By Tony Kryzanowski
The shortest path to profitability in custom sawmilling is producing the highest value wood product with the fewest number of cuts. However, the road to profitability gets a bit murky when customers want high volumes of thin boards, since each cut costs time and money.
That was the challenge that veteran B.C. sawmiller Bob Jerke wrestled with when a customer wanted a lot of 1” lumber in specific dimensions. He was working with a carriage sawmill to process logs, where thin lumber cuts were more of a byproduct.
During his research on how he could satisfy his customer’s product needs, he discovered that there are affordable, lower tech options out there to break down timbers—that he was producing on his carriage—into smaller dimensions.
The solution he discovered was a lower cost, manually-operated Timberey band sawmill. It doesn’t operate every day, but it’s available when needed, and has turned out to be a valuable tool in Bob’s toolbox.
Bob owns Bear Lumber with his wife, Carolyn. Their custom sawmilling business is located in southeastern British Columbia, south of Cranbrook, and processes primarily Douglas fir and western larch. The company has been operating for over 40 years.
They produce custom sawn green, rough, industrial wood products. Bob purchased his Timberey M280 band sawmill about three years ago. It runs about 10 per cent of the time versus his carriage.
“My customer wanted certain sizes and certain lengths of 1” material to complement his timbers and heavier lumber products, and since he was a good customer, I picked up this bandsaw to accommodate my orders,” Bob says. “It really was customer driven.”
The band sawmill is used primarily to produce 1” lumber from timbers measuring up to 12” X 12”. Bob manufactures a variety of timber dimensions up to 24’ long on his high volume, carriage sawmill. It’s the backbone of the business as about 80 per cent of his production is timbers. Log breakdown on the carriage typically generates small volumes of sideboards on second cuts.
Prior to purchasing the band sawmill, Bear Lumber was only able to pull whatever random 1” volume they generated from second cuts on the carriage, and it was produced in random lengths. It was hard to predict how much 1” material Bob could produce from his carriage. So if a customer wanted a specific volume of 1” lumber at a specific length, it wasn’t always easy to fill an order.
“On the second cuts on the carriage, I didn’t have a choice of whatever 1” product I was producing. It wasn’t always what I needed,” he explained. Having the Timberey band sawmill option gives him more control to produce the exact dimensions and product his customer requires.
The deck that comes with the Timberey M280 band sawmill is able to process logs up to 14’ but it is possible to add 4’ bed extensions. It can process logs up to 28” in diameter. Bob has designed and installed a custom built 40’ deck for the band sawmill as an alternative to what comes standard with the unit. It provides him with greater flexibility on the maximum length of custom lumber products that he can manufacture, with the ability to produce lumber up to 36’ long. The shortest he produces is 8’. He’s also not limited to 1” products. For example, he has received orders for trailer decking, measuring 2.5” X 12” measuring 26’ long—not readily available at your local Home Depot.
In this instance, they produce a 12” X 12” timber that is 26’ long on the carriage and then transport it over to the Timberey band sawmill for final breakdown into custom boards measuring 2.5” thick. They have also done special orders of 1” X 15” boards that are 32’ long. These boards were used to cover steel beams. The smallest lumber dimension that they can produce on the band sawmill is 1” X 2” measuring 8’ long, but that size is seldom required.
The blade on the band sawmill has a .0035” kerf, which is much thinner than the kerf on the carriage’s circular saw blade, resulting in higher recovery.
“You don’t lose any of the wood when you are making a cut,” says Bob. “That’s the biggest benefit of this band sawmill.”
He purchases his blades from Lillooet, B.C.-based, Western Woodlot Equipment. Bob uses a Lenox-brand classic blade with a 7/8” pitch. If the band sawmill runs for an eight hour shift, it requires four blade changes. To sharpen the blades, he uses a Dinasaw blade sharpener.
Timberey band sawmills are manufactured in Indianapolis, Indiana. The company has been around for 35 years and markets a choice of band sawmill products and accessories, with dealers in Canada, the United States and around the world.
The company says that its engineering team set out to fill what they perceived as a growing need for a sawmill that would be less expensive, but still be able to cut just as well or better as other band sawmills on the market. They also wanted to build the product in the U.S. They offer portable sawmills, board edgers, resaws, blades, and blade sharpeners.
“We believe that you shouldn’t have to choose between an American-built or an affordable sawmill, especially when you can have both with Timberey,” the company says about its decision to focus on manufacturing its products in the U.S. “Some sawmill companies have moved manufacturing offshore to save costs, but have sacrificed sawmill and cut quality in the process.”
Timberey offers three portable sawmill choices, with a variety of engine options and features. The M280 comes with a standard 14 horsepower gas engine, and with an optional 16 or 23 horsepower gas engine. The sawmills feature laser cut steel bed frames and sawheads built using heavy-duty metal.
One way that the company has made its products more affordable, as shown by their M280 model, is that the setworks and operation of the sawmill are both manual. The operator sets the location of the blade cut using the imprinted scale on the bandsaw mill and then pushs and pulls the sawing mechanism back and forth across the timber. It was this lower tech aspect to the Timberey band sawmill that suited Bob’s specific needs.
About 10 years ago, Bear Lumber was doing a brisk business selling re-manufactured timbers from demolished grain elevators, and dead wood killed by the mountain pine beetle for use in manufactured log homes in the U.S. They were often promoted as being ‘environmentally friendly’ because the company was basically converting salvage wood into a marketable wood product. However, that market nearly disappeared after the 2008 financial crisis in the U.S. Now, Bob only ships a couple of timber and lumber packages per year south. The company only sells about 15 per cent of its production into the U.S. Its biggest market is nearby Alberta, and the rest mostly in B.C.
They continue to produce timbers for use as rig mats and pipe dunnage for the oil and gas industry, and they do a brisk business selling corral fencing into the U.S.
The company transitioned to oversized fir and larch in excess of 18” in diameter about eight years ago from beetle-infected pine as the volume of salvage wood diminished. Although the manufactured log home market is not as brisk as it once was, they are still processing the same volume of logs as they were a decade ago, at about one truckload per day.
Very little goes to waste in Bear Lumber’s yard as their waste material is transported to the co-gen power plant in Skookumchuck, about 50 kilometres north of Cranbrook.
Bear Lumber started out as a family business involving several of Bob’s brothers before he and his wife took over the operation. He brought considerable sawmilling, logging and log trucking experience to the business. It was during his career operating a self-picker logging truck, delivering logs to smaller, custom sawmillers, that his interest in this endeavour was piqued.
“I asked one of the custom sawmillers, what are you getting paid to get this done? So he told me and we decided to put one together and start doing it, too. Since then, I haven’t been able to get out of it,” he says with a laugh. He is now in his mid-70’s and spends a lot of time operating the carriage himself.
The bottom line is that he likes where he lives and likes what he does—so he says that he will probably keep sawmilling ‘til he can’t any more.
On the Cover:
Building components manufacturer Katerra recently opened North America’s highest volume cross-laminated timber (CLT) factory in Spokane Valley, Washington, and Logging and Sawmilling Journal has all the details on the new production facility beginning on page 28. The new plant has an annual manufacturing capacity of 185,000 cubic metres, the equivalent of 13 million square feet of 5-ply panels (Cover photo courtesy of Katerra Inc.).
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Manufacturing CLT state-side—with Canadian lumber
Building components manufacturer Katerra has opened a $150 million, high-volume cross-laminated timber (CLT) factory in Washington State—and feedstock, in the form of dimensional lumber, is all coming from Canada.
Breaking down wood—without breaking the bank
B.C. custom sawmiller Bob Jerke has discovered how to break down timbers into high volumes of boards without breaking the bank, thanks to a lower cost, manually-operated band sawmill.
Logging and Sawmilling Journal takes flight with this Tech Update, with a focus on drones in the forest industry.
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