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Small Log Specialists

By L. Ward Johnson
Copyright 1996. Contact publisher for permission to use.

Summary: Encompassing both harvesting and processing, Ardew Wood Products has built an enviable expertise in small lodgepole pine – averaging 11 stems to produce one cubic metre of wood.

While forest companies today are likely to vaunt their abilities for handling small wood, Ardew Wood Products Ltd. has a 30-year history as the pioneer of small wood processing. A family owned and operated sawmilling and remanufacturing facility located in Merritt, BC, Ardew was started in 1966 by Leif and Elenor Norgaard and Jack Dewolf.

Almost from the beginning, the operation concentrated on processing the small lodgepole pine common in the Merritt area and, while raw material shortages have always been a part of the scenario for this company, over the years it has honed its expertise to a fine science.

Today Ardew is considered one of the premier smallwood operators in the country. Currently, Ardew and the Upper Nicola Indian Band are hoping to get a share of an additional 212,000 m 3 of small, overmature lodgepole pine in the Merritt area that will be allocated by the BC Forest Service later this year.

Small If the timber comes through for them, Ardew will have a secure supply of timber for the next 15 years, a first in the company’s history. At present the plant operates one shift per day, and processes around 136,000 m 3 per year. Because the timber is so small, in one shift the small log line alone will process an average of 5,338 blocks, with a three-metre average, which yields an average of 8,900 pieces of lumber per shift.

There are two log lines in the mill: a large log line that takes logs from 10 cm to 61 cm in diameter (4"-24") and a small log line that processes logs from five cm to 18 cm diameter (2"-7"). The species mix includes 80 per cent lodgepole pine, 15 per cent spruce and five per cent balsam fir. Average log size has gone steadily downward since 1989, when it was 11 m3 per stem. Stands the company now harvests average .09 m3 per stem, but there are also stands where the volume has been as low as .04 m 3 per stem. At .09 m 3 per stem, it takes 11 stems to equal a m 3 .

Since a logging truck hauls about 40 m 3 per load, that means there are 440 stems on a truck load of logs. While this is definitely small wood, the loggers say they have put out loads where there are 15 stems per cubic metre, which results in around 600 stems per truck load. The mill cuts mainly for the Japanese market, producing Japanese special metric prefab house components.

These include roof, floor and wall materials in sizes that i n cl ude 30.5mm x 80mm, 30. 5mm x 85mm, 30.5mm x 93mm, as well as 39mm x 85mm and 39mm x 172mm. While these products account for about 60 per cent of the output, the mill also supplies specialty lumber to Adwood Manufacturing Ltd. in Merritt and Chemainus, which produces furniture and shelving components for Ikea, as well as other large Canadian and US retailers.

At present, Ardew doesn’t produce any CLS products at all. Although the timber i s small, it is bright and fine grained, with small-diam-eter inter-grown knots. It exhibits optimum strength and machinability characteristics, and produces products with superior appearance. These are all characteristics preferred by Japanese customers. Because the company sells high-quality products, the strategy is to keep remanufacturing each piece until it meets grade and size specs.

After all recoverable pieces are saved, the trims and edgings are sent to the chipper. Throughout its 30-year history, Ardew has demonstrated its inventiveness with a considerable share of achievements. In 1971 for example, the company was already sawing studs out of peeler cores and making glue lam beams for the construction industry. In 1973, Ardew purchased a finger-jointing line, one of the first in BC and, using 2x4 shorts from other mills, started producing finger-joint-ed stock.

Subsequently Ardew teamed up with Dr. Suezone Chow who was instru-mental in developing a preheat glue curing system for finger jointing lumber. In 1979, the company was awarded the first grade stamp in Canada for finger-joint structural-use lumber. It was was also among the first companies to ship green lumber to Japan from interior BC, and to experiment with anti-stain applications. While Ardew took any wood it could get for the first few years, it’s quest for small wood began in earnest in 1980.

Realizing that there was considerable volume of small, over-mature lodgepole pine in the Merritt area, and that no one wanted it, Leif Norgaard decided that if the company specialized in this kind of wood, a secure timber supply might be a possibility. In 1983, he applied to the Forest Service for a pulpwood licence, but the timber was awarded to a fibre board operation instead. There was a major mill fire in 1983 that was an unfortunate setback, but when he rebuilt the plant, Leif designed it specifically to handle small wood. Not to be daunted, Norgaard submitted another pulpwood licence proposal in 1985, but was unsuccessful once more.

Then in 1986 he went together with Aspen Planers Ltd., also of Merritt, on a joint application for 65,000 m 3 . It was a 10-year, non-renewable Timber Sale Licence (TSL) and when the award came down, the timber was equally divided between Ardew and Aspen Planers. With new quota and prices on the increase, Norgaard swung into small-wood processing in a big way. He added a small log line to the sawmill and increased the work force from 40 people to 85 people.

Norgaard did this despite everyone’s advice that processing such small wood was neither practical nor economically feasible, and that he would lose his business if he continued trying. Leif Norgaard didn’t live to see the results of his efforts . He died in 1987, leaving his company to the next generation.

Erik Norgaard, Leif’s son, continued the pursuits set by his father and in 1988 fur-ther refined the small log line. He also added dry kilns and in 1989, a one-of-a-kind small-log, high-speed bucking system that bucked to either metric or standard sizes. That year Ardew and Aspen hired Victory Bar V Logging to work as their principal smallwood logging contractor.

Victory’s mandate was to develop an effi-cient and cost-effective logging system for very small lodgepole pine. Victory Bar V is owned by Niel and Vern Graham, who moved back to Merritt from Lillooet in 1985. Included in their equipment list is a Timbco 435 and a contract Timberjack 2520 feller buncher to do the falling; two Cat skidders, a 525 and a 528 that forward tree-length stems to the landing for processing; and a Cat 320L, a John Deere 690D, and a Cat EL200B, all fitted with Steyr KP40 processor heads to handle the limbing and bucking at the landings.

Loading out the trucks is a Cat 966C front-end loader, while a venerable old D8K does the roadbuilding for the operation. Most of the hauling is by contract, but Victory owns one logging truck which is fitted with a hay ra ck for hauling either long or short wood. Niel Graham says they are convinced a phased approach is the most efficient method of logging small wood.

“With all the stems we handle in a day, we need the efficiency of dedicated equipment and we need the flexibility that dedicated equipment offers. If, for example, a feller buncher goes down, we can still skid and process at roadside. If we had a single-grip har-vester doing all the jobs, we couldn’t get anything done if it was down.”

Graham says they also need to keep capital costs under control and at this point, one-step harvesters are still expensive. Vern Graham is convinced small-wood logging is the wave of the future for the Merritt area. “We started logging small wood seven years ago and over that time we’ve worked out an efficient and cost-effective way of doing it. There’s a lot of small timber in this area and the way it looks now, we’ll be logging in it for as long as we’re in the business.”

Todd Chamberlain, woods foreman for Ardew, states that from a forestry point of view, removing this timber is the best treatment for the area. “The fact that the timber is small doesn’t mean it’s young and growing. Quite the opposite. We need to get that wood off the area and get a new vigorous forest growing there instead. That way we can get the land producing a new crop of trees again.”

When the call was issued this spring for proposals on the 212,000 m 3 of over-mature lodgepole pine in the Merritt area, 17 bidders responded, including Ardew, which joined forces with the Upper Nicola Indian Band to form a new company called Nicola-Pacific Forest Products Ltd. Nicola-Pacific submitted a bid for 150,000 m 3 Non-Renewable Forest Licence, which is to be harvested over the next 15 years.

Erik Norgaard states that everyone who has applied is on pins and needles waiting for the decision to be made. “You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in BC that has all the wood they need. Most companies are buying wood to keep their operations going, so an extra bit like this, even though it’s nonrenewable, is a much sought-after prize. We hope we’re successful in our bid proposal, but I’m sure everyone who bid is hoping for the same result. Not eve ry b o dy can win – there’s too many – and that means disappointment for those that don’t. This is a tough business nowadays.”

The deadline for tenders was February 29, 1996, and originally the Forest Service was to announce its decision this summer. That hasn’t occurred yet and it now looks like there won’t be a decision until sometime this fall.

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