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The Garant GP added value operation in New BrunswickNew sawmill tools for tool-making

The Garant GP added value operation in New Brunswick is the epitome of versatility, changing its product mix to meet market needs, from hockey sticks to wooden tool handles. And it now has higher levels of efficiency thanks to a new Cleereman carriage matched to a PHL double cut band saw.

By George Fullerton

Dowels ready for shipment from the Garant GP dowel mill in Woodstock, New Brunswick. The dowels are supplied to Garant’s St. Francois, Quebec manufacturing plant where they are kiln dried and manufactured into a variety of wooden handles for hand tools, including shovels, rakes and some striking tools.

Richard Poulin is happy with the recent upgrades to the Garant GP dowel mill in Woodstock, in New Brunswick, upgrades that have modernized this value-added operation to help increase yield from the wood supply and improve the plant’s efficiency.

Over the past year, the mill has seen an investment of over one million dollars and welcomed a new Cleereman carriage matched to a PHL double cut band saw.

“This is the largest and most significant investment in the mill in the past 20 years,” explained Poulin, operations manager of the mill. “The new carriage and thin kerf saw have immediately increased our yield by three to four per cent, and that will help us pay back our capital investment in under four years.”

The Garant GP added value operation in New BrunswickThe new Cleereman carriage matched to a PHL double cut band saw in action at the Garant GP mill (at left). “This is the largest and most significant investment in the mill in the past 20 years,” explained Richard Poulin, operations manager of the mill.

There’s more to come. “Next year we expect to add 3-D scanning technology for the headsaw and replace our old HMC rosserhead debarker with a Robertson cambio debarker. The new debarker will go a long way to reducing fibre loss and the 3-D scanner will increase sawing efficiency even further.”

The Garant GP operation is a major economic contributor in the town of Woodstock, employing more than 30 people. The mill was established in 1961 as a maple turning operation, and its primary product was solid wood bowling pins. When the bowling industry switched from solid pins to pins manufactured from laminated lumber, the mill lost its primary market.

The next iteration for the milling operation was producing solid wood hockey stick handles. After the hockey stick industry, too, went to laminated wood, the mill again went looking for products, and that brought them to producing dowels from solid wood, for wooden tool handles.

The dowels are supplied to Garant’s St. Francois, Quebec manufacturing plant where the dowels are kiln dried and manufactured into a variety of wooden handles for hand tools, including shovels, rakes and some striking tools.

If your assortment of yard tools includes Garant or True Temper brands, chances are the handle began as a log in the Woodstock yard.

The mill was established on the edge of the Woodstock industrial park in the 1960s, but the park has since expanded and the Garant operation now sits surrounded by light industry and supply warehouses.

The Garant GP added value operation in New BrunswickLog trucks arrive in the millyard and are unloaded by either a Cat IT38G wheel loader or a truck mounted log loader.

Trucks loaded with white ash logs growl down the streets to the log yard and trucks pulling van trailers come looking for a load to deliver to the Garant St. Francois factory.

While the mill procures some hardwood logs from producers in northwest New Brunswick, nearly 90 per cent of the white ash supply actually comes from the neighbouring state of Maine. White ash has excellent flexibility and shock absorbing characteristics, and has a long and significant history for tool handles.

Trucks arrive in the millyard and are unloaded by either a Cat IT38G wheel loader or a truck mounted log loader.

“Our Cat wheel loader sees a lot of demand,” says Poulin. “It feeds the logs to the mill infeed, and it also piles down and spreads logs for scaling. It also mounts a bucket to load bark and chips, and then it unloads logs.

“And when there are a few log trucks in the yard, rather than wait for the wheel loader, some of the truckers will use our truck mounted loader to unload their own trucks. These drivers know their way around loaders and equipment—many of them load themselves in the woods—so they can use the log loader and avoid what might become a bit of a wait for the wheel loader.”

Each log is stick scaled by Bangor rule, primarily because that is the log scale system that 90 per cent of the producers are familiar with. The mill also pays the U.S. producers in U.S. funds. Richard Poulin and his son Paul handle the stick scaling of the mill log supply.

After each load is stick scaled and tallied, the Cat wheel loader scoops up all the logs and places them in piles in the yard. Yard capacity is 1.5 to 1.6 million board feet, generally a large enough volume to operate the mill through spring break-up when deliveries slow to a trickle. Annual mill production has traditionally been around eleven million board feet.

From the infeed, logs are debarked with the HMC rosserhead debarker, and the operator also scrutinizes each log for sweep, crook and defect, and bucks the log with a bar saw.

“With the rosserhead debarking process, we recognize we are losing valuable wood fibre,” said Poulin. “Next year when we install the Robertson cambio debarker, it will cut our wood fibre waste dramatically.” Poulin says they pay good money for logs—especially when the Canadian dollar is at a low level compared to its U.S. cousin—and it’s counterproductive to waste valuable fibre through an inefficient and outdated debarking process.

“Our mill upgrades are well matched for logs less than a 10-inch diameter, but when we get logs greater than 10-inch, the new headsaw will bury the gang saw. When the sawyer gets a group of large logs, he will slow his sawing somewhat to allow the gang saw operator time to both feed the gang saw and pile some of the two-inch live sawed lumber to the side,” explains Poulin. “The piled lumber is fed through the gang saw when the headsaw is fed a bunch of small logs and its production slows down some.”

Richard PoulinRichard Poulin is happy with the recent upgrades to the Garant GP dowel mill—upgrades that have modernized the value-added operation to help increase yield from the wood supply and improve the plant’s efficiency.

The new PHL band saw not only increases production, it also necessitated a whole suite of band saw maintenance equipment, and doubling the size of the file room.

The new filing room equipment was a combination of new and used equipment sourced from both New Brunswick and Quebec suppliers. Pat Purcell, salesman with Lockhart Saw Ltd. in Saint John, commented that the reality in eastern Canada is that there is a big supply of good used sawmill and file room equipment on the market, out of shuttered mills. Purcell said that Garant was able to pick up a lot of their essential file room equipment on the used market, and then filled out the system with a few new pieces.

Poulin explained that while sourcing band saw equipment was straightforward, obtaining band saw expertise became a real challenge.

“We began advertising to hire band saw filing and maintenance talent, and when that effort failed, we hired a head hunter to find talent,” he explained. “When that effort was unsuccessful, we engaged the talents of Michel Nadeau with Affutage Optimum of Claire, NB, to train our staff in band saw technology. Michel came to our mill and helped set up the file room and worked with our staff to instruct them on maintenance and care of the equipment.”

The gang saw cuts the lumber into 1 11/16 inch square stock. The squares are then feed into a Dayton doweling machine. The doweling machine is several years old and runs at close to 200 feet per minute and produces dowels 1 5/8 inch in diameter.

The random length dowels then drop on a conveyor that delivers them to a series of six grading/trim stations.

At the grade trim stations, operators trim one end and then assess the dowel for defect and it’s trimmed again to a predetermined length. Dowels are produced to 21, 24, 28, 36, 42, 46, 48, 54, 60 and 66-inch lengths, each size destined for a unique tool handle product.

Dowels are placed in a compartmentalized rack and as the compartment fills, workers grapple the bundle and add it to a pallet for the corresponding sized dowel.

Full pallets are shrink wrapped, and stacked in a storage room. On average, three tractor trailers a day, loaded with dowels of varying sizes, head out from the Woodstock mill, up the road to St. Francois, Quebec.

The Garant GP added value operation in New BrunswickAt the grade trim stations, operators trim one end and then assess the dowel for defect, and it’s then trimmed again to a predetermined length. Dowels are produced in lengths from 21 to 66-inches, each size destined for a unique tool handle product.

Bark and residue from the debarking process is bucket loaded into trailers and delivered to the biomass energy plant at the Twin River pulp mill at Edmunston, NB. Pulp chips from slabs and edging is delivered to Woodland Pulp in Woodland, Maine. Sawdust is blown into parked trailers and delivered to the Flakeboard MDF mill in St. Stephen, NB.

While Maine continues to supply the bulk of the white ash feedstock to the Garant mill, there is trouble on the way for the wood supply. The emerald ash borer, while an insect pest native to Asia, was discovered in the Detroit-area after ash trees began dying. It’s believed the insect was introduced by way of growing stock or non-heat treated packing or pallet lumber.

The borer pierces the bark of all North American ash species and cuts galleries through the cambium layer, impairing the tree’s ability to transfer food, and eventually killing the host tree.

The emerald ash borer has made its way east and been discovered in Montreal and Massachusetts. Despite research efforts, science has not yet produced a product to control the pest.

In an attempt to slow the invasion of the emerald ash borer, Massachusetts announced state wide restrictions this past November on the movement of certain wood products in to and out of the state. The restricted products include ash nursery stock, ash lumber which has not been heat-treated and firewood.

“We are very concerned about the impact and threat that the emerald ash borer poses for the ash resource and our industry,” said Poulin. He went on to add, though, that as the ash resource declines, he believes the wood handle business will adapt to other hardwood species for their wood resource.