Godfrey Lumber Co. Finds Profits in Quality

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Wagner Technology Helps North Carolina Company to Produce High Quality Eastern White Pine Products

STATESVILLE, N.C. — High volume production is not necessarily the answer to profitability, especially when a company is manufacturing a high quality kiln-dried product for a niche market.

Just ask John Thomas, quality manager for Godfrey Lumber Co. in Statesville, N.C. “There are places to save money in the lumber industry, and there are places that will end up costing you,” he said. “You can’t just crank up your kilns and think everything’s fine, because if you ruin the lumber getting there, what good does that do?”

The drying process is very important to the finished product at Godfrey Lumber Co., and John has come to rely on Wagner equipment for measuring lumber moisture content in order to monitor and fine tune dry kiln operations.

John was not converted to the Wagner method of monitoring moisture electromagnetically until he was literally forced to use the technology. Although he had been exposed to a number of different ways of measuring moisture content in lumber during his career in the forest products industry, he usually stuck with pin meters because he was familiar with them and because of habit.

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John formerly worked as a quality manager for a mill in Maine that produced Eastern white pine. “We used pin meters exclusively,” he recalled, “especially in the dry kilns and then afterwards as a second check.” The mill was equipped with a Wagner in-line moisture meter to measure moisture the length of the board, but the company did not maintain it properly and was getting varying results.

“One day my pin meter wasn’t working,” he said, “so I was forced to use a Wagner hand meter (a Wagner L-612 digital recording meter) for my kiln checks. As an experiment, I tried using it in-line, too, and lo and behold, it was working real well! So well, in fact, that I soon found myself acting like a human stationary in-line meter. That’s when I discovered the advantages.”

Godfrey Lumber Co., based about 40 miles north of Charlotte in Statesville, got its start in the early 1940s by the late Wilson Godfrey, who worked with a cross-cut saw and a pair of mules. The company moved to Statesville in 1955 and concentrated on Southern yellow pine as it prospered and grew over the next several decades.

In the 1980s, the Godfrey sons, Chester, John, William and Barry, purchased the business and currently own and operate Godfrey Lumber Co. The sons sold the sawmill and entered a new niche market of Eastern white pine, focusing at first on markets in the log home industry.

Godfrey Lumber Co. today produces finished products of Eastern white pine from the Appalachian Range (N.C., S.C., Va., Tenn. and Ga.) Eastern white pine log home siding has become a very viable market for the company since 2000. Godfrey Lumber Co. also is a wholesale manufacturer of interior panels, wainscot, window and door trim, and exterior siding.

Godfrey Lumber Co. has approximately 45 employees in Statesville, many of whom have been employed at Godfrey their entire working lives. The company also owns and operates a chip mill in Statesville under its chip mill division. The ClearWood division was founded in 1998 in Whittier, N.C. on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in the western portion of the state; the ClearWood division manufactures clear cut-stock, finger-jointed fascia board and components for the window and door industry.

Godfrey Lumber Co. buys rough green lumber from sawmills in the region, purchasing 4/4, 5/4, 6/4, 8/4, 3×8, 3×10, 4×12 and other dimensions. The company buys almost exclusively Eastern white pine, with about 5% of its raw material being yellow pine. Godfrey Lumber Co. dries the lumber, grades it and dresses it with a planer and-or moulder, depending on the finished product.

“We try to be real careful with it,” John said of the drying process. “We go a lot slower than other mills.” The company averages “an extra day or two on 4/4 and longer” on heavier material, he said. “We try to go slow to reduce tension” and produce a nice, flat product. “That makes a big difference” on siding when it is being applied, John noted. Yellow pine is dried to about 15%-20% moisture content, he said, which “works better for siding.”

The company’s leading market is the log home building industry, and its leading product is siding (2×6 to 4×12) that is applied to gable ends and other areas of a house where logs are not used. Godfrey Lumber Co. sells wholesale to log home builders (some of the largest in the country, according to John), focusing particularly on niche markets for non-standard sizes and patterns. “We’re not in the commodities price game,” said John. Most of its business is in the Mid-Atlantic region. Godfrey Lumber Co. sells direct to customers in the immediate area and outside the region sells through wholesalers. The company also is expanding into different types of bevel siding.

Godfrey Lumber Co. also produces paneling, such as 1×6 and 1×8. Material in upper grades, such as finish and select 4/4, 5/4, 8/4 and other dimensions, generally is sold to markets in New England.

The company has six dry kilns (supplied by Converta Kiln and Bold Design) with combined drying capacity of about 450,000 board feet. It is equipped with a West Plains Resaw Systems horizontal resaw for manufacturing bevel siding, a Yates A-20 planer and a Weinig 8-inch moulder. (The company is planning to upgrade to a larger moulder.)

Scrap wood goes to the company’s chip mill, and sawdust fines are used to fuel the boilers for the company’s dry kilns.

Godfrey Lumber Co. produces about 50,000 board feet of products daily while the chip mill produces in the range of 60-80 rail cars of chips per week.

Wagner hand-held meters offer several benefits, John noted. “With the pin meter, you can only measure the spot where you put the pins in. With the Wagner hand-held meter, you can go over the whole surface of the board reasonably fast. High readings are pretty apparent. There may be the equivalent of 38 readings on a board that I would notice with the Wagner, but of course, only the one or two with the pin meter.”

As Wagner hand-held meters became more accepted, John used them more, too. “I started asking questions as to why the Northeast Lumber Manufacturers’ Association inspectors didn’t use them. It would be much faster and easier, I knew, but I think that at the time the technology hadn’t proven itself to enough people.”

When John joined Godfrey Lumber Co. about five years ago, he found the company was using the Wagner L-612 with the L-712 stack probe. He was skeptical at first. “What I discovered was that the Wagner — like different types of equipment and individual pieces of lumber — has its own personality. Once you use the stack probe to get a reading, you’ve got a good idea whether you’re drying it too fast or not. You don’t need to do the shell-core reading (with a pin meter) unless you want to use it to verify your findings.”

Wagner’s technology has been an important part of Godfrey Lumber Co.’s efforts to produce high quality products, according to John. “As far as ease and accuracy, nothing beats Wagner. You can get so many more readings, so much more quickly. You can take 100 readings with the Wagner in the time you can do five readings with a pin meter. Plus, you can get back into the pack further, not just the edge board. If there’s an air flow problem, you’ll pick it up far more readily than with a pin meter…It’s just so much easier, and you can do such a huge volume of samples.”

The Wagner technology has enabled John to closely monitor and verify proper drying of the company’s Eastern white pine, he said. “If you try to save money by shortening the schedule and going faster, then you create a lot of problems. You can document that with the Wagner moisture meter. If you dry it slowly and properly, you end up with very little downfall because of tension in the lumber or moisture. Either way, you can document it all the way through with Wagner.”

Drying Eastern white pine too quickly “is one of the places you don’t want to go,” John noted. He described an instance where he went into a kiln and suspected a problem with the steam going in for the heat. Using the Wagner hand meter and stack probe, he determined that 70% of the lumber was on target for moisture content, but it was drying four or five days ahead of schedule. “Once I was done with the meter, I knew exactly what was going on in there.” He adjusted the kiln operations accordingly, and when the load was removed, the company’s maintenance personnel checked the kiln equipment.

“Some times all people can see is the dollar bill, and they just want to speed things up and get a bigger turn-around,” said John. “I’ve seen a few mills go under because of that. It takes a long time before they realize they’ve created more problems than they’ve solved.”

Other companies have tried to lure John away with offers of a higher salary. There are two reasons why he decided to stay, he said, and both involve quality.

One is the ‘quality’ of the company’s ownership. Godfrey Lumber Co. continued to be owned by the same family that founded the business in the 1950s. “They’re just fantastic to work for,” said John. They care about the employees and take care of them.”

The second is the quality of the company’s raw material and finished product. The raw product, especially the common grade, is “the best looking Eastern white pine” he has seen anywhere,” said John, and lends itself to very attractive appearing finished products.