The new Corewood sawmill at Houston, B.C.Up in smoke— NOT

A new sawmill came on stream this spring in the B.C. Interior—thanks to the co-operation of three forest industry parties—and the end result is that wood fibre that would have been piled and literally gone up in polluting smoke will now be converted to viable wood products.

By Jim Stirling

The new Corewood sawmill at Houston, B.C. is essentially an open air operation, minimizing the necessity for elaborate sawdust extraction systems, and the product is hand-piled. Mill management anticipated a conservative production estimate of 120,000 to 160,000 board feet a shift, at the beginning of operation.

It’s amazing what a little creative co-operation can achieve—and there is a great example of that within the forest industry of west central British Columbia.

A new sawmill is on stream principally because of an agreement between a large licencee, an associated wood pellet manufacturer and a log harvesting and milling contractor. The result is that wood fibre that would have been piled and literally gone up in polluting smoke will now be converted to viable wood products. New jobs are being created in the process and regional forest industry-reliant communities like Burns Lake and Houston have an improved economic future.

The new Corewood sawmill at Houston, B.C.The principals in the agreement are Canfor Corporation’s Houston operation, Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc’s wood pellet manufacturing plant in Houston and the Tahtsa Group, the last which has rebuilt and upgraded the old Corewood mill site operation, also in Houston.

Canfor supplies low grade material that won’t make the standards for conversion to commodity lumber products. Tahtsa’s new mill extracts value from the material in the creative form of other wood products, while Pinnacle receives Corewood’s residuals for wood pellet manufacture. Pinnacle’s pellet manufacturing facility in Houston is a joint venture with Canfor.

“The five year supply agreement with Canfor and the off-trade with Pinnacle’s pellet plant supports the new investment in Houston,” explained Klaus Posselt, President and CEO of the Tahtsa Group, based in Burns Lake. “Canfor and Pinnacle have been very fair and supportive.”

The Tahtsa Group also includes Tahtsa Timber Ltd., a well established log harvesting contractor, Pacific Timber, a sawmill in Burns Lake, and the Sheraton Custom Milling Ltd., operation east of Burns Lake.

The Tahtsa Group collectively knows of what it speaks when it comes to converting low grade material into viable wood products. It’s had plenty of experience. Waste is an anathema to Posselt and that attitude percolates throughout the operation.

Pacific Timber hasn’t stopped production in the six years it’s been in operation. They have been close a couple of times with a lack of fibre, admitted Karl Garrett, sawmill manager, but so far the company has always managed to turn something up to keep going.

Pacific Timber helps itself by being proactive. For example, the Burns Lake mill recognized the opportunity and is currently working its way through fibre burned in the China Nose wildfire. The blaze threatened rural properties southeast of Houston three years ago this summer. “There’s about 57,000 cubic metres of burned wood there—that’s about 966 logging truck loads,” estimated Garrett. “We’ve consumed about 40,000 cubic metres already.”

The new Corewood sawmill at Houston, B.C.Pacific Timber can process material diameters from about 11 inches down to a four inch top. Material larger than about an 11.5 inch diameter is directed to the company’s Sheraton Custom Mill. The Sheraton mill is located adjacent to the Babine Forest Products sawmill, about 19 kilometres east of Burns Lake. The Sheraton mill’s old headrig operates on an as-required basis.

About 95 per cent of Pacific Timber’s production is exported to China, typically in cant form like 3 x 3s and 6 x 6. The company’s manufactured products are lighter and easier to transport than raw logs and being squared already produce less falldown than round logs.

Apart from capitalizing on processing opportunities like burned fibre, the mill takes on dry beetle killed wood, stems with spiral checks, cat faces and other quality defects problematic for commodity mill use. “There’s a four-inch white core in there somewhere—and we find ways to extract it and create a marketable product,” said Garrett.

Not all those markets are in China. Recent destinations to show promise for Pacific Timber’s products are Iran and Pakistan, traditionally served by Russian manufactured wood products, he added. “The more tentacles into different markets, the better off we are.”

Pacific Timber was also in the business of producing rig mats and associated products for the oil patch in Alberta and northeastern B.C. “That market went from about 100 miles per hour to zero about two years ago.” But it might be on its way back. The energy industry is emerging from its doldrums, just not at the same velocity as its decline.

Key to creating Pacific Timber’s products is a veteran V-6 canter dating back to the 1950s/1960s, said Garrett. It has received a few helping hands along the way. The installation of Porter Engineering setworks, for example, and temposonic cylinders to deliver more accurate lineal positioning. The old canter is a solid machine, however, he continued. The company has a second machine for parts or, failing that, has access to a machine shop to manufacture what’s required.

Karl Garrett, manager of Pacific TimberKarl Garrett, manager of Pacific Timber (a sister operation to the Corewood sawmill), says the mill works hard in terms of obtaining timber supply, and is proactive. For example, the mill recognized the opportunity and is currently working its way through fibre burned in the China Nose wildfire.

The sawmill operation employs about nine people. They work four 10-hour days, with one day devoted to maintenance and clean-up. Pacific Timber is unlike other mills in that it regularly gives work opportunities—stepping stones, if you will—to new entrants with little hands-on experience in the forest industry or other industrial employment.

“We work with the College of New Caledonia in Burns Lake to take entry level people who are taking courses there,” explained Garrett.

Some move on quickly, others stay put. Pacific Timber now has some employees who have taken that route with three and four years’ experience of working with Pacific in a safe sawmill environment. It’s the kind of mutually beneficial arrangement that works especially well in small towns like Burns Lake.

The Burns Lake sawmill benefits from Tahtsa Timber’s operations. They include logging for major licencees in the Houston, Burns Lake region and on Vancouver Island. The sister company can harvest and sort out low grade log sizes suitable for the Burns Lake sawmill.

The new Corewood sawmill at Houston, B.C.The new Corewood sawmill at Houston follows the same basic principles practiced at the Burns Lake mill but on a larger scale, said Garrett. It, too, is essentially an open air operation, minimizing the necessity for elaborate sawdust extraction systems, and the product is hand-piled. “We anticipate a conservative production estimate at the beginning of 120,000 to 160,000 board feet a shift,” added Garrett.”When all three mills are operational (Burns Lake, Corewood and Sheraton), we will consume about 220,000 to 250,000 cubic metres of wood while utilizing the whole tree.”

At the heart of the Houston operation is a used Optimil canter acquired from a mill in the United States. “We’ve refurbished the whole thing including making our own infeeds.” The Houston mill will be able to process log diameters from four inches to 20. Larger stems will be set aside for transportation to the Sheraton Mill’s head rig.

Having a new mill come on stream these days is a notable achievement, albeit comprised of second-hand equipment. That is especially so in the context of the mountain pine beetle epidemic’s toll on timber supply and the political uncertainties facing the commodity lumber producing sector. But what the Corewood mill does is amply illustrate how to be more creative in using wood volumes that no longer have value to commodity lumber mills.

“For me, I wanted to see and do something to create jobs from something that was being thrown away,” explained Tahtsa’s Posselt “We could do a lot more. The biggest challenge is making some changes to the outdated Forest Act so that more of these types of fibre can be accessed and fast tracked,” he added. “The provincial government needs to understand how important it is to small communities, especially given the overall decrease in fibre supply.”

Logging and Sawmilling Journal
May 2017

On the Cover:
Simple, clean and efficient were the guiding principles for B.C. logger Gregory Jacob when he began his examination of available steep slope log harvesting methods. He was able to get exactly that, and the key new machine in Gregory’s steep slope arsenal is a wheeled John Deere 1910E cut to length forwarder with a Haas winch. Read all about it on page 10 (Cover photo by Jim Stirling).

Spotlight - Finding your future employees
A new Forestry Machine Operator Training program being offered by the Canadian Woodlands Forum and several other organizations could be part of the answer to the challenge of finding, and training, equipment operators—and be a model for elsewhere in Canada.

Lo-Bar tackles high ground
B.C.’s Lo-Bar Transport has a new steep slope system involving a wheeled John Deere 1910E cut to length forwarder with a Haas winch which provides easier access to timber across a broader cross section of steep and challenging terrains.

Up in smoke—not
A new sawmill came on stream this spring in the B.C. Interior—thanks to the co-operation of three forest industry parties—and the end result is that wood fibre that would have been piled and literally gone up in polluting smoke will now be converted to viable wood products.

Combining the efforts—and tenures—of First Nations
The Carrier Sekani Tribal Council in the B.C. Interior is looking at ways that scattered First Nations communities with small tenures can work together, and scale up the opportunities and benefits from the forest resource.

Going Dutch on sawmill
Two companies have joined forces on a new specialty sawmill that is taking Sitka Spruce in northwestern B.C.—known for growing tall and straight, with long fibres and tight ring counts—to produce high end product for a reman plant in Holland.

Canada North Resources Expo Official Show Guide
Extensive show coverage including CNRE stories, exhibitor list, floor plan … and more!

Forest fire fighting—with drones!
Drones are proving to be very useful tools in business, and a B.C. firm is now exploring their practical applications in the working forest, notably in wildfire control and prevention, an increasing area of concern considering extreme weather patterns.

Drones Deliver Data for Pinnacle

Planer ups production
The planer mill at Tolko’s Armstrong, B.C., sawmill is seeing positive bottom-line results from an upgrade that has allowed the planer operation to greatly increase its production—with the kicker that more of that production is higher grade lumber.

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, Alberta Innovates and Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.

The Last Word
Super logging equipment consumers are super valuable to logging equipment manufacturers—and dealers, says Jim Stirling.

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