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SMALL SAWMILLING

Pursuing Profit

Interested in seeing timber turned into profit-rather than sawdust-Ontario sawmill operator Dennis Schruder opted for a Heartwood band saw system and has since seen a healthy return on his investment.

By Tony Kryzanowski

Dennis Schruder of DMS Lumber opted for a Heartwood band saw system.

For those experienced hobby band saw owners wanting a bigger challenge or something with the potential for more financial return, there are many lessons that could be learned from Dennis Schruder's experiences operating a medium size hardwood sawmill based on band saw technology.

Schruder owns DMS Lumber Inc near Eganville, Ontario and produces about 2.5 million board feet of lumber annually from a variety of wood species. The timber supply consists of about 40 per cent hard maple, 20 per cent aspen, 15 per cent mixed softwoods such as spruce, hemlock and red pine, 15 per cent white pine, and 10 per cent mixed hardwoods. Having access to a variety of species means he can concentrate on producing lumber from species that provide him with the most financial return in the market at any given time.

With an investment of about $140,000 for the main sawmill system and in combination with hands-on involvement in both the daily operation of the sawmill and marketing products, Schruder is managing to earn a good living and employ five workers. The backbone of his sawmill is a computerized model 310 diesel powered Heartwood Saw system, manufactured in Trenton, Ontario. It is a double-cut band saw capable of manufacturing up to 8,000 board feet of lumber in an eight-hour shift.

"When I began shopping around, I wanted something that I could use to earn a living," says Schruder. Smaller band saws seemed to be targeted more toward hobby sawmill owners, and he thought that too much of his profits would be chewed up in sawdust and slabs from the waste generated by a circular saw. The kerf on circular saw blades he investigated measured 5/16 of an inch. The kerf on his band saw blade measures 3/32 of an inch and he is able to saw within 1/32 of an inch. That type of consistent accuracy keeps bringing customers back. About 99 per cent of his production is pre-sold.

DMS lumber produces about 2.5 million board feet a year from a variety of wood species including hard maple, aspen, white pine and a mix of other hard and softwoods.

"I'm getting a bigger yield with this mill," says Schruder. " That is half the battle when you consider the growing scarcity of quality logs and higher log costs. Obviously, I'm getting less sawdust because of the kerf and I can take a smaller slab thickness, which in turn gives me more lumber."

Schruder purchases his timber privately from farmers and independent loggers. Each year, he has noticed that they need to search further afield for quality logs. At present, he buys logs up to 80 kilometres from the sawmill.

Fewer quality logs readily at hand and customers demanding accuracy are the two main reasons why a higher production band saw system was the proper fit for his particular needs.
"We are not sawing for production here," he says, "but for grade and volume." Hardwood graded in category one or better is the most desirable and is used for moldings, cabinets and flooring. Lumber in categories two and three are considered frame stock, used in chesterfield construction. He ships 4x4 and 4x6 hearts to pallet manufacturers for secondary manufacturing.

Typically, the wood he purchases arrives in the yard and is sorted by species. Logs can measure anywhere from six to 16 feet long. The saw can manufacture lumber from logs up to 21 feet long. Schruder has produced lumber from white pine logs up to 44 inches in diameter, and has sawn them down to as small as four-inch lumber.

Once a particular species is slated for production, the stockpiled logs are loaded onto a Heartwood live deck and fed individually onto the saw platform as needed. Schruder added his log deck to improve production flow and it has delivered. He is now able to produce lumber from 30 additional logs per day. Prior to the addition of the live deck, the edger man or sawyer had to leave his post to feed individual logs onto the saw platform, a poor use of time.
Although the sawyer's job is computerized with preset controls, Schruder says it still takes some mathematical knowledge and skill to achieve the maximum lumber potential from each log. The band saw "double cuts" the log, which means that it moves in a back and forth motion across the log. 

The edger operator removes and stacks slabs, which are later sold for firewood, as well as boards and hearts. He either passes the boards through the edger or sends them along a conveyor to the trimmer station. The hearts are conveyed directly to the trimmer.
After trimming, the lumber accumulates on a sorting table, where it is piled based on length, width and quality. Once the sawmill has accumulated between 15,000 and 20,000 board feet of lumber, Schruder hires an inspector to grade the lumber before it is loaded onto a truck and delivered to customers.

He says producing consistent lumber is a combination of all the elements in his production line, but 80 per cent of it can be attributed to the Heartwood saw's performance and the sawyer's ability. Having spent 20 years as a sawyer, Schruder has been passing on his expertise to the current sawyer who has been with him since day one.

The Heartwood 310 saw is sold in either a diesel or electric power configuration. The diesel power model comes equipped with an 122-horsepower, four-cylinder Perkins engine operating at 2,200 rpm.

In terms of blade maintenance, the mill will use one or two blades per shift, ideally providing six hours of production before blade changes. Each blade lasts nine months to a year and has a replacement cost of $246.

Schruder is satisfied with the parts and service support provided by Heartwood Saw and the company's ability to answer his technical and mechanical questions. Many replacement parts are available from sources other than the dealer, but he prefers to purchase his parts from the company. He adds that having a mechanical aptitude is definitely an asset in the day-to-day operation of the sawmill.
The crew adheres to a daily, monthly and yearly preventive maintenance schedule. The mill is greased daily and every month they inspect bearings and chains.

"Every summer we shut down for a week so that the mechanic and I can inspect the sawmill for any repair requirements such as cracks," he says.

Overall, he says the saw has been very reliable. It provides consistent production both winter and summer, with frozen or thawed logs. The mill operates at the same speed for both hardwood and softwood, but experience and experimentation have demonstrated that they achieve better frozen log saw penetration with a minor adjustment on the saw tooth swedge.

On average, the sawmill is in production 44 to 46 weeks per year. Schruder expects high productivity when the mill
is operational and he says it delivers. Last year, they only stopped production for two and a half days and that was because of cold weather.

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