Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Wood-Mizer LT70 Sawmill supports successful Pallet Producer

Little did UPS employee Doug Garner know that buying a small Wood-Mizer sawmill would be the beginnings of an eventual full time rural pallet and railroad tie operation. Nestled in the hills of southeastern Ohio, Doug Garner’s rural operation has become much more than the former delivery man could have imagined. Being his own boss had always been a goal, but his chance to do just that came in a way that he didn’t expect.

Doug Gardner's sawmill facility overlooks this view in Southeast Ohio

In terms of size, Doug’s operation is not all that big. They produce 700,000 board feet of Appalachian hardwoods annually, 80% pallet material and 20% railroad ties. 75% of their logs are logged by Doug and his employees. He says that there just aren’t enough loggers in his area to keep him supplied. Most of the pallet material Doug has sawn over the years has been precuts, but changes in the local area are causing him to be required to assemble the majority of his pallets now. Doug has five employees, who enjoy working four 10 hour work days. However, Doug jokes that he still works seven days a week, which comes with owning a business. Doug also sells sawdust to local dairy farms, and says that he accumulates about one dump truck load each day. He has also just installed a grinder and mulch coloration machine to create additional revenue from all the sawmill waste. When asked about the size of his operation, Doug says that it’s getting a little too big for his tastes. Starting the business was a lot of work for many years. He now has plenty of work, and the business is doing well, and so Doug says that he really is looking forward to spending more time with his family while running his business.

Doug Gardner operates his Wood-Mizer LT70 high production sawmill

Back in the early ‘90s, Doug and his father Leonard needed to build a barn. They looked at their standing timber and decided to save some money by hiring someone with a portable sawmill to turn those trees into barn lumber. After having the lumber sawn, Doug says, “I thought that if I started doing this on the side, it could be more profitable than working for somebody else.” Doug and his dad started off with a manual LT15 Wood-Mizer sawmill. As word got out about the milling service Doug was offering, local people started coming to him to get their lumber. While still working his day job, Doug began putting a lot of hours on the manual mill. “It’s nice starting out small like that. It was a very true cutting mill: very accurate. It was pretty labor intensive, but it was very rewarding also.”

Doug found that his service filled a local need. Doug’s first contract was sawing cants for a local pallet company, and it wasn’t long after that when Doug quit his job at UPS and started sawing full time. With steady demand and after putting 5,000 hours on the LT15 sawmill, he decided it was time to upgrade to a Wood-Mizer LT40 Super Hydraulic sawmill in 1999. With the added features of portability, hydraulic log handling and clamping on the LT40 Super, Doug was able to saw at his location, or tow the mill to customer locations and provide mobile sawing service. “We put nine to ten thousand hours on that mill, and we still weren’t able to keep up [with customer demand]. We could cut railroad ties, pre-cuts, and cants; everything we could saw, we would sell.”

The LT70 increased Doug's ability to produce product efficiently. 
With the ever increasing demand for products, Doug decided to construct a building and focus on sawing in one place and supported that decision by upgrading to a Wood-Mizer LT70 with an electric motor. “The LT70 is a rough, tough saw!” Doug explains, and comes with much faster log handling, more power to the blade and hydraulics, a bi-directional chain turner, and is overall a heavier, more powerful machine. Right behind the LT70 is another one of Doug’s favorite equipment purchases, a Wood-Mizer industrial E430 edger, capable of edging up to 4” material without breaking a sweat. Other equipment are also now present in Doug’s rural operation: gang saw, descrambler, chop saw, and single head resaws.

After starting to saw local lumber, Doug discovered a company with a very high demand for railroad ties. While in the process of sawing thousands of railroad ties, he found that he was creating a lot of side lumber that could be produced for pallets for a several different local manufacturing companies.  His effort to produce a quality product as efficiently as possible has paid off with long-term and mutually advantageous relationships with his customers.

Doug sorts his logs by length, depending on the product he is sawing. When doing precuts for pallet material, a first high pass with the LT70 sawmill will take any large knots off the top of the log. Then the blade is dropped 3 9/16” and the resulting slab is sent through the industrial edger to become a cant six inches wide. The slabs are sent through single head resaws, and are stacked to be used for pallet deck boards.

The center of the log is then broken down into 3 9/16”X6” or 4”X6” cants, which are passed through a descrambler, chop saw, and then on to the gang saw to create pallet runners. The pallets that Doug sells are fabricated by a two man team armed with nailguns, who work together quickly to assemble the pallets. Precuts are stacked and sold directly to local pallet companies.

Doug's crew assemble pallets by hand for local customers
Ever looking to improve profitability, Doug has made his waste wood material into business revenue. A new large sawdust bin keeps the sawdust contained, keeps Doug’s operation clean, and makes it easy for local dairy farmers to drive up and buy their weekly pickup loads.

All the other sawmill waste will be going through a newly installed grinder that will turn their annual 8,000 yards of waste into mulch. With a coloring machine in the mix, Doug is setting up dividers in front of his building to separate the different colors of mulch he will offer for sale. He already has contracts lined up to deliver the mulch to customers as well. What used to be an expenditure is now becoming revenue, making the company healthier, improving the bottom line, and allowing Doug’s company to experience continued growth.

With his company running smoothly, and employees that he trusts, Doug is looking forward to spending more time with his family and in his unique log home. His home could rightly be called a showroom: a showroom for the lumber he saws, and for his hunting prowess! When Doug and his wife first priced out their house plans, they realized they could not justify the amount of money needed to build the kind of home they had always wanted. So, determined to save as much money as they could, and still get the house of their dreams, they used their sawmill to saw as much of the wood themselves as they could.

“Everything we could, we cut with the Wood-Mizer: the doors, flooring, stairs, trim, spindles, studs, and beams.” When asked how much he thinks he saved by sawing his own lumber for the house, Doug says, “$70,000-$80,000. If we would have had to pay the ‘average Joe’ pricing for everything. If it weren’t for the Wood-Mizer, I never would have been able to justify a house of this nature. And it’s what my wife and I always wanted.” The home is set on a hilltop, and Doug enjoys sitting out on the porch and not hearing anything except the sound of the breeze. He also enjoys showing off scores of hunting trophies, which adorn the walls of every room of his home.

Doug’s appreciation for family extends to his father Leonard Garner, a CPA, who has helped him keep the business on track and encouraged him to make positive investments that have created revenue and made the company stronger, more productive, and more efficient. “Through the hard times, we’ve always had work. I don’t think we ever had to look for work, it always came to us. If you want to work, Wood-Mizer is a great sawmill to use to generate a decent income.”

Doug also credits the products and support from Wood-Mizer for contributing to his success. “One of the reasons I like working with Wood-Mizer is that you can call them, and get someone who is knowledgeable. They’ve been around for a long time… It’s nice working with somebody who’s put a lot of time and effort into their product, a lot of research on it. They stand behind [their product]. I just can’t say enough good about the company.”

The pallet industry is often thought of as one that requires massive amounts of equipment, high overhead, with a very small profit margin. However, for this rural, small scale pallet company, it has given Doug Garner a rewarding career being his own boss.