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TimberWest November/December 2013

January/February 2016

ON THE COVER
Photo taken at the 2015 Oregon Logging
Conference

Download the OLC Showguide

Running Big, Running Strong
Jerry DeBriae, owner and founder of Jerry DeBriae Logging Inc. of Cathlamet, Washington, has over five decades of experience tackling just about every challenge a logging contractor will face.

A Road Well Travelled
R D Reeves Construction finds the solutions to stay diversified and local.

Woody Biomass
Stripping fact from fiction

All Hands on Deck
Miller Timber Services and Wildland Firefighting Crews

Tire Evaluation Test

China Amping up Imports
China aims to increase the volume of timber imports from the U.S. despite stagnant economy.

Foresters Face Paradigm Shift 
for Logging Steep Slopes

Technology from New Zealand is set to create a whole new — and safer — way of logging

Gradual Growth for North American Sawmill
Vancouver Urban Timberworks started out modestly and grew into their new Wood-Mizer WM1000

DEPARTMENTS

In the News

Association News

Machinery Row

New Products

Guest Column

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Vancouver Urban Timberworks Crew: back row, from top left, are Kalli Niedoba, Danny Hagge and Dylan McIntosh. Gradual Growth for North American Sawmill

Vancouver Urban Timberworks started out modestly and grew into their new Wood-Mizer WM1000

By Paul MacDonald

The 27-year-old owners of Vancouver Urban Timberworks, Eric Savics and Danny Hagge, first started hanging out together, doing skateboarding in their teenage years.

Hagge explains that the woodworking bug had already bit, back then in middle school.

The Vancouver Urban Timberworks Crew: back row, from top left, are Kalli Niedoba, Danny Hagge and Dylan McIntosh.

“I would be trading in all my breaks for woodworking classes—I had a huge interest in woodworking.” The interest seemed to be natural, especially since Hagge’s dad had a boatbuilding shop for 25 years.

After high school, Hagge did carpentry for four years and along the way, bought a Granberg twin-engine, diesel-powered Alaskan Chainsaw Mill. “It was all supposed to be a hobby; it was never my intention to have a sawmilling business,” explains Hagge.

Up and Running

The startup of Vancouver Urban Timberworks came in 2009.

“That was really the first time I heard Danny talking about salvaging urban logs,” says Savics. “Danny pointed to a construction site where hardwood trees were being taken down and told me that this was happening every day all around Vancouver. That really got my interest.

“The next thing I know, the driveway of the house we were in is stacked with slabs and lumber from this urban wood. With the Alaskan Chainsaw, we were cutting wood non-stop, filling the yard of the house up. It looked like a lumber sales yard in this North Vancouver neighborhood.”

They decided to do a feasibility study to get the big picture story on what was being done with urban timber.

On a Mission

“We went to the forestry department at UBC and got some more information about what was coming down in terms of urban timber,” says Savics. “Next we went to retailers and looked at what they were getting per board foot. At each step along the way, we were getting more excited about the potential.”

The two young men were truly on a mission. The last piece of fact finding was a visit to California Urban Lumber, in the San Francisco Bay area.

“We were trying to see if there were other companies out there already, if there was a business model based on urban lumber we could look at,” says Hagge. “We had pages of questions for them. They were really helpful and politely answered our questions. I think they were intrigued by two 20-year-old guys from Canada coming all that way to talk with them.”

Vancouver Urban TimberworksEric Savics and Danny Hagge say the industry was excited when the WM1000 came out. “It is an affordable, quality, great production mill for a medium-volume business.

California Offers Inspiration

California Urban Lumber is a long-established custom sawmilling operation that utilizes urban timber and has a good equipment and tool setup. “We knew that we would be a long ways away from having a business of that size, but it was really the final inspiration we needed to move forward,” says Savics.

Move forward they did, and Vancouver Urban Timberworks was set up in a small shop in an industrial area of North Vancouver.

“When we were operating the mill from the house, we were getting sales from Craigslist. We had inquiries from furniture manufacturing people that wanted high quality, large slab, large diameter soft and hardwoods. They were asking about the moisture content of the wood, and we were selling wet slabs—and that prompted the move to the shop too, because we needed a dry place to store the wood,” says Savics.

They quickly had their 2,000 square foot shop full of dry timber from their first big kiln load, dried at kiln operation FraserWood Industries in Squamish, B.C.

Furniture Design and Build

“When we had a fully stocked shop of dry materials, that’s when the furniture inquiries really started coming in,” explains Savics. “A lot of customers were coming in and asking if we could build what they were looking for, like a big live edge board table.

“Danny and I looked at each other, and we said, ‘well, let’s just do any project that comes in the door; let’s just try it.’ We weren’t hesitant—we jumped on it.”

So in addition to offering hardwood and softwood cut from urban timber, Vancouver Urban Timberworks also offers customers help with the design/build side and have since done a broad range of furniture designs for customers.

Vancouver Urban TimberworksWith the WM1000, Vancouver Urban Timberworks has been cutting a lot of customer wood, and are now looking to cut more of the urban wood they source, and building up their inventory.

Moving to a Wood-Mizer WM1000

Vancouver Urban Timberworks is working on setting up its own kiln operation, but the really big news for the company is the new sawmill it has set up at its satellite facility in Squamish—the Wood-Mizer WM1000.

The Wood-Mizer WM1000 is designed specifically to saw large hardwood and softwood logs. Durable and said to be easy to use, the mill features a saw head with a massive throat opening that moves along a twin-rail frame.

The WM1000 breaks down large logs with a capacity center cut of 67” and uses thin-kerf narrow band blades that measure 2” to 3” wide, providing more material recovery. Hagge and Savics find that using a 2” blade on their WM1000 works best for the wood they are handling.

The oversize blade wheels on the WM1000 reduce stress on the blade, and the long blade length gives longer cutting time between sharpenings. Logs can be sawed in half or into quarters or cut into manageable cants for resawing. And the operator safely controls all cutting functions while standing on a platform that moves with the head and includes computerized setworks.

The WM1000 was a good step forward for the business. “We really needed to move on in terms of equipment. With the Alaskan Chainsaw Mill, we were running every single slab by hand,” says Hagge. “We looked around at other equipment, but we had really agreed years ago that the WM1000 was the logical next step for us as a business.”

Wood-Mizer’s long history and its record of supporting customers were also convincing factors in their choice—as were the capabilities of the WM1000. “We need a mill that can cut on the smaller end at 36 inches to the wide end, 66 inches,” says Hagge.

Checking out U.S. Operations

Hagge and Savics travelled to a few places in the U.S. that are using the WM1000 and received good reports on its performance.

“Before the WM1000, it seems that a lot of companies were refurbishing really old saws and old carriage mills, with some interesting equipment fabrications being done,” says Hagge. Interesting is probably an understatement.

“So, when the WM1000 came out, everyone in the slab industry was really excited—it is an affordable, quality, great production mill for a medium-volume business.”

Vancouver Urban TimberworksWood-Mizer’s long history and customer support—in addition to the WM1000 capabilities—were convincing factors for Vancouver Urban Timberworks. They needed a mill that could cut on the smaller end (at 36”) to the wide end (66”).

Working with the WM1000

Since they’ve had the WM1000, they’ve been cutting a lot of customer wood, but they are working to achieve more of a balance and cut more of the urban wood they source to build up their inventory.

The two partners report that the WM1000 has worked out very well. The experience they had running the smaller Wood-Mizer mill made a difference. “It has helped, having that experience running the smaller bandsaw mill,” says Hagge. “That was a big help—the WM1000 is basically a much larger bandsaw mill.”

Based on the research they’ve done, they don’t expect the WM1000 to require much in the way of maintenance. “From what we’ve heard from other people running the equipment, such as Goby Walnut in Portland, Oregon, the saw is almost maintenance-free.”

Most of the time, the maintenance is focused on the bandsaw blades, which is so important, says Hagge. “If you maintain a sharp blade with a proper set, you’re going to cut straight.”

In the past, they’ve often used their CNC equipment in North Vancouver to level material. “But with the cutting we’re doing now, the wood looks like it has come out of a planer,” says Savics.

“It’s all about a sharp blade and the set.If you have anything mixed up with your blade sharpening, you’ll get a wandering cut. And if you are cutting 60–plus inches, your blade has to be perfect,” says Hagge.

“It’s quite the art,” he adds, noting they have set up their own sharpening and setting equipment. “The sharpening is easy—making sure we maintain a proper set is going to be a learning curve for us.”

Building on Their Strengths

Hagge takes care of the technical saw aspects, such as the sharpening and setting. The two partners balance each other remarkably well in the business.

“We’re both capable of doing the other person’s work, but we’re almost polar opposites in what we bring to the business,” says Savics. “We really know what our strengths are, and I think that’s why our business partnership is so strong.

“Danny is the hands-on equipment guy,” adds Savics. “We’re lucky to have his skills and ingenuity because despite upkeep and maintenance, breakdowns still happen with sawmill equipment.”

Savics focuses more on the sales and service side, though he is also learning more about trees and the milling side. “We’re still learning every day on the best way to deal with our product, from log to lumber,” he says.

Hagge says the two partners offer complementary business skills. “We used to run everything together,” he says. “But Eric always leaned towards wanting to deal with sales and customers. And I always liked the production work. We easily agreed on where we were strong and where we wanted to go.

“I like to see a log opened up and turned into eight slabs,” says Hagge. “My idea of production is to see four logs cut a day, sticked, stacked, and stickered and ready for the kiln.”

Art of Drying Slabs

The whole area of drying such large slabs of wood has been an interesting challenge. “We’re not talking about drying 2 x 4s or large timbers and beams. The science of drying that type of wood has been figured out pretty well,” says Hagge. “We’re dealing with drying wide diameter hardwoods and big thicknesses. Our drying process is so different.

“Softwood can be pretty straightforward—hardwoods are a whole other matter. With the hardwood cellular structure, the drying process is so intricate. Slow, slow drying is the only way to deal with hardwoods.”

Sometimes there might be imperfections in the wood, but that is often welcomed by the woodworkers who are buying it. As far as they’re concerned, twists and cracks add character to the wood.

With the new sawmilling equipment in place and working well, Savics and Hagge are starting to think about the next step for the business, which would likely be setting up a larger woodworking shop and showroom. They’d also like to expand the online sales component of the business.

“We always thought that people would want to physically see the material they are buying, but that is not necessarily so,” says Savics. “That could definitely open up a new revenue avenue for us.”