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Carrying On

Initially setting up mobile operations to salvage burnt wood in Saskatchewan, Carrier Lumber has since established an innovative, more permanent mill in Prince Albert.

By Tony Kryzanowski

It is common to see a caravan of oilrig equipment loaded on trucks moving from site to site on the prairies, but moving an entire high volume sawmill is quite another matter. In May 1999, Carrier Lumber's new Prince Albert, Saskatchewan sawmill came to life on a carefully contoured quarter-section of land north of the city, in clear view of Weyerhaeuser's massive pulp mill. Constructed in the company's fabrication shops in Prince George, BC, it was one of two mobile sawmills that were stationed for the past two years near the site of two large Saskatchewan forest fires.

Last spring, one unit headed home to BC and the other set down roots in Prince Albert, thanks to 30 semi-trailer truck loads, and the unique, mobile design of the equipment itself. In this era of sawmill equipment startups and learning curves that sometimes last for years, the Carrier Lumber stud mill was assembled, wired, and operational in one month. The company's custom-built planer mill was the first to arrive at the Prince Albert location last winter and Carrier Lumber hauled 40 million board feet of rough lumber from its bush mills to Prince Albert for planing. When the sawmill mobilization began, it was a unique experience for Saskatchewan resident and Carrier Lumber woodlands supervisor Ed Kwiatkowski.

Rather than heavy equipment, Carrier Lumber uses a truck with a picker to transport logs to the mill in-feed.
Logs are cut to 8' lengths before they enter the mill.
Lumber sorter unscrambles newly manufactured boards, and picks out waste pieces, dropping them to conveyor below.

"There are a lot of smaller sawmill owners who do half a million board feet a year and drag their sawmills out to the site in the bush because they can pull them behind a half ton," he says. "This is the first time I have ever seen something of this calibre ." When operating at full production, the Carrier Lumber sawmill can consume at least 300,000 cubic metres of wood per year. Up until now, however, Carrier Lumber's focus has been on manufacturing studs from wood that many others consider garbage. The majority of the sawmill's production still comes from burnt wood salvage, where they average a recovery of between 12 and 13 board feet from each log.

If the money they have spent preparing the Prince Albert site-installing a rail spur and a chip recovery system from their green timber-is any indication, Carrier Lumber would like to establish a more permanent presence in the province. "Saskatchewan seemed to be in the development stages of the forest industry," says Kwiatkowski. "There seemed to be a lot of opportunities in that industry. I think the owners saw it as a chance to start something new ."

An experienced operator trims defects from larger boards to produce higher value 2x4's.
Boards are manufactured from cants up to 8" wide, as they pass through the vertical arbor edger on the outfeed end of the big log line.

Due to the erratic nature of the availability of burnt wood, Carrier Lumber wants to supplement its burnt wood diet with green timber. To this point, they have relied entirely on private green wood sources but, along with many others, have applied to the government for a timber allocation.

Last spring, the Saskatchewan government launched a massive restructuring of its forest resource, underlined in part by the voluntary return of a one million hectare area by Weyerhaeuser from its timber holdings north of Prince Albert. The ball is now in the Saskatchewan government's court as to whether Carrier Lumber will be among the beneficiaries of that new timber resource. In a way, Carrier Lumber holds the ultimate trump card should forestry turn sour in Saskatchewan. Unlike other companies with permanently established sawmills that are at the mercy of politicians, Carrier Lumber has already shown that it can pack up and leave at any time, meaning the government could not only lose an important participant in its forest industry renewal program, but all those much needed jobs.

Company founder and industry veteran Bill Kordyban Sr., who died earlier this year, and other members of the ownership group are held in high regard by their employees, partly because of the company's emphasis on the importance of family, and also because of the ingenuity required for such a massive technological undertaking as this sawmill.

The business of salvaging burnt timber starts in the cut-block, where Carrier Lumber's woodlands staff carefully direct harvesting contractors on tree selection. The company's efforts to salvage burnt timber have meant many additional jobs for logging contractors. If you can call any forest fire good, "the fires that sweep through quickly and just scorch the bark are the good fires," says Kwiatkowski. "The wood quality is best in a root burned or crown burned area. If the fire is a little bit older and burned a year or so ago, you are better off with the heavily burned stuff where the bark is burnt off. The root burned stuff that has kept the bark has started to decay. It is holding a certain amount of moisture and it's the lightly burned stuff that the bugs and woodpeckers like ."

Logs arrive in the yard cut in eight foot lengths or in tree length. The mill is set up to manufacture lumber from eight foot lengths, so tree length logs first encounter a chop saw once they enter the in-feed area. Because bark on burnt logs is usually burned off or loose, the debarker rotors are set to loosely remove any remaining debris. Once debarked, an electronic eye scans logs for size, kicking logs 14 inches and up to the large log line, and smaller logs to a small log line. At this point, large logs encounter what mill superintendent David Carleton calls a unique, custom designed breakdown unit.

Once the log is end dogged, it passes through the sawing unit travelling along an overhead track. On the first pass, the break down unit chips three sides and cuts a sideboard, which is conveyed directly to the board edger. Forano manufactures the chippers. Continuing on, the cant then encounters two saw heads, and depending on the size of the log, it may pass through the sawing mechanism as many as four times. What is left is no bigger than an eight inch cant, which is then conveyed through a vertical arbor edger for final processing.

This is an entirely computerized process. "There is only one like it in the world," says Carleton. "There are similar systems, but there is nothing exactly like this one ." Rough boards from the large log line are then conveyed to the sorting system. Small line logs pass through a 10inch canter equipped with a Forano head. The logs are scanned for maximum optimization, and then undergo a three-sided chipping and side board sawing process similar to the large log line. The remaining 4 to 10inch cant makes a single pass through a stacked edger and rough boards continue on to the sorting chain. A manual sorter drops any waste material to the conveyor below and will direct any lumber with potential for re-manufacturing to a higher grade through a lumber puller.

A certain percentage of the waste material will be recovered as sticks at the stick manufacturing station which is designed as part of the sawmill. Rough boards grabbed by the lumber puller arrive at an arbor station, where an experienced operator uses a laser device to manufacture higher grade 2x4s from economy grade 2x6s. "Stud grade 2x4s are probably $400 per thousand versus $180 for economy," says Kwiatkowski. "So, if you have a 2x6 and take two inches off, you lose a third of the wood, but you are going to get twice as much money for that 2x4 ."

Value-added boards then loop back to the unscrambling station, and all the lumber is then sorted, graded and stacked for air drying in the yard. Most of the sawmill's production is sold to US markets. Because Saskatchewan is a non-quota province, Carrier Lumber can manufacture and ship as much lumber as it can produce into the United States. Given the size of the mill site and the installation of a rail spur, there is plenty of room for expansion at the Prince Albert location.

There is also an opportunity for the construction of value-added wood facilities right on site. But Carrier Lumber is taking one step at a time, lobbying first for a green wood timber allocation. The company hopes that its present demonstration of making a significant financial commitment to the province's forest industry will put it in a positive light when the Saskatchewan government ultimately makes its decision on wood reallocation. With the prospect of a dwindling salvage timber supply, the limited availability of green timber on private land and the need to retain staff, the company hopes the government makes its decision soon.

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This page last modified on Tuesday, February 17, 2004