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Tackling New Markets 

With $5 million in upgrades behind it, Ontario's Devlin Timber is ready to tackle new lumber markets. 

By Dave Lammers

The Devlin name is what it used to be, and more, since a group of six employees purchased the once-bankrupt northwestern Ontario sawmill and logging operation, investing close to $5 million to refurbish the sawmill and continue the Devlin tradition. Devlin Timber Company (1992) Ltd is built on more than 50 years of successful sawmilling in the area of Kenora, Ontario, catering largely to the needs of cottage owners with a line of specialty and treated lumber products. Owners Howie Adams, Carla Devlin-Scott, Mark Scott, Jack Shodin, Leo Hertz and Paul Stuckless purchased the company nine years ago. 

Paul Stuckless, one of the group that has bought into the company, is mill manager of Devlin Timber. "We knew it could be a viable operation from our past experience."

Today, Devlin Timber has more than doubled its production to close in on 50,000 board feet a day, thanks to the purchase of new sawmill equipment, which has been up and running since mid-May. The upgrades began with the purchase of a new dry kiln in 1996. Two years later the planer was replaced. A portable carriage mill with a six-inch bull edger had been installed temporarily after much of the original mill was destroyed by fire, just prior to it being purchased by the present owners. 

The company used the existing planer, chipper and debarker, which survived the fire along with the treatment plant. In 1996, a two-chamber Brunner-Hildebrand dry kiln was installed, capable of 100,000 board feet per side and fired by waste wood. "The company had a bit of a reputation for inconsistency with wood dimensions," explains Paul Stuckless, part owner and mill manager. "The drying was a big problem so we figured we had to start there." In 1998, the mill purchased a rebuilt Yates A20 planer to expand its specialty line of log siding and tongue and groove products. 

The new sawmill is built on the same concrete slab as the original mill, located just east of Kenora along the Trans-Canada Highway. "We left the debarker and the chipper where they were, on each end of the building, and just kind of built between," says Stuckless. The new mill has a double line, a carriage line and a scragg line, with the carriage purchased from Ignace Saw (recently bought by Bowater) and a quad saw purchased previously from Spruce Products Ltd in Swan River, Manitoba. Logs enter the mill between the scragg and the carriage. "We can send the logs either way," explains Stuckless. "The larger logs go to the carriage, the smaller ones to the scragg. 

TS Manufacturing was a major supplier in the upgrades at Devlin Timber. Devlin has more than doubled its production, to almost 50,000 board feet a day, and has started a move into value-added products.

The cants are sent along a conveyor to the bull edger." The bull edger and the rest of the equipment are new, produced by TS Manufacturing, based in Lindsay, Ontario. The edger is a combination bull edger, capable of 10-inch thickness; it is complimented by a TS board edger and a horizontal resaw. From there everything goes to a TS drop saw trimmer and from there to a green chain, located outside the building. The original three-knife chipper has also been replaced with a six-knife Morbark chipper, also purchased from Bowater's Ignace Saw. Installed overhead is a five-ton Masco crane, to assist with maintenance. 

TS Manufacturing also assisted in the design of the new sawmill which was limited to the size of the original slab-165 by 55 feet-but with the new building made higher, a height of 26 feet. The entire operating floor of the mill is located on the second floor with steel grating replacing the previous solid wood floor, to allow waste to fall to the ground floor for easier cleanup. The building has floor heating and is heated by the kiln to reduce costs in a climate where minus 40 Celsius is common in the winter. 

The mill was modelled after Spruce Products Ltd in Manitoba, which was also designed by TS. "We actually went on the road and toured a few mills," says Stuckless. "We liked the openness of that mill. It was so bright in there because of the steel-grated flooring." Stuckless adds that Terry Oliver from TS and Ross Booth, a Kenora-based consultant, were both instrumental in the design of the new mill and have helped trouble-shoot problems early on. "We've had our troubles starting up," says Stuckless. "We bought some saws for our horizontal resaw that weren't strobe saws, and the first week we kept burning saws." 

In 1992, a group of employees got together and decided to purchase the operation which had gone into receivership. Since then, the company has grown from 15 to a total of 35 employees at the sawmill. "We actually talked the receiver into letting us run it temporarily," says Stuckless. "We kept the mill running and then from there we said, 'maybe we should buy it.' We got together as a group and decided to make an offer to purchase the company. We knew it could be a viable operation from our past experience. The Devlin family ran it for 50 years and had no trouble." The company has fast regained its reputation and continues to rely on the cottage industry that helped the business flourish in the past. 

Decks and docks are big sellers on Kenora's Lake of the Woods, a world wide tourist destination with cottages known to house some of the rich and famous. Devlin Timber handles specialty orders and produces everything from 1x4 up to 12x12 timbers, with a strong emphasis on dimensional and treated lumber. White pine logs found in the area are used for V-joint and other specialty items. Devlin Timber is perhaps best known for its logging operations, which are among the largest in the region. Last year, the company harvested a total of 455,000 cubic metres from the Kenora, Red Lake, Ear Falls, Dryden and Sioux Narrows/Nestor Falls areas. 

A majority of the wood is pulp wood which goes to Weyerhaeuser's mill in Dryden and Abitibi-Consolidated in Kenora and Fort Frances. Devlin Timber employs a total of 150 in its woodlands, including owner/operators, with its largest operation in the Dryden area where 30 full-time employees work two shifts. The company owns two Timberjack 618 feller bunchers, three John Deere grapple skidders-two 648s and one 748-two Cat 320 delimbers, two Tanguay slashers and a Cat D7 dozer. The company also has two Komatsu D65 dozers and two Cat 322 backhoes-used for road building. 

At the sawmill, the company operates three John Deere loaders, two 544 units and a 644, a Cat IT 28 and a Cruise Air, as well as two Western Star trucks. Devlin Timber is currently looking at building a new maintenance shop on the sawmill site. The company is exploring new markets for its lumber, including south of the border in Minnesota where there is a market for white pine. Devlin Timber recently hired Terry Zilkie, an experienced wholesale lumber salesman, to help explore new markets. "When we took over the company, it was kind of like the old school," says Stuckless. "We were just happy enough to sell what we made. We saw that we had to grow or we might not be around. 

"If we're going to double or triple our production, we have to find new markets," he adds. The company will also continue to push its finished products. "With our treating plant and our new planer, we have the ability to make the value-added products. We just don't want to be sending lumber out in the rough. We want to finish the product and sell it. That's where we see the future." Diversity is the other key to the future, says Stuckless, especially for a company that was once devoted entirely to logging. With Abitibi-Consolidated slashing production at its Kenora paper mill in May, permanently shutting down one of the mill's three newsprint machines and idling the two others until the fall, Devlin Timber counts itself lucky to have expanded its operations over the years. 

The Abitibi decision resulted in the loss of 147 jobs and the layoff of 333 other employees. "We used to be heavy into the logging end of it and didn't know a lot about sawmills," says Stuckless about the impact of the cuts, expected to cost the Kenora economy-a town of 15,000-more than $5 million annually. "But we realized we couldn't keep all our eggs in one basket with pulp wood," he says. "We'd be dead in the water if we weren't making our own lumber and running the sawmill."

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