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Sept 2003 - Quebec Sawmilling

Tapping into niche spruce markets

The accuracy and dependability of its Select band saw is helping the Scierie Lefebvre and Pharand sawmill tap into niche spruce markets with three-inch wide product.

By Tony Kryzanowski

Gerry Pharand of the Scierie Lefebvre and Pharand sawmill on the Select commercial band sawmill: “I expected to do between 15,000 and 16,000 board feet a day. We have exceeded that by 20 per cent.”

It takes experience to maximize the value from less than perfect logs, and that is exactly what the partnership of Gerry Pharand and Denis Lefebvre is doing at the Scierie Lefebvre and Pharand (SLP) specialty spruce sawmill near Davidson, Quebec. The dimension sawmill began operation in January 2002 with the expressed purpose of producing special thickness spruce products in three-inch widths to supply niche markets primarily in Quebec and overseas. The sawmill can produce three-inch lumber anywhere from one inch to three and a half inches thick. Lengths vary from three to 16 feet. Much of the lumber produced at the sawmill is used in new home construction, remodeling and secondary manufacturing.

The backbone of the operation is a Select 4221 commercial band sawmill, manufactured in Plantagenet, Ontario. Pharand says for the amount of their investment, the Select sawmill has far exceeded expectations. “I expected to do between 15,000 and 16,000 board feet per day,” says Pharand. “We have exceeded that by 20 per cent. For the investment we have made, we are very pleased.” Pharand says the $75,000 investment in Select equipment represents less than half the cost of some other sawmills he investigated. “That sawmill has paid for itself many times,” he says. “A friend has had one for the last six years and it is still running. He does hardwood with it and everything.” A major attraction of the Select sawmill was its simplicity. “You can get a big sawmill, but it will cost you half a million dollars and you will need an engineer to run it,” says Pharand. “With this sawmill, you press a button and away you go.”

About 98 per cent of the sawmill’s production is white pine, with a small two per cent of production in red pine.

He says SLP recently trained an inexperienced operator to use the sawmill. For the first few days, he produced 3,000 to 4,000 board feet per day. By the end of the week, he was producing up to 8,000 board feet. While the sawmill has exceeded expectations, its performance has been partly due to the professionalism they execute in operating and maintaining the equipment. SLP has an experienced sawyer at the helm, and the company adheres to a pre-maintenance program. “We always oil our chain, and we change our blade often,” says Pharand. “So we have no problems.”

While SLP is a new name locally in the sawmilling industry, the owners’ names are well known to people in the area. As all of the company’s wood supply is procured entirely from log brokers, having good contacts has meant a lot to establishing a consistent supply of logs. Furthermore, Denis Lefebvre is the son of the owner of R Lefebvre and Sons of Valleyfield, Quebec. The company has a long history in Quebec’s forest industry, and a lot of experience marketing wood products into a variety of markets. Pharand has over 30 years experience working for a number of large lumber manufacturers both in New Brunswick and Quebec.

Prior to investing in this new sawmill, he was semi-retired. However, he continued to maintain a friendship with many in the Lefebvre organization. Lefebvre needed a source of quality dimension softwood, so he struck up a partnership with Pharand, putting both their talents and experience to work in the sawmill venture in the Davidson area. Davidson is on the north shore of the Ottawa River, near the Ontario town of Pembroke. In addition to the owners’ talents, SLP’s approach is to deal with loggers who are compatible with Quebec’s Ministry of Natural Resources forest management strategy for the next decade, even though all its logs come from private landowners.

The trimmer operator at the SLP sawmill (above). Value-added activities such as drying, planing and moulding are done at the R Lefebvre and Sons’ facilities in Valleyfield, Quebec.

The Ministry wants to harvest inferior logs from the forest in the Davidson area to eventually create a healthier forest. “That’s why we went with thickness production, because you can make a lot more quality three-inch lumber with these types of logs,” says Pharand. “The defects stay in the middle, yet you have two thick sides to play with. That is one reason why we are manufacturing this kind of lumber.” The company also markets its three- to five-foot pieces as finger-joint material, another way to generate income from this type of wood resource. Pharand described the local demand for logs as very competitive, with two other large dimension lumber sawmills operating in the area. Yet he feels that given his contacts, SLP will have a steady supply of logs in the future, particularly since the Quebec government is now limiting the number of small to medium size sawmills it will allow in that region of the province.

Also, the large number of portable sawmill owners active in the area must now adhere to more stringent waste disposal guidelines. Typically, Pharand is in regular communication with partner Denis Lefebvre, who will set the production schedule for the sawmill based on customer orders. SLP stores only enough logs in the yard to maintain a healthy buffer between pending lumber orders and log supply. Logs are generally delivered FOB mill, and average 20 to 25 inches in diameter. However they can range in size from eight to 36 inches. About 98 per cent of the sawmill’s production is white pine, with two per cent red pine.

Pharand says the sawmill will accept red pine as part of a log delivery, but much prefers white pine because of its higher market value. A Volvo loader transports and loads logs onto the sawmill deck so that the butt end enters the debarker first and ends up facing the sawyer during the lumber manufacturing process. The logs are all tree length and are kept relatively clean and dry in the yard, as they are stored on skids. While logs are generally not graded, Pharand says they will try to use larger, good quality logs for larger thickness orders. Once on the deck, the logs are debarked using a Morbark 640 debarker, capable of debarking logs up to 40 inches.

The Select unit comes with computerized setworks with 12 preset thickness settings and two additional memories for hold and recall, specially designed for cutting hardwood.

The logs are then conveyed to the Select band six-inch, double-cut sawmill. Pharand says the sawmill very consistently manufactures accurate lumber. “They are about the only sawmill I can see that has steady thickness production,” he says. “You don’t have to worry about it. You set your guide once a day, and you are done for the day.” Lumber manufactured on the Select band sawmill at SLP is conveyed to a separator. It separates boards either to a Morbark chipper or Forano two-saw edger. After the edger, it is trimmed and manually stacked. All value-added activities such as drying, planing and moulding are done at R Lefebvre and Sons’ facilities in Valleyfield, except for the finger joint material. It is air dried on site and sold.

The company handles its waste by selling its residual wood products. MDF plants buy its sawdust and its bark is sold for use as hog fuel. The Select sawmill is powered by either a 115-hp John Deere turbo diesel engine or a 75-hp electric engine. It comes with a complete hydraulic system, which includes a log turner, two back posts, two dogs, two tapers, blade tensioner, blade guide, head lift and carriage feed. Pharand says if he could offer any suggestions to change the unit, it would be to improve the speed of the hydraulics. But other than that, he says it’s an amazing sawmill for the price.

It comes with computerized setworks with 12 preset thickness settings and two additional memories for hold and recall, specially designed for cutting hardwood. Pharand says making a size change takes only a few seconds. SLP changes blades every four hours. After each blade change, cutting accuracy is checked on test logs before the mill ramps back up to full production. Station operators throughout the mill also spot check material processed through their area on a regular basis. Other features on the band sawmill include: 36-inch band wheels with double tapered bearings, automatic electric blade lubrication, a heavy-duty frame made of two-inch by eight-inch by 1/4-inch thick steel, 34 inches between the guides, and a throat of 14 inches.

The Select band sawmill is also somewhat portable. One of the options available is a trailer package. Other options include: a hydraulic log loader, live deck, hydraulic rollers on tapers to forward and reverse a log at will, two hydraulic tank heaters, a John Deere block heater, setwork programmer, and extra frame length. It can cut logs up to 42 inches in diameter and up to 22 feet long with the standard sawmill frame. It can saw logs at up to three feet per second in either direction. The company has sold its products in Canada, the US, Africa and Norway. This year Select has added a debarker and edger to its line of equipment.

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