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November 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal

 

SMALL SAWMILLING

KEEPING BUSY

Two pieces of D & L Double Cut sawmill equipment are keeping Manitoba sawmiller Brent Isaac doubly busy, producing cants and sourcing wood to feed the mills.

By John Dietz

A high capacity, mobile scragg mill is keeping the owner-operator and two workers more than busy as it supplies cants for Manitoba pallet-makers. “I’ve been expanding as fast as I can,” says Brent Isaac, owner of Poplar Ridge Mills of Pine River, Manitoba. “Last year we sold about two million board feet of poplar squares or cants. That’s a fair bit of wood for a small outfit.”

Brent Isaac (top) of Poplar Ridge Mills is a big fan of D & L equipment, having started out with a D & L Twin Saw and then buying the company’s Super Scragg.

At the heart of his business are two machines built by D & L Double Cut Sawmills of Lac La Hache, BC. Isaac brought home D & L’s Super Scragg unit in late 2003. By June 2006, he’d put about 2,500 operating hours on it. Logs that the scragg wouldn’t handle well go through the used D & L Twin Saw that Isaac purchased in 2001 to get himself started in the sawmill business.

Isaac learned about logging and farming while growing up near Grande Prairie, Alberta. In 1996, newly married, he purchased two quarter sections of land to farm and log on the east side of Manitoba’s Duck Mountains. The area is heavily forested with black and white poplar. He started logging on his own land, opening it up for farming, and selling what he could to nearby mills.

Millwork, however, was something he’d enjoyed and wanted to try. He’d worked with old carriage mills as a boy at home.

“I’d never seen one of those doublecut mills until I ran into a fellow in southern Manitoba who was selling them for D & L. I ended up buying it as a used mill, and became the new dealer,” he recalls.

Isaac had two good years of experience with the little mill, making 100-inch poplar cants and finding brokers in Winnipeg to sell them, when the new Super Scragg became available.

The Poplar Ridge scragg has several unique features that make it ideal for an operator like Isaac. It’s powered by a diesel 100-horsepower John Deere engine, and—since it is on wheels—it can easily be taken to a jobsite. With a three-man crew, it can process a Super-B load of logs in a standard workday. It can be purchased for around $80,000. The engine burns ten to 15 gallons of diesel a day.

“Brent cuts an average of 11,000 board feet in a seven-hour cutting day,” says Lindsay Flett, D & L president.

The infeed deck holds about 15 to 20 round logs. Logs roll off the deck onto a V-shaped steel trough that automatically centres the log to the centre of the saws. A variable-speed hydraulic motor operates a chain moving just below the trough. A log passes through the saws every 13 seconds, being pulled through by a log dog on the feed chain.

The mill has twin 36-inch blades equipped with 15 insert teeth. “The operator has the option of pulling the teeth in and out, as he needs to, so it doesn’t affect the downtime,” Flett says.

A unique feature is that the saws shift hydraulically and are fast enough to adjust between each log. “Most scraggs in this price range in the industry today have a set distance between the saws. They are only adjustable manually and that’s what you live with,” Flett says. “On this one, you adjust your saws to the size of the logs going through, on the fly.”

The scragg handles logs up to a 14- inch diameter. A control lever sets the saws in user-selected increments for each log. As he looks at the new round log, the operator hits the lever to take the saws to whatever dimension can be harvested. The saws adjust outward, very quickly, from the centre of the trough.

Poplar Ridge Mills keeps its D & L equipment busy and is expanding as fast as it can.. “Last year we sold about two million board feet of poplar squares or cants,” says company owner Brent Isaac. “That’s a fair bit of wood for a small outfit.”

When it comes through the saws, the two-sided cant meets a gate where it is directed to the right side of the mill. The skid steer machine that first loaded the infeed deck with round logs now picks up the two-sided cants and puts them back on the infeed deck.

When the last round log is pulled through the scragg saws, the operator flips another lever that hydraulically moves the gate. Now the gate will direct the foursided cants to the left side of the mill.

The V-trough would give a two-sided cant the wrong presentation to the scragg saws, but D & L resolved that with a hydraulic V-trough that switches into a flat receiving deck. The operator lines up the cant to the saws manually; the next log dog grabs the two-sided cant. “Once it goes through, the slabs drop off, fall underneath to a conveyor belt and are ejected automatically. The sawdust is extracted with its own system and blown away from the mill. The four-sided cant hits that sheer gate. It pushes the cant off to the left side and down to an outfeed deck,” Flett says.

Meanwhile, the skid steer has begun loading new round logs on the infeed deck. When the last two-sided cant goes through, the operator flips two levers to raise the V-trough and move the gate so it will direct the next two-sided cants to the right.

“Brent’s waste coming off the side of his logs is virtually nothing,” Flett says. “He makes whatever the log will make. His clients will take a 6 x 6, a 7 x 7, a 6 x 8 and other sizes. His system is very efficient.”

The biggest challenge for this small operation is keeping the scragg busy. “Tell anybody that buys a scragg that they’ll never wonder what to do. It will keep you busy just trying to find wood to feed the silly thing,” says Isaac.

“We put about 25 cords a day in the scragg—that’s more than a Super-B load. You’ve got to bring in that much every day or you run out of work, and you’ve got to keep moving out the cants or you run out of space.”

Isaac now hopes to log, on his own, about 10,000 cords of poplar for pulp and for sawlogs between July and March, within 20 to 50 miles of home. He’s arranged with other contractors in the Duck Mountains area to supply logs for the scragg. Putting in an extra supply of about three months’ worth of logs for April through June stretches his yard to maximum capacity.

To get preferred sizes of round wood into his yard, he has to offer more than the pulp price. He’s also found the cost of hauling is quickly rising due to changes in fuel prices, which may prompt some changes.

The cost of hauling logs to feed the mill equipment at Poplar Ridge is rising due to increases in fuel prices so Isaac is looking at bringing the mill equipment to the timber, rather than bringing the timber to the mill equipment. “I can move my whole operation into another yard in one day.”

“My next move would be to build yards in different areas and just move the mill,” Isaac says. “I can move my whole operation into another yard in one day.”

With three pick-up trucks, he can move both sawmills and the skid steer loader. The mills can be licensed as tandem-axle trailers. He can have a mill packed and on the road in three hours, and set it up again in another three to four hours. In fact, he brought home the Super Scragg from BC with his 3/4-ton pickup.

The single-operator twin saw mill still operates more than 1,000 hours a year. It’s slower than the scragg, but more adjustable and more versatile at handling log diameter and cutting dimensions. Design capacity is upwards of 400 board feet per hour.

Logs that are oversize for the scragg, more than 14-inches, go through the twin saw. The mill’s power feed pushes the carriage through the cut. Isaac’s model can process up to a 30-inch diameter log, producing cants up to 6x12 inches.

The scragg deck system limit is a 12- foot log; the twin saw operator process a 20-foot log. The twin saw also can produce lumber as thin as 1/4-inch, if he wants, where the scragg’s range is between four and 10 inches only.

Once the new scragg was working at full capacity, Isaac says, he needed a better loader. For that, he purchased a New Holland LS190 in 2005, and equipped it with a 48-inch fork. He’d looked at several. “Most skid steers will lift lots, but they’re nose heavy,” he says. “This one has the longest wheel base on the market and the heaviest counterweight at the tail-end. The whole motor sits behind the back axle. There’s no weight on the front at all. We lift 3,000- to 4,000-pound loads all the time, and it handles well.”

Making cants with the scragg has turned into a good business, says Isaac. “My theory is that squaring wood is where your money is. The scragg is a high production mill, and you’re looking at a fair bit of footage for the manpower. You go to a scragg so you can cut smaller wood and lose less volume, make more out of what you’ve got.”

Market value for a cant is low-end, but that’s offset by steady demand and steady prices. Market value at this bottom end “hasn’t changed much” over the last ten years, Isaac says. At the same time, he’s found that the market is always there for this rough product as shipping material, and as reman supply for dimensional lumber mills.


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