SBC Cedar: State-of-The-Art Shingle Producer— and Demo Host

by | Jan 1, 2023 | 2023, January/February, Logging & Sawmilling Journal

SBC Cedar is a major North American manufacturer of eastern white cedar shingles and mulch, with mills in Quebec and New Brunswick.

While SBC Cedar maintains a modest position in the greater Canadian forest industry, it is raising its profile by being the host for Demo International in the Gatineau Region, north of Ottawa, in 2024.

SBC Cedar has its headquarters, major milling, kiln, finishing and mulch facility in St. Prosper, Quebec, just east of St. Georges-de-Beauce. SBC also operates a smaller cedar shingle mill in St. Andre, New Brunswick. Wood at both mills is supplied from both Canadian and northern Maine producers.

SBC CedarFrancis Bélanger is the vice president of sales and administration for SBC and is part of the fourth generation of the Belanger/Rancourt family to be involved in the cedar shingle business. Francis’ great grandfather operated a shingle mill at Riviere-Bleue, Quebec. Additionally, both of his grandfathers operated shingle mills, and his father Gilles Bélanger operated a mill at St. Quentin, New Brunswick, before he moved back to the Beauce region.

SBC CedarIn 1996, Rita Rancourt, Gilles’ wife, took over the business management of the mill at St. Prosper, while Gilles concentrated on operations management. Currently Rita and Gilles, and their sons Francis, Marco and Michel, hold management positions at SBC Cedar.

SBC’s products are available across North America, but their main market is the northeastern U.S.

“Traditionally, SBC has not held forest land, but in the past number of years we have purchased land as part of an investment strategy,” explained Francis. “We became aware that the Canadian Woodlands Forum was seeking a property in eastern Canada to host Demo International, and we contacted CWF, and worked directly with Peter Robichaud, and came to an agreement to host the event.

“SBC is very happy to be a partner in this major forestry event with Demo, which is the largest outdoor forestry event in North America featuring live equipment demonstrations and static displays,” Francis added.

SBC CedarSince 1996, SBC has gone through some major changes and expansions. A large fire in May 2003 that destroyed the mill and office resulted in the completion, six months later, of its replacement: the mostly technologically advanced shingle mill in North America, built with state-of-the-art equipment, and a safety program second to none.

In 2006, SBC moved its small production of kiln dried and factory-finished shingles to a brand new facility, on SBC’s campus. In 2007, a mulch plant was added to complete the full integration and use of 100 per cent of the raw material (cedar) on the same site. Finally, in 2015, SBC bought the Northwest Cedar shingle mill in St. Andre, New Brunswick, and invested in the technology there, to bring it to the same level as the St. Prosper mill.

Today, SBC’s 160 highly skilled employees produce hundreds of thousands of bundles of shingles and millions of bundles of shims and bags of mulch every year.

SBC Cedar

Since the shingle industry is small and very specialized, companies who develop sawmill scanning and optimization technology have not invested in shingle production technology, as they have for lumber. Consequently, SBC Cedar relies on the hands and eyes of their employees to make quality decisions.

Shingle manufacturing is more than 100 years old—and basically shingles are cut the same way today. Sixteen-inch blocks are loaded manually vertically into a carriage which travels horizontally to a circular saw, which slices off shingles which taper from a 3/8-inch butt. A ratchet mechanism on the carraige tips the block in the carriage on each travel, keeping the sawed face even.

The sawyer manually turns the block in the carriage to saw a new face in order to get maximum recovery from each block. Each shingle is then edged on two sides by the sawyer, who then delivers the shingle to one of four slots depending on grade. The shingles drop to a specific conveyor which delivers them to a resquared and rebutted (R&R) machine or directly to packaging. Low grade shingles are also re-manufactured to produce one-and-a-half-inch wide shims, which are used extensively for installing windows and doors. In fact, SBC Cedar is the largest North American producer of cedar shims.

The work schedule for SBC employees is ten hours a day, four days per week, Monday through Thursday. Pay rates are determined by production, but mostly by quality parameters.

Eastern white cedar shingles are historically marketed in four grades; Extra A (no imperfections), Clear B (no imperfections on exposed face), 2nd clear C (sound knots), and utility/shims (various imperfections). In the last few years, SBC has decided to produce a new blended grade of Extra A and Clear B called Sidewall Select AB. Since almost all white cedar shingles are now used for siding, there is no need for the Extra A anymore (which was created for roofing use). This new grade also helps to generate wider shingles which can be installed faster, and simplifies inventory management at the dealer level. It also helps with the industry labour shortage, as it makes it easier to train new sawyers.

Since the shingle industry is small and very specialized, companies who develop and market sawmill scanning and optimization technology have not invested in shingle production technology, as they have for construction grade lumber. Consequently, SBC relies on the hands and eyes of their employees to make quality decisions from log handling through to bundled shingles.

SBC CedarSBC is making considerable investments in designing and manufacturing its own equipment and technology to keep its leadership position in the industry. For example, SBC’s R&R shingles feature superior minimum width and are graded on both faces with an unmatched squaring accuracy of 1/64’’ to parallel. Moreover, each R&R shingle has a nail line embossed in the shingle to help in installation, and an identification script relating to the machine it was produced by and the grade, to help for better quality control. Every step of the mill process is executed to meet SBC’s goal of providing the highest quality product.

Factory finishing cedar shingles started about 30 years ago with all types of equipment. After a few years of research to determine the best process, SBC started its operation in 2001 with one thing in mind: providing customers with peace of mind that they are receiving quality product. This is why SBC has decided to use a dipping application, to be able to put more paint where it counts: on the exposed face.

Since 2001, SBC has partnered with PPG/Olympic, the leader and originator in machine paint application. During this time, SBC went from five per cent of production being factory-finished to more than 70 per cent today, the balance being sold natural.

The process starts with the drying of the shingles in a dehumidification kiln, to bring them to about 10 per cent moisture content. This allows the shingles to absorb paint (which is 100 per cent acrylic) to avoid any peeling or flaking. Each shingle is then dipped once or twice, depending on the customer’s request, with the one coat product featuring a 10-year warranty on the finish and the two-coat product having a 25-year warranty (solid color). SBC can also do semi-transparent finishes.

Finally, for those who want uniform weathered-looking shingles, SBC offers weathering agents in both hybrid (Enviro Bleach) and oil-based products. These are made using a flow coat machine.

With its own lab, SBC can provide any custom colour, in addition to a suite of standard colours.

Since 2007, SBC’s production line-up has included cedar mulch, a byproduct of their shingle mills. The texture of sawn cedar shingles shavings enhances mulch’s natural appearance and colour absorption.

Bark, shavings and waste wood from the slashing and manufacturing process is piled, mixed and grinded inside the plant. It is then processed into consistent size and passed to a fully automated bagging system.

SBC makes natural and coloured mulch (red, black, brown) with natural pigments (iron oxide and black carbon). Bags (available in 2CF (56L) and 3CF (84L) are palletized, shrink-wrapped and topped with an UV-resistant top sheet.

“We build a very large inventory of mulch through the autumn and winter, and by early summer it’s all delivered,” explained Francis. “Our major markets are Eastern Canada as well as the New England and Mid-Atlantic states.”

In addition to eastern white cedar shingles, SBC also purchases Western Red Cedar shingles from partner mills in British Columbia, which they market alongside their white cedar shingles on the east coast. SBC uses its expertise to offer the same great finish options on red cedar shingles.

Red cedar shingles are mostly eighteen inches long with a 7/16” butt.

In their efforts to provide top quality shingles and a perfect job, SBC has innovated a shingle installation tool. The SBC shingle and shake installation tool is advertised as making installation up to three times faster than conventional methods, and avoids chalk line marks and drift. There are no unnecessary nail holes in the exposed faces of the installed shingles. The tool slips under the starter or previous row of shingles and supports a ledger board. It allows for easy adjustment so rows of shingles can be incrementally adjusted to meet windows and other building features evenly.

With SBC Cedar’s dedication to quality and innovation, the company has positioned itself to continue to be one of the top cedar shingle producers—and also help keep the tradition of the genuine, timeless and distinctive look of cedar shingle-style houses alive and well in both Canada and the U.S.

Quebec’s SBC Cedar has a family heritage in the industry that stretches back generations—and takes pride on continuing to deliver quality cedar shingle products with their modern manufacturing facilities.

George Fullerton

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