Kentucky Family Mill Expands into Drying

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Reinthaler & Sons Sawmill Picks Koetter Dry Kiln as It Ventures into Adding Value to Lumber by Drying

HAGERHILL, Kentucky—The Reinthaler family has been producing lumber for more than 40 years. Ed Reinthaler first worked with his father in Michigan. Now, Ed and his son, Chad, and his son-in-law, Earl Deming, are the principals at Reinthaler & Sons Sawmill, a hardwood sawmill business they have operated for six years.

Reinthaler & Sons began kiln drying operations about six months ago, and the company eventually expects to add more kiln capacity so that it can dry all its hardwood lumber products, according to Chad.

For its first foray into drying, Reinthaler & Sons chose a kiln from Koetter Dry Kiln Inc. in Borden, Ind. “My dad really researches stuff before he buys it,” said Chad, “really thoroughly. We checked out several different kinds of kilns and felt it offered the best, easiest method of drying.”

Reinthaler & Sons installed a Koetter Dry Kiln model KDK-6200. It has a capacity of about 5,000 board feet. The average capacity recommended by Koetter varies with the size of the lumber from approximately 5,100 board feet for 4/4 to 6,120 board feet for 8/4. Of course, drying time varies depending on species. Reinthaler & Sons dries poplar in 7-10 days while red oak and white oak take 30-34 days, said Chad.

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“We bought a Mahoney boiler,” said Chad, “what Koetter recommends.” The boiler, located in a garage 45 feet from the kiln, burns wood waste from the mill.

“We were either going to put in a grinding operation or a dry kiln,” explained Chad, recalling how the decision was made to get into drying. Kiln drying adds considerable value to the lumber, and the company invested in the kiln because it promised a quicker return. In addition, the Reinthaler & Sons mill does not have a debarker, which would be required if the company decided to add grinding or chipping operations.

Reinthaler & Sons invested in a new circle saw, cab and live deck from Edmiston Hydraulic Mill Equipment in Boomer, N.C. two years ago. The electric-over-hydraulic mill has computer setworks. The mill can produce 8,000 to 12,000 board feet of lumber per day, according to Chad. “We’ve been really satisfied with everything” from Edmiston, he said.

A laser-guided, three-blade edger from Meadows Mills in Wilkesboro, N.C. was added at the same time as the Edmiston equipment. The Meadow Mills edger has greatly improved lumber recovery, said Chad. The mill is also equipped with an old Yates cut-off saw. A John-Deere 444H loader moves logs to the start of the mill line as well as finished lumber.

The company buys logs from contract loggers who harvest timber within 100 miles of Hagerhill, located in eastern Kentucky. Reinthaler & Sons buy mainly red oak, white oak, poplar, walnut, cherry, ash and maple.

Reinthaler & Sons also owns standing timber on two 150-acre tracts of land. One tract includes the mill and the homes of the owners. In the future, the second tract may become the site for another Koetter Dry Kiln; the second tract has natural gas available that could be used to heat the kiln.

The Reinthaler family has done some logging over the years. “We’d rather buy logs,” said Chad, although they do their own cutting when they harvest timber off company land. The men rely on Stihl chain saws — with one exception — and a John-Deere dozer and a Timberjack 450 skidder. Ed has a Homelite Super 1050 chainsaw. “Dad can’t leave it on the shelf,” said Chad, because he likes using it so much.

When TimberLine talked with Chad in late May, the Koetter KDK-6200 had been up and running a full six months, and he was very pleased with the performance. “You’d have to not listen to any instructions,” he said, to get things wrong. “It’s really simple. They give you some really good information.”

Koetter Dry Kiln equipment is designed to encourage the natural flow of moisture along a heat gradient. Moisture exiting the lumber is captured by the air in the kiln and circulated evenly. An equilibrium between the lumber and the kiln is achieved so that moisture leaves the wood slowly for optimum and even drying; in short, the moisture in the wood is redistributed in the kiln. A variable powered exhaust system is used to encourage the natural flow of moisture out of the wood. The Koetter drying process ensures that lumber dries without hardening, so there is no need to introduce steam into the kiln.

Reinthaler & Sons installed the kiln, and Koetter representatives were available by phone every step as it was being set up, said Chad. “They would tell us every little thing they knew,” he said.

The Koetter kiln is well insulated and has performed equally well in winter and spring, said Chad.

Reinthaler & Sons does all its own equipment maintenance, and the longevity of its machines speaks to the talent of the owners in this area. For example, the Edmiston equipment replaced a Frick mill that had been in the family since its sawmill days in Michigan.

When Chad’s grandfather started the family business in Utica, Mich., a town about 12 miles north of Detroit, he made pallet cut stock and also manufactured pallets. His grandfather rode a bicycle to the mill until he was well into his 80s and operated the saw every day. When he retired, he sold the land for income.

After the land was sold, the Frick equipment went into storage for five years on a 10-acre tract in Michigan that the family still owned. Ed went to work in a factory for five years. About seven years ago, he decided to move the Frick equipment to Kentucky and launch a new sawmill. It took Ed, Chad and Earl about one year to move and set up everything in the Bluegrass State.

Today, Reinthaler & Sons employs four people in addition to Ed, Chad and Earl. Chad’s wife, Shannon, and Earl’s wife, Crystal, work in the office.

“I scale all logs and buy all logs,” said Chad, who became a qualified grader by attending classes offered by the National Hardwood Lumber Association. Ed runs the head rig saw and Earl does all the truck driving, using a Freightliner semi.

Earl delivers high-grade red oak to Michigan and white oak and walnut to Ohio. Low-grade white oak heads to Bruce Hardwoods for flooring and other customers.

“We do saw some pallet cants for Williamson Pallets in West Virginia,” said Chad. But for the most part the focus is on lumber destined for furniture and flooring.

“We’re willing to work with anybody to meet their need,” he added. As an example, he explained that the company saws some thin red oak to 7/8 inches and then dries it for a customer who planes it for drawer boxes. “Not everybody uses one-inch or two-inch lumber,” said Chad, and he emphasized that Reinthaler & Sons will saw custom lumber.

Besides his commitment to the business, Chad is a Baptist preacher. He travels to several churches, preaching sermons three evenings each week.

“We have a real strong Christian environment,” said Chad. “God watches over our business and our family.”

One of his favorite Bible passages is from Jeremiah 17: 7-8: Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when the heat cometh. But her leaf shall be green, and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.