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Hitting the Bullseye

Two brothers in BC have extended their lumber printing equipment company by producing arrows, as in bow and arrows.

By Jim Stirling

In the end, you could blame it all on grandpa. The Wiebe brothers' circuitous route to the wood component manufacturing and utilization industry began back when they were kids in their grandfather's Winnipeg blacksmith shop. The type of metalworking and creativity going on there proved to be too much temptation for five and six-year-old boys.

John and Jake Wiebe quickly discovered they could make sparks fly-literally and figuratively-by applying a metal screwdriver to a grinding wheel when their grandfather's attention was diverted.

Fast track through the years to British Columbia. The brothers' father, Peter Wiebe, was a planerman at what is now Slocan's Plateau Division at Engen, near Vanderhoof, in central BC. Ingenuity is clearly in the Wiebe family genes. Peter Wiebe figured the printing machine used to stamp the boards in the planer mill was not working as efficiently as it should or could.

Son Jake takes up the story: "He identified three main problem areas. The bushings in the printer were wearing, causing the stamp to look crooked. There was not enough clearance between the stamp and the board. And it was very costly on ink from roll to stamp which made clarity an issue ." Peter Wiebe got the go-ahead from his employer to address those areas in the design of a new machine.

Timberstar's Jake Wiebe uses spine tester equipment to check the strength and quality consistency of the pine arrow shafts they manufacture. On the right is one of the Timberstar component printers originally developed by Jake's father, Peter Wiebe. The company was named technical innovator of the year by the Science Council of BC.

It was built in a Vanderhoof machine shop and installed in the mill, where it worked productively for about 14 years. Not bad for a prototype.

Word got around and Peter Wiebe designed component printers for other mills in his spare time. John and Jake Wiebe became involved in the 1980s, when they had quite different careers. "We were in Calgary at the time. I was working as a pastry chef and John was a bodyman and painter. We decided to form a company and talked dad into it," recalls Jake. The business plan was impressive enough to extract a $17,000 bank loan and Timberstar Manufacturing Ltd of Vanderhoof was incorporated in 1986.

"It took a little while before we were viable but now we have more than 200 machines in mills across North America. And we've exported them to places like Scotland and New Zealand," says Jake.

Their father is no longer involved in Timberstar's day-to-day business but his design remains the heart of the component printers. "We made improvements and standardized everything," says Jake.

The printers are customized, however, to each mill's requirements. They can accurately stamp more than 180 boards per minute and accommodate lumber from half-inch to six inch. Board face and end printing and one or two color logos are available. Timberstar claims a very substantial inking cost reduction compared with conventional systems. Low maintenance and clear print application are other features.

Timberstar was named the 1998 technical innovator of the year by the Science Council of BC for a small panel printer it designed. It is used by whitewood mills on the BC coast shipping product into the Japanese home building markets. The Science Council has also recognized Timberstar for developing the highest value added product in BC.

But the very latest Timberstar product to hit the target is its split-pine hex arrow shaft, as in bow and arrows. And the way it came about reveals the Wiebe brothers' approach to figuring how to do things better. They've developed a local reputation for custom solutions to mechanical problems, explains Jake. These have included requests to build a dowelling machine and pine arrows. Half-inch squares of pine emerged from the research and development for the dowelling machine, which the Wiebes thought could be utilized in arrow production on the side. That was possible, but it became apparent that changes were needed. "We've got a problem when we buy good quality wood but our recovery in premium stock is only 23 per cent," points out Jake.

The answer to the challenge of improving recovery in an automated fashion, without sacrificing quality, dawned in what Jake describes as an inspirational moment. He could visualize how it would work. The process starts with Grade A clear lodgepole pine in 2x2 to 2x6 dimensions- no lesser standard will suffice.

Pieces are sawn into quarter inch strips, which are flattened and fed through a moulder to create six mini pyramids attached along the base. The wood strip is inverted, a water and moisture-resistant glue is applied and it's rolled into a hexagonal shape. It's then clamped and cured in a dry kiln.

The six equally-opposed edge grain laminations, all from the same piece of wood, give the arrow shaft strength. It also produces a fine, straight grain finish that appears varnished. "It's an engineered wood product," says Jake. The method provides the highly discerning traditional archer with the strength, straightness, consistency and finish demand of a wooden arrow shaft, all for about a dollar each.

Jake's inspiration created a quantum leap in recovery from the 23 per cent to 75 per cent. "It's all in how you cut the wood," says Jake, and in the variety of machinery created and modified in Timberstar's arrow mill. "The moulder people said what we wanted couldn't be done, so we ended up designing and building all the heads ." The brothers feel their pine arrow shafts are now ready for more marketing. "We want the product perfect. If you build quality in first, quantity will follow ."

Ask the Wiebes what's next for Timberstar and the smiles begin. "We're working on something much bigger," says Jake. "It should be ready soon ." From Winnipeg to Vanderhoof, the Wiebe boys still bear watching.

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