Peavey Has Come Long Way Since Namesake Tool

- Advertisement -

Proper drying is essential for Maine company producing dowels and long handles.

EDDINGTON, Maine — Working as a trucker and hauling wood to Peavey Manufacturing Company in the mid-1970s, Rodney Buswell Sr. got to know the business and its employees. As it happened, two of his uncles then owned Peavey Mfg.

Rodney later began working for the company after one uncle was sole owner. He spent three years working alongside his uncle, learning the business. Today Rodney is president of Peavey Mfg. and has been in the company for 23 years. His wife and two sons also are in the business, which has been in the family about 55 years.

Peavey Mfg. has changed hands and locations a number of times since Joseph Peavey founded the company in Bangor, Maine in 1857. (He invented the peavey in about 1857.) Since the late 1960s the company has been based in Eddington, a town of about 2,300 people less than 10 miles northeast of Bangor.

Peavey’s focus is a particular niche in the forest products industry. “We specialize in long dowels and long handles,” said Rodney, such has handles used for hand tools. The company also manufactures spindles for furniture and night sticks. In addition, Peavey sells tools and equipment for working on utility poles and in trees, such as pruning tools. The peavey, a hand tool for turning and lifting logs, accounts for 5% or less than revenues.

- Advertisement -

Peavey Mfg. specializes in poles and handles that are 6, 8 10 and some 16 feet long. “To better use our off-fall,” said Rodney, “we get into back-knife turnings.” The company operates a mill and secondary processing facility. It buys logs from throughout Maine, including some high-grade logs from paper mills.

Lumber drying is an essential part of the operations at Peavey Mfg. The company is equipped with six dry kilns. Four of the six kilns are dehumidification kilns supplied by Nyle Corp. from nearby Bangor; two Nyle dehumidification kilns were added five years ago. Seventy-five percent of the wood that Peavey dries is white ash, and the balance is maple and yellow birch.

Rodney invested in his first Nyle dry kiln system about 17 years ago. He initially chose Nyle because “they’re a local company, only six miles away.” But the success he had with the dehumidification kilns persuaded him to keep turning to Nyle when he needed to add drying

“We’ve had very good luck with the kilns,” Rodney said. “Nyle has been super.” Any little problem, he added, and Nyle “is right there” to correct it.

Several years ago the company converted from electricity to burning wood waste to heat the kilns. The change brought a considerable savings; Peavey reduced its electric bill by $3,000 per month, Rodney estimated.

Three Taylor outdoor wood stoves, which are fueled with wood waste from the mill and remanufacturing operations, provide the heat. In summer, it takes just one stove to heat the six kilns. In winter, it takes two. The third stove is used to heat the 120×60 building housing the reman lines. Some scrap wood is sold for fire wood. Beyond that, surplus wood waste is sold twice each year to a nearby mill with a grinder.

Peavey operates its kilns year-round. In winter the wood can take “a day or two longer” to dry “if covered with snow or ice,” according to Rodney, but drying times are substantially the same from season to season.

The Nyle dehumidification kilns work at a pace that suits Rodney. “Dehumidification is easier on material because it takes moisture out slower,” he explained. The slower extraction of water reduces degrade to the wood.

Don Lewis, president of Nyle International Corp., which is the parent company of Nyle Corp., puts a great deal of emphasis on “maximum safe drying rate.” The wood products industry recognizes “speed limits” for drying, he said.

An engineer by training, Don has given much thought to the physics of drying wood. A 20-page booklet, “Introduction to Kiln Drying,” is available for free download (in Pdf format) at the web site. In question and answer format, the text provides essential information about the difference between free and bound water, drying methods, and why dry wood has more value. (For starters, dry wood is easier to machine, glue and finish.)

The booklet also explains the difference between a dehumidification kiln and a conventional kiln. The dehumidification kiln captures a significant portion of the heat available in the moisture released from the wood, and it readies the heat for reuse, Don explained. It does so by condensing water vapor over cooling coils. The liquid is drained away. The heat energy that is saved is fed into the kiln chamber, which helps to warm it. (The system essentially operates like a heat pump.)

Conventional kilns vent water vapor and air, and it takes a lot of air — 400 cubic feet — to evaporate one pound of water, Don noted. If heat energy in the water vapor is captured for reuse, he said, energy savings of 60-80% can be achieved.

The XDH System used in the Nyle dehumidification kilns is patented. Nyle Corp., the first company Don established, which is now under the Nyle Int’l. parent, was 25-years-old in January.

After earning a degree in engineering, Don worked for Carrier Corp. and then served in the military. After his military service, he began working on a heat recovery system for the University of Maine, a project that took him into some paper mills — his first link to the forest products industry.

While he was in Maine, Don met a friend from college who owned a sawmill. The friend asked Don to help him evaluate three systems for drying wood and recommend one. “I looked at what they were proposing and said, ‘I think I can build a better one,’ ” Don recalled.

At the time, Don was also working on a dehumidification system for swimming pools in order to capture heat from surface evaporation. He thought of using a similar technology for drying lumber.

As Don sees it, vents on conventional kilns are the source of potential problems. Not only do they release heat as well as water vapor, they can get stopped up. “With a conventional kiln,” he said, “A bird could get stuck under a vent and ruin 10,000 board feet.”

In June, Nyle introduced a new kiln that reaches temperatures of 225 degrees F. The new kiln is aimed at the high-volume, spruce-fir dimension lumber market, said Don, “two by fours and two by sixes.” It will dry fir in one or two days.

The new kiln builds on Nyle’s reputation for the early introduction of high heat kilns. When first introduced, said Don, Nyle kilns were providing “30 to 45 degrees higher than anybody else at the time” in the early 1980s.

Heat is important for many reasons, said Don, including crystallizing pitch in pine, which takes a temperature of 160 degrees F. At temperatures over 135 degrees F., it also kills insects.

The Nyle dehumidification kilns are an important part of the operations at Peavey Mfg.

The sawmill at Peavey, staffed by only two workers, produces 6,000 to 7,000 board feet per day, according to Rodney. All logs are graded when they arrive, and Rodney said the company buys “nothing but the best.” The logs are sawn into squares on a Lane sawmill, a rotary band mill with automatic set works. Some squares are resawn on a Pinheiro gang rip saw.

Five years ago, Rodney added an optimizer from Grecon Dimter. Every phase of the cut-up line is tied to the Grecon Dimter system. Seven or eight employees work with the Dimter system. The squares are marked with special crayons that have a reflective substance. Once scanned, the “computer makes the decision for the best cuts, and the machine
cuts into the most valuable lengths,”
said Rodney.

Pieces from the cut-up line are stacked for drying. Most wood is kiln-dried, which takes about three weeks; a small volume is air-dried. Peavey Mfg. also has its own foundry, which is staffed by three employees. The foundry, which does light forgings, makes all steel parts and picks.

In total, Peavey Mfg. has 30 employees. Many work in the turning mill, where wood turned products such as the spindles for furniture and night sticks are made. “We make thousands of night sticks,” said Rodney. The wood turners rely on a variety of lathes and back-knife equipment from Goodspeed Machinery Co. Peavey also supplies turning stock — both rough dowels and squares, and white ash bending stock.

Besides the utility pole and tree pruning tools the company carries, Peavey sells fireplace tools, pickeroons and pulp hooks, tongs and clamps. Peavey Mfg. sells across the United States and does some export business. One wood turning product now goes to Brazil. “We sell to Florida Light & Power, ConEd, and a lot of contractors that work for public utilities,” said Rodney. The company also has warehouse space in Tacoma, Wash. from which it sells on the West Coast.

A native of Maine, Rodney “grew up on farming” before he began doing the trucking that would lead him to Peavey Mfg. He has logging experience, too. “We used to log in winter with chain saws and cable skidders,” he said.

Rodney said he really likes the people of the forest products industry, particularly for their honestly. The employees of Peavey Mfg. are exceptional in every way, he said.

Involvement in the industry is important to Rodney. He is a member of the Maine Wood Products Association and is a former president and board member. He also is a member of the Maine Forest Products Council as well as a current board member. Outside the business, he enjoys hunting, fishing and spending time with his grandchildren.

Recently, Peavey Mfg. launched a new product. The company web site,, refers to it as the “product of the month.” The item is a commemorative walking stick, and Rodney is especially proud of it.

“The walking stick is kind of a neat thing to recognize veterans,” explained Rodney. “We laser engrave their service history. It’s a great gift.” Rodney’s father, a veteran, helped refine the concept for the walking stick.