By George Fullerton
New Brunswick’s Tony Boyd took a circuitous route to custom sawmilling. His ambition to get greater value out of the ‘off species’ sawlogs that he was producing led him to purchasing a portable bandsaw and developing a regional clientele, who now seek him out for high quality, custom-sawed lumber.
Out of high school, Boyd studied to become a pipefitter. When he went looking for summer work between courses at community college, he found a job on a thinning saw, working on a Department of Natural Resources crew, pre-commercial thinning natural regeneration on Crown land blocks across southern New Brunswick.
After he had finished the pipefitter course, he quickly realized that finding steady work in the trade was very difficult.
But Boyd knew he could make a living with a thinning saw, and so he strapped one on and began finding employment working on private woodlots in the region around his home in Salmon Creek, north of Sussex, New Brunswick.
In 1994, when the thinning season shut down at Christmas, he looked for alternative employment, and realized that many of the private woodlot owners he had been doing pre-commercial thinning for were also looking for contractors to do semi-commercial thinning and other sensitive partial cut harvesting.
Boyd equipped himself with a farm tractor, forestry winch and a chainsaw, and became a harvesting contractor.
He says that while the opportunity to work in pipefitting remained unpredictable, his skills as a thinning and harvest contractor became more and more predictable—and enjoyable.
It was seeing high quality logs from his logging work end up in a low grade market that spurred him to look for a way to get better value from those logs.
While mainstream mills consume spruce, pine and fir logs, less abundant softwood species including cedar, tamarack and hemlock have fewer markets. Hardwood logs have markets within the province, but transportation to those distant mills often eats up a good deal of the value.
Boyd sought out portable mill operators to get them to mill those high value, off species logs. When they quoted their prices for custom sawing, he said he quickly concluded that he should have own his own portable mill—and market the lumber from those high value specialty sawlogs himself.
He followed his instinct, and in 2005 he purchased a small Norwood portable bandsaw mill. He used the Norwood for about a year and then, as his sawing and lumber sales business grew, it was replaced with a Wood-Mizer LT40.
The Wood-Mizer was equipped with a 24 horsepower gas engine, and he installed it in a 30-foot by 60-foot building near his home.
Boyd says that his initial sales of lumber came about by word of mouth, with individuals and contractors contacting him for lumber for small and large projects. While he points out that he has an advertisement on Kijiji, he contends that most of his business still comes through word of mouth.
One of the major species processed by the mill is eastern white cedar. EWC produces highly versatile lumber, which finishes very nicely and has very good rot resistance qualities. Boyd’s cedar products include decking, posts, timbers, siding, tongue and groove, and paneling.
Tamarack also has good rot resistance characteristics, as well as wear resistance, and finishes very attractively. Tamarack is marketed as decking and flooring stock. Hemlock is also recognized for rot resistance, but tends to be subject to shake, so a good deal is directed to landscape products. Boyd’s mill also produces a fair amount of white pine lumber.
Boyd’s highest quality hardwood lumber is sawn from yellow birch, sugar maple and red oak, but he also saws some less popular hardwoods, including white birch, red maple and poplar. Boyd pointed out that poplar, which is generally considered a pulpwood species, makes attractive lumber and lends itself to machining into moulding products.
While sap wood generates quality lumber, the heartwood also has markets as timbers and blocking.
In addition to logs from his own harvest operations, Boyd began buying logs from small and large wood producers around southern New Brunswick.
As his harvesting/silviculture contracting business grew, Boyd added a skidder, and later, a forwarder, while continuing to rely on chainsaw operators to cut the wood.
In 2015, Boyd faced real difficulties in finding chainsaw and machine operators, and shut down his harvesting operation and sold off the logging equipment. When his own logging show stopped, Boyd just increased purchases from other loggers.
While the LT40 proved to be a reliable and efficient mill, Boyd and his helper were not fond of operating it with the doors closed, to avoid inclement weather.
The milling business had developed into a year ‘round operation, and Boyd was looking for a way to avoid exhaust gas build-up in the sawmill building.
After 10 years, the LT40 was replaced with a new Wood-Mizer LT50 equipped with a 25 horsepower electric motor. The new mill also has a static operator station at the rear of the mill, so the sawyer does not have to walk along with the power/saw unit.
Boyd had consulted with the New Brunswick Power Commission prior to making the deal on the electric powered mill, because his rural location is not supported with triple phase power, which the motor requires. He was assured that his electric power requirements could be met with the installation of a Frequency Drive Unit.
Boyd acquired a used frequency drive, which proved not to be up to his motor’s requirements. He searched out more advanced technical help and eventually sourced the proper unit and had it programmed to meet his needs.
“After we got the right unit and programmed it properly, it works very well,” he says. “We have lot of power, and we have no fumes to worry about in the building. It is a good investment.”
Boyd says they now have clean, quiet, quick and constant power, and it requires less maintenance then gasoline power. “Just flick the switch and all the power for the mill is there immediately.”
He explained that the LT50 has two hydraulic pumps, compared to only one pump on the LT40. He pointed out that the extra hydraulic power means increased performance and higher mill production. The mill also provides automatic setworks, and hydraulic control to turn, position and hold the log.
As his milling business grew, Boyd added a Logosol planer unit, and shortly after traded up to a Logosol 260 planer.
“It is a good fit for our size of operation. It requires three phase power and we installed an inverter, which allows it to run on single phase power from the grid,” he explained.
“We can get all kinds of knives for it and it’s very productive for a mill operation like ours. We can plane boards four sides for decking, or we can put on a profile knife and make paneling or custom trim profiles. Cedar is known for dulling blades and knives. I use four sided carbide inserts for cedar and they work pretty good.”
Boyd relies on Woodmaster Tools in Truro, Nova Scotia for his moulding knives and dressing inserts.
“I can send down a catalog number for a special profile I need to do, and they put it on the bus and I can pick it up next day in Sussex, and have them working right away. Woodmaster provides us with excellent service.”
The busy logyard includes some hardwood logs which have been on the skids for up to three years, to establish spalting and color within the log. Spalted and other figurewood like birds-eye maple and flaming birch are in demand for customers looking for unique lumber for projects. Figurewood, as well as live sawed lumber, is sawed two-and-a-quarter-inch thickness or one-and-a-quarter-inch, and stickered for air drying in sheds.
“I seem to have the best luck spalting yellow birch,” says Boyd. “The bark stays tight and after two to three years piled down on skids in the yard, the logs develop very unique and very colourful marking. Lots of builders and crafters like it for counters or table tops. I don’t have as good luck spalting maple, and maybe that’s because the bark is a bit more porous.”
Boyd has two 3-sided sheds (28-foot by 52-foot and 15-foot by 80-foot, with 12-foot heights). Lumber is stickered, strapped and stacked to allow air drying to a moisture content that customers require.
“I have a kiln unit ready to go to work. I plan to get a couple of retired highway reefer trailers and hook up the unit, to increase my drying capacity,” commented Boyd.
Markets are primarily in the southern half of New Brunswick, but he also has repeat customers in Nova Scotia, who will make the “up to six hour drive” to source specialty lumber products.
In addition to specialty lumber for furniture and interior trim, at the other end of the spectrum he supplies square timber for blocking in industries ranging from ship building and the trucking industry, to shipping container handling and storage.
Boyd says he gets calls regularly from homeowners and building contractors who require odd size timber and lumber (both hardwood and softwood), for unique building or restoration projects
“Business is strong, and there is always lots of demand for off species lumber,” he says. “People are always calling for specialty lumber products, and custom sawed lumber.”
On the Cover:
James and Susan Willis manage J.A. Willis Contracting with ambition, strict business acumen, with a focus on efficient and productive equipment and highly motivated operators—it’s a powerful formula. Part of their core equipment is a Tigercat 845 harvester James first started using in B.C.—and continues to use in the logging operation they now run in New Brunswick, which now has a staggering 70,000 hours on it. The Willis logging operation also includes some recently acquired equipment such as the new Peterbilt truck with BWS quad trailer pictured on the cover. Read all about the Willis operation beginning on page 18 of this issue (Cover photo by George Fullerton).
B.C. hard hit by mill closures, curtailments
British Columbia—particular the Interior of the province—has been hit hard by sawmill closures and curtailments, and it is having a definite, and big, ripple effect on the logging sector, says the new general manager of the Interior Logging Association, Todd Chamberlain.
First Nations keeping the wood flow happening
First Nations and Métis communities are playing a key role in keeping the wood flow happening at Tolko Industries’ OSB plant in High Prairie Alberta, with a First Nations corporation managing all the log yard activities at the operation.
Opting for off-species
New Brunswick’s Tony Boyd took a somewhat circuitous route to sawmilling, via the trades and logging, but he’s now established a solid business producing custom wood products from a variety of off-species in the region.
A logging package that delivers
James Willis has logged in the West and East, working with the same dependable, productive Tigercat 845 buncher, though these days he has a new Log Max 6000V head, and opted for the Rotobec continuous rotator, a package that delivers the goods.
Taking care of business
B.C.’s Homalco First Nation is looking to build up its forestry operations, to make optimum use of their logging equipment—and to continue to grow its business and provide jobs and training for the band’s members.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from Alberta Innovates, Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC) and FPInnovations.
The Last Word
Canada’s softwood lumber negotiating strategy is hurting, not helping, forestry workers, says Tony Kryzanowski.