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Ahead of the Curve

Ontario's family-owned Haavaldsrud Timber is keeping ahead of the curve with mill upgrades.

By Dave Lammers

There have been a lot of changes to the dwindling number of family sawmills in northern Ontario, operations which once relied on a tightly knit group of loggers guiding horses to haul logs out of the bush to feed their mills. But staying in operation these days means staying up to date.

For example, the Haavaldsrud Timber Company Ltd-now run by second and third generation family members-has completely modernized its sawmill operations over the last five years.

The 45yearold company, located in Hornepayne, Ontario, about 400 kilometres southeast of Sault Ste Marie, has endured everything from fires that destroyed the sawmill twice to market changes that forced the business to find new customers.

Haavaldsrud Timber has modernized virtually its entire saw-milling operation over the last five years. The company has signed a deal with Domtar that will allow it to increase the amount of timber processed at the mill, which produces from four-foot 1x3s up to 16foot 2x10s.

In the early 1990s, rock bottom lumber prices resulted in a period of mild receivership. Now, however, the company is growing as a result of a deal that made Domtar Forest Products a 25 per cent stakeholder in the business-and in return Haavaldsrud gained access to more timber. Haavaldsrud Timber Company's woodlands division harvests 3,000 hectares a year from the 400,000 hectare Nagagami forest, cutting in the area near the mill. "We try to treat the woodlands as our backyard or farm," says woodlands superintendent Dave Haavaldsrud. "Our forefathers started all the road network and cutting here-we just continue on with it ."

Aboriginal bands provide a portion of the total timber supplied to the mill through a contract agreement with the company. The latest agreement with Domtar is expected to increase the amount of timber processed at the sawmill to 400,000 cubic metres a year.

"As we came into more wood, we had to go ahead with a modernization program," says sawmill superintendent Ken Haavaldsrud. New in late 1999 was a $1.5 million Salton dry kiln. The mill, which produces from four-foot 1x3s up to 16foot 2x10s, plans to eventually do more of its own processing and market its own dried and dressed products. As a result, less lumber will be sent to Domtar Wood Products' sawmill in neighbouring White River which, in the past, has further processed the lumber and sold it as a Domtar product.

"It's the difference between the price of green lumber and dried lumber," says Haavaldsrud of the decision to install a dry kiln. He says the Salton kiln is a good match for the other mill systems. It operates on variable drives which reduces power consumption and is equipped with a 20 million BTU blower and a 100hp motor, with a ramp up speed of one minute to reach full power.

Changes have actually been afoot at Haavaldsrud Timber Company since 1995 when the company decided to move its sawmill and planing mill under one roof. The move was recommended by Sault Ste. Marie based Barker Engineering Ltd which has helped improve the mill's recovery by 30 per cent since 1991.

Haavaldsrud says having the sawmill and planing mill in one building has eliminated hidden costs, including operating sprinkler systems in separate buildings, as well as having separate lunch and washroom facilities for employees. "It also means ease of monitoring what's going on," says Haavaldsrud. "From one catwalk I can see the de-barkers, main break lines, trimmer optimizer and planing mill ."

In 1996, the company went ahead with a $6million modernization program, adding a Carbotech trimmer optimizer with autolog control. Haavaldsrud says the unit's standardized parts made it easily adaptable to other mill systems. He adds the autolog feature means the unit can continue running while minor repairs are made. "It's straight forward and user friendly," says Haavaldsrud. "Most of my guys who haven't used a computer before are able to solve problems at the trimmer ." Lately, he adds, the focus has been on maximizing dollar value instead of increasing recovery.

"I'm doing a little bit heavier chipping on the chip'n saw breakdown, trying to get a little bit more of the longer lengths. Instead of trying to process a six-foot board at the chip'n saw and having the trimmer optimizer send the board back to be re-manned, we'll make the decision for the four-foot board at the chip'n saw ."

The company also added a Carbotech lumber handling system in the planing mill in 1997 and a Coastal 1500 Series planer. The Carbotech features a 23bin sorter which can handle 100 boards per minute. The company was one of the first to install Carbotech's dual grading zone which replaces side graders. After the planing mill, the lumber splits into two zones, one to the lower chain level and one to the upper. Workers grade all the boards that pass by at a slower pace, instead of grading every second board. Production has increased with the dual grader, up to 300,000 board feet of 2x6 per shift.

The disadvantage, says Haavaldsrud, is that timing has to be perfect. "You 're not allowed to have a chain jump a link on a sprocket without something going out of whack. It took us a long time to solve that ."

In 1998, the company added a Carbotech, double ring 18inch de-barker with an air bag system. It now has three de-barkers: an original 30inch Cambio that debarks and slashes tree length and a Cambio 18inch, along with the new Carbotech, used for 16 foot. Both of the 18inch de-barkers are on an air bag system-versus a hydraulic tension system-which is easier to maintain and eliminates the problem of hydraulic oil leaks.

The Carbotech double rotor system can handle up to 22 logs a minute. "It's given me more capacity than I need," says Haavaldsrud. However, he says it doesn't debark as well as hydraulic systems when going from small to extremely large logs.

The company is experimenting with portable slashers as a way of solving the problem of the 30inch de-barker not being able to slash all the wood that comes into the mill yard. The company has tried two Hood slashers and is currently using a Tanguay. Haavaldsrud says using a portable slasher means the company does not have to commit a large amount of resources while deciding whether to go with cut-to-length systems in the woodlands or install a permanent slasher in the sawmill.

The mill runs a 30inch TS Manufacturing carriage on a single line with the 30inch de-barker. The chip'n saw is a CanCar Mark II with an 18foot half taper infeed. Haavaldsrud says the company is constantly looking for new ways to maximize recovery on the chip'n saw, including possibly using a one-inch board on the bottom profile in the future.

The company also uses Key Knife disposable knives on all chipping heads, except the edger. Grinding time has been reduced to 30 minutes a day, whereas in the past the mill had a person in the filing shop devoted to knives. "I challenged my guys a bit to see what we could do with the key knife. The first set of knives on my carriage lasted two years," says Haavaldsrud. The only problem has been on the chip'n saw where there is not enough space between the pro file and the guide bar. "They round up a little bit and the log will start to jam on it. We have to get in and check those knives on a daily basis ."

There are 85 employees in the sawmill and planing mill. The mill has been running three eight-hour shifts since 1997. Production targets this year are 78 million board feet in the sawmill and 50 million board feet in the planing mill.

Another 40 employees in the woodlands harvest the area around the mill cutting on Donohue Inc's licence. The operation is 50 per cent cut-to-length and 50 per cent tree length, harvesting mixed wood with a high volume of spruce trees. The company builds its own roads and owns some of its own hauling trucks. The woodlands operation consists of three feller bunchers, a Timberjack 850, a Prentice 630 and an 853 Tigercat-plus a fourth owned and operated by a contractor- and three grapple skidders, two 648 John Deeres and a 748 Deere. "We're back into second cuts on some sites previously harvested in the 1940's," says Dave Haavaldsrud. "We have harvested some sites that were harvested with horses by some of our older employees ."

The operation relies on domestic markets in southern Ontario. "We have a very limited quota, so our US sales are very limited," says sales coordinator Carlo Bin, the only non-family member in the company's administration. "We've never had a problem marketing our product. We pride ourselves on a quality product and it has basically sold itself in the past ."

In 1962 and again in 1982 the sawmill was destroyed by forest fire. But the Haavaldsruds, whose founders Olav and Elna Haavaldsrud emigrated to Canada from Norway in 1929, have proved a resilient bunch of loggers and saw-millers. Fourth generation Haavaldsruds now spend summers working in the mill or in the bush when not in school.

According to Ken Haavaldsrud, the ability to adapt and keep the business alive for future generations can be attributed to the fact that it has remained a strong family-oriented business. As one of eight grandchildren who are currently involved in the operation of the mill and woodlands, he says as far as planning goes there are advantages to remaining relatively small. "We don't have to take every decision to a company board of directors ."

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This page last modified on Tuesday, February 17, 2004