Or CLICK to download a pdf of this article
B.C.’s Dove Creek Timber has developed a solid market niche for its custom and specialty lumber products, with the company making sales to customers from Nanaimo to New Zealand.
By Paul MacDonald
In sawmilling, it’s just as much about what you are producing, as how much of it you are producing. Just ask Rick Pizzey of Dove Creek Timber.
From a modest-sized sawmill operation on Vancouver Island, Dove Creek Timber efficiently produces specialty lumber for markets from Nanaimo to New Zealand.
The company recently celebrated its 10th anniversary and true to its low-key roots, there were no special events held—it was just another day of producing lumber for customers down the Island Highway, and perhaps for customers at the other side of the world.
Pizzey set up Dove Creek Timber, near Courtney, after having been involved in sawmilling for more than 20 years, both on Vancouver Island and in the B.C. Interior. Pizzey actually got his start in sawmilling in the Revelstoke area in the 1960s, at a mill cutting logs that were harvested as part of the construction of BC Hydro’s massive Mica Dam power project.
“I also did some logging and falling for quite a few years, in what was then the Queen Charlottes, and Prince Rupert,” says Pizzey. After setting up and running a successful mill operation in Port Hardy, on northern Vancouver Island, he decided to move down to the mid-Island area.
“We bought a little farm and some acreage, and next thing I know, I’m raising some cattle, and cutting hay. We weren’t even thinking of starting a sawmill here. But I realized I missed the lumber business.”
So he started Dove Creek Timber, a custom lumber and shingle sawmill operation that specializes in producing western red cedar, but also handles Douglas fir, hemlock and yellow cedar orders—just about anything, says Pizzey. After all, their business motto is: “If we don’t have it, we’ll cut it.”
“Being a specialty mill operation, we cut products that the big guys shy away from, smaller volumes,” explains Pizzey. He views Dove Creek Timber as complementary to the big mills, which are more focused on a narrower lumber sizes, and big volume business.
That said, the range of production at Dove Creek Timber is still broad. They custom cut, grade and sort a variety of products from 2 X 2 and fingerjoint blocks all the way up to 40’ timbers in all grades, kiln dried and planed.
“If somebody wants something, we look for the logs to cut it. But it has to be a decent-sized order, to warrant switching over production,” says Pizzey.
They do a steady amount of business with customers in Belgium, Holland and the UK, which may sound a bit unusual for a small west coast mill. But it works. “You might think Belgium is a long ways away from us, and it is, but if a customer puts in an order for 2 X 6 cedar today, it could be in Montreal by the end of the week, and then you’re only 10 days on a ship.
“If everything clicks, it could be just three weeks from when they send us the order to when it is in their yard.”
And there is also business close to home. “Local business has really spiked in the last couple of years, due to the large number of housing starts, and western red cedar is winning its way back because people want more of the natural look of cedar, and seem to be getting away from painting and plastic,” says Pizzey.
While the finished product that goes out the mill gate at Dove Creek Timber has a beauty that only western red cedar can possess, they start out with some very gnarly red cedar logs. “That’s simply a reflection of the type of wood that is available now,” says Pizzey. “We work with some real monsters, in terms of size and shape of the wood.”
They purchase timber from local logging contractors who do small business sales, as well as larger companies, such as Western Forest Products. “We’ll purchase wood right off their dryland sort, as soon as it’s scaled.” They also do some salvage logging with Island Timberlands. They have a Hyundai 2950 from Woodland Equipment equipped with a Trend power grapple and a Hultdins 550S hot saw for the salvage work.
“It’s worked well for us. Having the Hyundai allows us to get into blowdown areas. It’s a one person operation, with the operator hoe chucking timber to roadside, and then we have a Western Star tri-drive with quad trailer, and a Kenworth tandem with a Vanguard model 1034 self loader.” He notes they can run up to a 33” bar on the hot saw. “You can cut a fair-sized tree with that, especially when you go at cutting on both sides.”
They also have a Mack tractor that pulls a 45’ end dump to pick up fire wood, which is brought back to the mill for bucking and splitting, and delivery.
Log supply is generally fairly good, but it certainly helps to be very plugged in to what is going on locally, and in the region. “For the most part, we don’t have a problem with wood. It’s our location and the hands-on type of approach that we take that allows us to be pretty competitive out there in the log market.”
The initial cut with logs is usually on their splitter saw in the mill yard, which gets the wood down to a manageable size.
Small logs go through an older Wood-Mizer LT-40 that is operated for them on a part-time contract basis. “It’s very fast, and can cut wood up to 40 feet long,” says Pizzey.
From the Wood-Mizer and the splitter saw, the wood heads to a home-designed and -built headrig operation, that includes Temposonic setworks. “We put a lot of time and money into getting it to work the way we like.”
They also have a twin band resaw, a six-inch edger and two chop lines. “We recover a lot out of the tree—we have a very high lumber recovery factor,” says Pizzey. Their chips and residuals go down Island, to the employee-owned Nanaimo Forest Products pulp mill.
Some of the production equipment tends to be an older side—that is an understatement with their edger, that dates from 1952, and they have a 1932 Yates planer that is still going strong. “We like that old girl,” says Pizzey. “It’s so heavy. You just set things, and if you have sharp knives in there, you just get out of the way. It doesn’t care if the wood is wet or dry.”
That doesn’t mean they aren’t looking to improve operations, and add equipment. “We’ll be making a few changes over the next year or two. We’re looking at a few things, a new re-saw, and a new edger. Jake takes care of the production side of things, and he’s got some great ideas on what we can do.”
Jake is Jake Pizzey, Rick’s 28-year-old son, who has been working at the mill since he was a teenager. “Jake was always interested in being at the mill,” says Rick. “He’d come to work with me when he was young. It did not matter if I got up at 5 in the morning, Jake would be up at a quarter to 5.” In fact, Rick says he probably would have left the sawmilling business a long time ago had it not been for the energy and initiative that Jake has provided to the business.
Though there is no hard and fast division of responsibilities, Jake takes care of mill production and maintenance, while Rick handles log supply and the sales side. Being a true family affair, Rick’s daughter, Adele, handles local sales.
Though there may be some vintage—but extremely productive—equipment on the mill side, out in the yard there’s some very current equipment. They picked up a new 966K wheel loader from Cat dealer, Finning, recently. “We’ve tried some different equipment, but we found that we like Cat best—it’s got good power and it’s operator friendly. We had a Cat wheel loader that we took to auction last year, and we never had one day down with it.” He notes that they take good care of their mobile equipment, and that as a result, they can get good value for it when it goes up for auction. “I’ve sold a lot of equipment at auction. If you have a nice piece of equipment, you can get a good price. We sell them before they get really high hours on them.”
Though they really don’t need it for back-up, they have an older Cat 980 wheel loader, that’s still working fine, for general work around the mill.
“We find that it’s better running newer equipment than older stuff. You can end up spending time monkey-wrenching equipment, and downtime is a cruncher for us. If that loader goes down, the mill is down.”
They also have three very nimble Linde lift trucks, from Williams Machinery, that handle lumber around the yard, and general work. “They are very nice machines,” says Pizzey.
Dove Creek takes a very current approach to marketing. It has a web site that generates leads, and they send out tweets. “The website has generated lots of hits—people wanting to know about us, and what we produce,” says Pizzey.
After decades in the forest industry, and 10 years behind him with Dove Creek Timber, Pizzey has a fairly uncomplicated approach to business. Dove Creek Timber has a number of long term customers that have stayed with the company. And the key to that? “Well, the customer is always right,” says Pizzey. “If you have happy customers, you have a successful business. And if things are not working out, you just have to suck it up and make it happen.”
He also notes that they work on a co-operative basis with the other mills in the area, big and small. “We help out wherever we can, and sometimes we get help as well.”
Pizzey has also been enthusiastic about extending help to others, outside the sawmill. A very religious man, he is involved in supporting many community initiatives, from Bible camps to drug rehab facilities. Their office includes many photos from the community events they support. “Giving back to the community is kind of a major thing for us,” he says.
This page and all contents ©1996-2015 Logging and Sawmilling Journal (L&S J) and TimberWest Journal.