McCready Finding Success in Treated Lumber

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McCready Finding Success in Treated Lumber
High Quality Drying in Koetter Kiln System Critical to Company’s Growth in Superior Products, Speciality Services

PULASKI, Virginia — According to Andy McCready, the treated lumber market is very competitive. Some large players are working the same marketplaces where smaller plants like his do business. McCready Lumber has managed to thrive, though, because his company has sought out and learned how to serve niche markets that require superior products and specialty services that larger companies cannot profitably perform for less than high-volume customers.

Because of the nature of the business he has built, “High quality drying of lumber is critical to our success,” said Andy.

Koetter Kiln technology has enabled his company to provide the kind of quality that his customers require. Andy is considering adding another Koetter kiln to handle the increasing demand for McCready Lumber products.

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McCready Lumber is a wood preservative treating plant located in the southwest Virginia town of Pulaski, which is located some 50 or so miles west of Roanoke.

In its treatment process, McCready Lumber uses chromated copper arsenate (CCA). This water-borne preservative has become more widely used in recent decades due both to its stability once impregnated into wood fiber and its relatively benign impact on the environment.

Andy and his wife, Karen, started the company 15 years ago. Today McCready Lumber employs six workers, and its lumber products are shipped throughout the East. The company continues to grow.

McCready’s specialty is Kiln Dried After Treatment (KDAT) lumber. In addition to treating wood products, the company performs a number of other services for customers, including precision end trimming, resawing, custom dressing and grading of treated lumber. McCready also produces treated timbers in a variety of sizes.

Andy took a circuitous path into the forest products industry. While studying at a community college, an electronics teacher introduced him to the lumber business through connections with Doyle Lumber Company in Martinsville, Va. At the time, Doyle had one of the first computerized lumber sorters in the East.

“As far as the computer age goes, that was the age of dinosaurs,” Andy recalled with a laugh. “But I got to work on the electronics of that machine. Ronnie Wood, the vice president of the company at the time, liked the work I did and encouraged me to continue in the industry. He took me under his wing and taught me a huge amount about the lumber business.”

Andy graduated later from Old Dominion University with a degree in electrical engineering, and then did a stint as maintenance superintendent for Union Camp when the company built a new mill in Franklin, Va. He began looking for an opportunity to have his own business.

“From the days at Doyle I knew that I wanted to build something on my own, and I’d learned there that wood treatment seemed to hold out the best possibilities for someone like me. In September of 1986 we took the plunge and opened our own plant.”

Andy and his wife succeeded by doing things “the old-fashioned way,” he said. They worked hard to develop the business and its customer base — harder than most people are willing to work. “We developed a core of customers that we are proud to say are mostly still with us. We were in the right business, so we grew pretty rapidly.”

McCready Lumber buys lumber from sawmills in the region and treats the material at is plant. The company is equipped with a Supatimber pressure treating system to allow full penetration of the preservative into the wood cells. Lumber is loaded onto a tram on a drip pad and is strapped down to keep it from floating during the process. The loaded tram car then is pushed into a 6-foot, 8-inch diameter cylinder that is 26 feet long. The doors are closed and secured and a vacuum is drawn in the cylindrical treatment tank. The vacuum draws air out of the wood cells, allowing for more thorough penetration of the CCA. The preservative is then introduced into the cylinder, completely surrounding the lumber, and the pressure is increased to 150 pounds. After sufficient time has passed, the chemical is drained from the treatment tank and a vacuum is drawn again. The lumber is removed from the treatment tank and is ready for further processing.

The treatment plant was moved in 1991 from its location in downtown Pulaski to a new plant just outside of town. At the time of the move, McCready Lumber also built a state-of-the-art drip pad that exceeded Environmental Protection Agency regulations, and still exceeds them.

Treating lumber with CCA involves mixing the preservative with water and then forcing the mixture into the cells of dried wood. The preservative bonds to the fibers in the wood, creating a barrier to termites, fungus, and other factors that can cause the wood to deteriorate.

For most applications, the treated wood is packaged and shipped out for immediate use. For some high-end specialty applications, however, the water that was mixed with the preservative must be removed from the lumber immediately after the treatment process. The water-borne preservative “makes the wood act like green wood again for some uses,” noted Andy. To supply the quality of treated wood for specialty users, such as manufacturers of high-end lawn furniture, the treated lumber must be re-dried. Drying the lumber after it has been treated prevents cupping and splitting and other defects when the wood is remanufactured. Andy began to re-dry some treated lumber in 1991 in response to customers requests and discovered a growing market that he has successfully served.

The quality of its drying operations is critical to the company’s success because for the high-end specialty applications, it is the better wood that is re-dried. “We are dealing with high value lumber here so you have to do a superior job,” said Andy. “Our customers expect nothing but the best we can offer, and that is what we strive to give them.”

McCready Lumber’s drying operations for treated lumber are different from drying green lumber. Once the wood is treated, national grading guidelines require the drying process not to exceed a temperature of 160 degrees. Close, accurate control of the drying process is imperative. “The technology Koetter supplied us with has been ideal for our needs because of the special demands of our operation,” said Andy.

McCready Lumber operates two kilns. One is a company-constructed kiln that McCready Lumber built when it first began to re-dry treated lumber. The second is the Koetter dehumidification kiln, which is capable of drying 20,000 board feet of lumber per charge.

The Koetter kiln has been in use for about a year and has helped McCready Lumber improve its drying operations considerably. “When we started up the Koetter, we saw an immediate difference in both the quality of the lumber we were able to produce and the quantity,” Andy said. “When you take the wood out and machine it, there is no doubt about the quality of the drying. There’s no other word to use but ‘superb’ when it comes to this kiln.”

Andy is especially pleased with the performance of the Koetter kiln because he puts the McCready Lumber label on the company’s wood products. “When you’ve got your own name on it, you want the finest because it represents you personally,” he said.

The Koetter kiln also has allowed the company to be more productive. The gains in volume are important because McCready Lumber has become known in the East for its quality treated lumber products, and its reputation is spurring demand for its products and specialty services.

McCready Lumber is equipped with a Baker Products Model A resaw, a shop-built precision end trim saw, and a Diehl planer. The machines enable the company to provide virtually any service that a customer requires for its order of treated lumber. “The demand for those services is growing rapidly,” said Andy. “So we have to have the quantities of treated lumber we need to fill them.”

The market for McCready Lumber products is so strong that Andy is considering the addition of another Koetter kiln in the near future. “The Koetter people have been so good to work with and the equipment has done such a fine job for us that there is no question we’ll be going back to them,” said Andy.

Low temperature technology often is not considered for yellow pine, Andy noted, but he was attracted to Koetter’s equipment for two reasons. First, when he approached Koetter with his requirements they were receptive to working with him to design a process that was suited to KDAT parameters. While Koetter has been primarily oriented to the hardwood lumber market, their staff proved to be both knowledgeable about softwood drying and
flexible. “Because of the specialty nature of the product we’re producing and the higher quality we require out of our kiln, our needs were very similar to those of hardwood producers anyway,” Andy said.

Second, it was important for Andy to be able to expand kiln capacity as his business grows. While dehumidification kilns often are associated with smaller operations, Andy noted, Koetter offers units that can treat as much as 150,000 board feet of lumber at a time. “I knew our own growth wouldn’t be restricted because of capacity problems,” he said.

Karen and Andy are active in their community. One of Andy’s passions is firefighting, an interest he shares with employees. In fact, everyone working at the McCready Lumber mill is a volunteer firefighter. They are on call 24 hours a day.

“It’s what we call our low-stress hobby,” Andy said with a chuckle. “So when the fire alarm sounds, everything that can be dropped around here is dropped, and we go out to fight the fire. We feel that is an important service to the community, so we are pleased and proud to be available, even during business hours. When someone is faced with a fire, they can’t wait for us to finish a shift, so we are all available at any time the alarm rings.”

During last summer’s wildfires in the West, McCready Lumber sent two employees at a time — on a rotating basis — to help fight the Western forest fires. “Our people went to Idaho, Wyoming, and Texas,” said Andy. He was ready to go to Texas when his turn came but rains helped control the fires and he was not summoned.

Andy also is a football referee and a baseball umpire, officiating mostly at the high school level but also making himself available for little league games. “We’ve been fortunate in our business, and it’s pleasing to participate in the community in these ways,” he said. “The work I’m able to do with kids is especially important to me.”

Andy and Karen McCready have managed to grow their business by finding niches in their markets and doing a better job than others to serve them. Their approach to innovation in their business and their willingness to give back to their community both are examples to emulate.