biodiesel fuel mix from Columbia Fuels of Nanaimo, B.C. to run their Wood-Mizer LT 70. The biodiesel is a cleaner burning alternative to fossil fuels, and is produced from renewable resources such as vegetable oils and fats which meet engine specifications. Columbia Fuels’ biodiesel is made from North American soybean oil.

Crumback reports that his background as an arborist is sometimes an asset when producing wood on the sawmill. “It definitely comes in handy,” he says. “You can look at a log and understand a bit more about the species type, the limbs and if it has rot, where it’s located in the tree."

For those five years, Crumback was running the Wood-Mizer LT70 mill, and Tim Fairbank was dealing with the customers. But Crumback has now made the transition to dealing with customers, and is overseeing production on the mill, with trained staff now producing the wood.

And it now falls to Crumback to source wood for the mill, which is a huge challenge in itself. “Before, I was the guy handling the timber once it came in the millyard—now I’m the guy who is going out and buying logs,” he says.

As much as possible, he has been trying to work his contacts. “I got to know a few of the woodlot guys when I was doing tree trimming, and have used those contacts for the odd bit of fir and second growth cedar.” Rain Forest Sawmill cuts mostly Douglas fir and cedar, and some white pine.

Dealing with the large forest companies and sawmills on Vancouver Island for wood is a huge challenge, he says. The industry is not really set up to deal with small sawmills on the Island. “It seems to be more of a hassle for the big companies—they don’t want to just sell you a truckload of logs.

Rain Forest Sawmills“If I’m looking to buy old growth Doug fir, they want you to buy 250 cubic metres. Well, we’re just a little operation—I can’t even think of buying volume like that.”

One option he’s working on is going in with other small sawmills to jointly purchase larger volumes of wood from the mills.

That said, through a number of different sources, such as woodlots and purchases from log haulers, Crumback is able to get Rain Forest Sawmill supplied with a steady amount of wood—though more wood would be welcome, he says. They mill a variety of species, but they go through a truckload of logs about every two weeks—more, if they’re busy.

“It really is hard to find the wood,” he says. “With the private woodlots in the area, they want to do a little bit of logging here, and a little bit there—it’s not a regular thing. They’ll get in there, get the wood out, and call it a day until next year. We can’t rely on them for a truckload of logs every month or two.”

And getting wood now is even more important because this year the Rain Forest Sawmill operation has been busy. Two other small operations in the area are no longer operating, so this has, in part, created extra work.

And how has it been for Crumback, going from operating the mill to managing the overall company?

“I like dealing with the customers,” he says. “I always have. And I don’t mind the paperwork. But it’s a bit unnerving stepping away from the milling—you lose that control. It was a little hard to let go of that part of the business.

“You have that feeling that if the mill isn’t running, you’re not making money.”

Production on the Wood-Mizer was initially down a bit, since he had to train someone new to run the mill, but it has since picked up. Crumback will still get in there sometimes, to mill on the weekends.

Rain Forest SawmillsCustomers for the products from Rain Forest Mill range from local homebuilders to folks with DIY projects. On the cut sheet recently were fence orders, beveled siding, flooring, mantles—and lots of custom cut beams.

And it’s clear that he still likes getting on the mill with a challenging log, taking a look at what can be made with it, and how it should be cut. “There’s a certain pleasure in doing that. Sometimes you can’t tell until you cut a log open how you are going to cut it—a log can sometimes be full of surprises.”

And unlike his previous work as an arborist around power lines, where there was plenty of stress—if you made a mistake, it might cause an injury or death—the stress has definitely been dialed down.

“If you make a mistake with a cut on a log, you just make something different with that piece—it’s not the end of the world. It’s not like you’re throwing it away, you’re just making something else.”

Crumback has been working with a diesel-powered Wood-Mizer LT 70 for a number of years, and before that worked with a LT40 mill.

He’s happy with the LT 70, though he finds they sometimes have to replace parts—like bearings—more often than he’d like. With the work they do, he has tuned the 55 hp LT 70 motor way down. That saves on wear and tear, and fuel consumption. “When the motor comes on, we’re probably not even using one-third of it. We’ll go through about 20 litres of fuel every two-and-a-half days.”

They use a special biodiesel fuel mix from Columbia Fuels, of Nanaimo. They also use a biohydraulic oil. “Everything is biodegradable,” he says. “It’s very expensive, but it’s worth it.”

Biodiesel is a cleaner burning alternative to fossil fuels, and is produced from renewable resources such as vegetable oils and fats which meet engine specifications. It actually contains no petroleum, but can be blended in any amount with petroleum diesel or used at 100 per cent concentration. Biodiesel is non-toxic, biodegradable and virtually free of sulphur.

Engines powered with biodiesel have shown similar torque, horsepower and fuel efficiency as petroleum diesel powered engines, says Columbia Fuels. “We don’t see a difference in performance,” noted Crumback.

Since biodiesel is made from renewable resources, on a full lifecycle basis it reduces greenhouse gases by 78 per cent. Columbia Fuels’ biodiesel is made from North American soybean oil.

Rain Forest SawmillsSaw maintenance is a big focus for Rain Forest Sawmill.

“People sometimes comment about the wavy look of bandsaw-cut wood,” Crumback says. “But we sharpen our blades about every 90 minutes—the maximum we will do on a blade is two hours. And we regularly set them. If you take care of doing that, and not rush your cutting, you get nicely cut wood, fairly true and even—wood that is nice to work with.”

Small sawmillers really need to stay on top of their game when it comes to their saw blades, Crumback believes.

“I think some people may put way too many hours on their blades, going all day and only changing out the blades once. If you do that, you’re going to get fuzzy, marked-up wavy wood.” He figures he gets about 10 to 14 uses out of every blade.

Crumback sharpens his own blades, which he says gives him more control. “It’s not just about cutting the wood—it’s the blade and the quality of the blade, how it’s sharpened and set. It can make a big difference in what you produce.

“You can still get a nice smooth cut with a bandsaw—it’s rough cut, but it’s smooth and there are no marks as long as you’re careful.”

If someone is looking for a circular saw cut with their wood, he’ll work with a local circular saw mill to get that done. “We work together. He’s cut wood for me that needs to be cut with a circular saw, and I’ve cut wood for him that needs to band-sawn. And we sometimes help each other if we’re looking for a particular log.”

One of these other mills had a large order for re-sawing yellow cedar clears. “They made the cants, and we made the boards, and it worked out well for both of us,” says Crumback.

Taking the logs down to a manageable size for the Wood-Mizer is a locally-made split saw. “We used to cut our logs in half with a chainsaw, and that could take hours. Now, we set the log up on the split saw, and it’s cut in 10 or 15 minutes.”

With the split saw, they can flip a log over after the first cut, and cut it again, into quarters. It was designed and put together by a local steel fabricator, Tom Benson.

They’ve got an old mill carriage on the site, from a bandsaw operation, that they are looking to put on the split saw, so larger logs could be positioned and clamped. “Getting the carriage set up will make things more versatile, and make it easier to set up a log.”

Now, they often put their Bobcat 873 or Hitatchi 120 excavator into service, to help position the log on dunnage under the split saw. The Hitachi is equipped with a grapple from T-Mar Industries of Campbell River, to help do the log sorting.

Rain Forest SawmillsRain Forest Sawmills will try to set up operations so when they are milling for one order, they will try to take byproduct off right away for another order, rather than putting it into stock. If they are cutting a beam, for example, they might also be able to take off some one or two-inch wood for another order.

With their current pace of work, Crumback has thought about getting a second, slightly larger, mill. The thought is that a second mill could make cants, and their current mill could do the re-sawing. “It’s definitely a thought in the back of my mind,” he says.

Customers for Rain Forest Mill range from local homebuilders to folks with DIY projects. On the cut sheet recently were fence orders, beveled siding, flooring, mantles—and lots of custom cut beams.

An interesting initiative these days is that Crumback is looking at producing some door stock for the export market. He’d like to obtain some standing orders, without firm timelines, so he could produce the doorstock on an ongoing basis. It would also fit well, in terms of using up some of their byproduct wood, left from doing big cutting, such as beams.

“We try to set things up so when we are milling for one order, we try to take byproduct off right away for another order, rather than putting it into stock.” If they are cutting a beam, for example, they might also be able to take off some one or two-inch wood for another order. They might be cutting for up to six orders at a time.

He notes, though, that they do have a supply of stock, and it moves reasonably quickly. “We have enough people contacting us looking for a couple hundred feet of wood, or some wood for small projects, to keep it moving.”

Smaller pieces are used in a wood-fired boiler for the two home-made kilns that are on site. Two shipping containers, one 14 foot and the other 20 foot, have been sheeted and insulated; they are equipped with pumps and fans, and are temperature and humidity controlled. “Using wood as a fuel source is time consuming, but it’s well worth it because we can use our waste materials. We just ran some thick wood in the kilns—it took some time to dry, but it works nicely.”

They also have a DeWalt True Cut portable edger on site, for doing some trimming, and a Geetech 20" planer.

Sawdust is packaged, and sold for horse bedding and riding arenas. There has been talk about a wood pellet operation being built down the Island, in Nanaimo, and there is the possibility of two new local hospitals using wood waste for their boiler systems. “I’m not sure the hospitals are going that way, but it would a great way to use our waste material,” says Crumback.

Using wood waste—from Rain Forest Sawmill and the B.C. rainforest—to provide energy for a local health care facility that helps people would be quite fitting, says Crumback.