By Tony Kryzanowski
To achieve the best results, good golfers visualize the swing before taking the shot, and that is exactly what Dean Christiansen has done with his sawmill business. He had a vision of what he wanted in a primary breakdown unit, and now he has it with his Wood-Mizer LT70 electric band sawmill, which has allowed him to double his production potential.
He owns Christiansen Lumber in northwestern Saskatchewan, near Big River. This area—where the plains meet the boreal forest—has deep roots in forestry. The local economy recently experienced a major boost when B.C.-based Carrier Forest Products purchased and reopened an idled sawmill south of town. Christiansen has a good working relationship with the large softwood lumber producer, purchasing oversized logs from them, as well as supplying them with specialty wood products for their own use.
Dean grew up in the forest industry. He started out working with his father in logging, but eventually made the transition to sawmilling with the purchase of his first sawmill in 1999. He became a full time sawmiller about 10 years ago.
Christiansen Lumber aims for maximum recovery from every log. So they have a diversified product mix that includes rough sawn lumber, custom cut timbers, decking, and raw building logs. They also sell value-added planed and moulded lumber products like log profile siding, drop siding, V-joint tongue and groove, and shiplap. Other products include pine and birch fireplace mantles, live edge shelving, and they also sell firewood from what’s left over.
They produce about half-a-million board feet annually with three full-time employees and one part-time employee, but as with any specialty custom sawing operation, lumber volume is almost irrelevant. The goal is to achieve as much utilization as possible, while operating as efficiently as possible, with a balance between high volume and high value products.
Christiansen Lumber uses primarily white spruce but also some jackpine, poplar, birch and tamarack. With the poplar, birch and tamarack, Dean is able to manufacture paneling and flooring material, representing 20 per cent of his business. They process larger logs—anywhere from 22” to 40” at the butt, and currently can saw material up to 20’ long.
The company recently upgraded its primary sawmill with a Wood-Mizer LT70 electric band sawmill, replacing a gas-powered band sawmill from a competing brand. It has an extension that will allow Christiansen to saw logs up to 26’ long if a market develops for that product. The mill is located under a shelter and the operator manages the controls remotely in a weather-protected booth, which Dean says is important from a business development standpoint.
“I was shopping for a new sawmill because I was looking for a way to increase production while getting out of the cold to operate the mill,” says Dean. “Once I bought my Wood-Mizer, I was able to build my weather-protected cabin and put all my controls in there with a little construction heater to keep the sawyer warm. That allows us to operate more year round. As soon as I bought that mill, I basically doubled my sawmilling capability because I could saw through the winter and run steadier.”
The sawmill is in production 40 hours per week.
In addition to providing a more comfortable working environment for the sawyer, Dean says that his new sawmill cuts more quickly because it has more horsepower than his old unit. The Wood-Mizer LT70HD electric model offers both a 25 horsepower and 30 horsepower option. What he also appreciates is that it is electric. So there are no oil changes, no oil or fuel filter changes, and no motor operating issues in cold weather.
The Wood-Mizer will process between 4,000 and 5,000 board feet in an eight-hour shift. Dimensions will vary depending on orders, from 12 x 12 timbers down to as small as 2” dimension lumber.
The sawmill is controlled with Wood-Mizer’s Accuset computer setworks, which Dean says is one of the features he likes best about the unit.
“You just program the size of the last board you want on the deck, and it does all the calculations for every cut until you get there,” says Dean. “The setworks will even calculate to allow for saw kerf if you like.”
After the first cut, which is essentially a guess to maximize recovery, Dean says he pushes the ‘auto down’ button on the control panel and the sawmill will accurately cut the first board on his next pass without turning the log. Now after the log is turned manually, the setworks will take over in pattern mode and begin to saw the log according to the pre-programmed pattern and the size of the log.
What he also likes about his Wood-Mizer is its reliability.
“It very rarely needs much for service—the odd drive belt or pulley insert belt,” says Dean. “It runs day in and day out. The log turning and clamping is really strong. You don’t have any trouble turning a 40” diameter log.”
It’s equipped with a Wood-Mizer Turbo 7 blade, with a deep gullet, seven degree hook angle, and 7/8” pitch. The blade is 1.5” wide and .055” thick.
“It’s stable in the cut, saws quickly, and handles frozen wood really well,” says Dean. “So I am using it year round.”
To sharpen blades, he uses the Wood-Mizer BMS500 sharpener.
“It’s an improvement over my old drag grinder, where it would come down over the face of the tooth and then drag back,” says Dean. “This sharpener has a CBN grinding wheel made with a special material which comes down and hits the tooth in one grind. You are getting a perfect grind every time.”
He adds that he can walk away from the unit and let it do its job because it has a computer that counts the teeth.
“It saves me some time because if I get a few blades cleaned and set and then I walk away from the machine with the last blade that I put on it, this grinder saves me 10 minutes every time,” he says. His sawmill requires six sharp blades every day, as blades are changed out every 1.5 hours.
“That’s really where the rubber meets the road because if you don’t have sharp blades, your sawmill is useless,” Dean says. “That’s why I spent the extra money and bought their best grinder.”
Complementing the Wood-Mizer is a Swedish-made framed Logosol Laks 300 sash gang saw. The movable blades are positioned inside a frame and the chain infeed is timed with the movement of the blades. The Logosol Laks produces high volume, unique dimension products where it is more efficient to use the sash gang saw than the Wood-Mizer. It operates about 10 per cent of the time compared to the sawmill. Silvana Import Trading Inc. is the Canadian distributor for Logosol Laks products.
“It keeps one guy pretty busy as it will process up to 2,500 board feet per eight-hour shift of whatever you put into it,” says Dean. “It doesn’t seem to matter if you have four or fourteen blades installed in the unit. By the end of the shift, you achieve 2,500 board feet of either larger or smaller material. The Laks allows me to still produce smaller diameter wood within a decent time frame.”
Rounding out Christiansen Lumber’s processing line is an older Coutts edger, a custom-built resaw with a belt return, and a Baker M412 planer/moulder, which is used to manufacture their moulded and planed products. Dean is also in the process of setting up a Nyle dry kiln.
Although Christiansen has an annual 5,000 cubic metre softwood allocation in the Prince Albert Forest Management Area (FMA) and access to a hardwood allocation from that same FMA, the sawmill has kept Dean so busy that it makes more sense to purchase the diameter and quality of logs he prefers. He purchases oversized logs from large volume dimension sawmills operating in the area, and keeps his allocation as an insurance policy in the event that his usual sources dry up. As long as his sawmill stays active, he can maintain his allocation.
As with any business, the goal is to develop regular customers, and Christiansen Lumber has done just that through its evolution and growth over the past couple of decades. For example, they have landed a couple of valued customers for their smaller dimension material for use as dunnage in 2.5 X 3 and 40” long dimensions as well as core box material for use in the mining industry in 3/4 X 2 and 60” long dimensions. The company is also attracting customers who place larger orders, which is great for efficiency. “But retail is still a big part of my business,” says Dean. His customers are primarily based in Western Canada, and many come from the agricultural sector.
“The business has grown a lot in the past three years and I expect that it will continue,” Christiansen says. With having a young family, sometimes the biggest challenge is to balance sawmill projects with hockey practice. But his children are starting to help out a bit in the business, so that’s a bonus.
On the Cover:
A new Sennebogen 830 M-T at the Cameron River Logistics operation in northern B.C. moves 16-foot CTL logs from truck to rail for the Dunkley sawmill. Watch for the next issue of Logging and Sawmilling Journal, and a feature story on how a Sennebogen 830 M-T log handler’s stacking ability has boosted yard capacity for Saskatchewan’s Edgewood Forest Products (Photo courtesy of Sennebogen).
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Saskatchewan sawmiller Dean Christiansen has taken a leap forward in equipment with an upgrade to a Wood-Mizer LT70 electric band sawmill, which has allowed him to double his production potential.
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.