Flexibility Lets Small Maine Mill Flourish

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Pinheiro planer-moulder from River Valley Machinery adds value, flexibility

LIVERMORE FALLS, Maine — Ceylon Putnam bought Dimension Lumber, a year-round, custom sawmill, in March 1998. The mill enabled him to bolster his existing business interests, which included trucking and logging.
“I was trucking wood and cutting in the woods” before buying Dimension Lumber, said Ceylon. Now, in addition to hauling logs to the mill, Ceylon is busy running a Pinheiro 1000 series planer, which he purchased in October 2003.
“My son runs the saw,” said Ceylon. “I haul logs in.” And, more and more, he explained, he planes wood.
Some of the logs coming into the mill are delivered. But Ceylon also buys logs roadside and hauls them to the mill. The custom mill churns out everything from beams and timbers to boards. The company’s production includes dimension planks (2×4 through 2×12), studs (2×4, 2×5) and timbers (18x18x26).
Dimension Lumber saws mainly either pine or hemlock, but the company will mill other species. “If somebody needs hardwood, we’ll get it for them,” said Ceylon. The mill has worked with white pine, red pine, hemlock, beech, yellow birch, maple, cedar, white birch, soft maple, red oak, white oak and ash. The company, with five employees, has customers in New England and beyond.
Ceylon purchased the Pinheiro 1000 series planer from River Valley Machinery Inc. in East Livermore, Maine, because he was hearing from more and more customers who needed surfaced material. “Last summer, before I got it, one out of three customers asked me if I planed,” he said.
The customers wanted the quality of the surfaced lumber. As he has always been, Ceylon was keen to expand his capabilities in a direction that gave customers — most of whom are retailers — what they wanted. “I think the planing is going to be the way to go,” he said.
Because he had a working relationship with River Valley Machinery, Ceylon started there when he began his search for a planer. River Valley Machinery is now the sole distributor in the U. S. for Pinheiro equipment, which is manufactured in Portugal.
The planed wood not only satisfies a customer base. Already, said Ceylon, some of the planed wood has found its way into building projects he himself has undertaken. “We have used some that we’ve planed,” he explained.
The Pinheiro 1000 series moulder-planers are built for versatility. “It will do small moulding to a 10×20 beam,” said Ceylon. “I’ve done an 8×14 beam” already.
“It’s a learning process,” said Ceylon, to make full use of the many capabilities of the Pinheiro machine, but it’s a process that’s been going well.
The Pinheiro planer is designed to minimize downtime and maximize use of blades. For example, multiple profile cutters can be stacked on the side spindles, which can then be raised or lowered to make a change for a short run. And the planer knives can be used over most of their length.
Dimension Lumber has been adding machinery and equipment since Ceylon purchased the company six years ago. “I added trim saws to the line,” said Ceylon. “I added a debarker.”
Ceylon also added a dry kiln. The majority of the lumber is either kiln-dried or air-dried, although a good portion is sold green.
The drying operations were something of an impetus to a series of changes. Drying became part of the comprehensive business strategy at the company. “Then, I added a planer,” said Ceylon.
Most of the planing is performed as a service to other companies who supply their lumber. “Most of that I plane, someone else has dried and brought in,” said Ceylon.
Before investing in the Pinheiro planer, Ceylon would sometimes take lumber to River Valley Machinery to have it planed there. He was impressed by the machine’s performance and the finished lumber. “I liked the results they were getting,” he said.
Stan Spilecki, a founding partner at River Valley Machinery, said the approach that Ceylon has taken is a recipe for success. “Companies that stay flexible and service a regional market are flourishing,” said Stan. Sawmills that produce finished lumber products have a better likelihood of success, he suggested.
Ceylon has incrementally invested in each step that would enhance his operation, Stan noted. After Dimension Lumber added drying operations, “the next logical step was to put in a planer,” said Stan.
The Pinheiro planer-moulder can be easily and quickly changed over, said Stan. For example, it can be readily set up to run such varied material as 1×2 to 10×12 and log home timbers. The Pinheiro 1000 series machine enables a lumber manufacturer to give a customer just what he needs, such as tongue and groove material.
The Pinheiro planer is an important asset for adding value to wood. Flooring, furniture and other secondary manufacturers require smooth wood with uniform dimensions.
As for how he got into the wood products industry, Stan said he does not think he had a choice. “Wood chooses you,” he explained.
Ceylon said he, too, got into the wood products industry early. “I just started cutting wood shortly after high school,” he explained. “I went from the woods to trucking, from trucking to the sawmill.”
Ceylon has plenty of experience with logging equipment. “I have run Timber­jack skidders, Prentice loaders, International Trucks,” he said. And all of the makers he names get good marks from him. “If I didn’t like it, I didn’t use it,” he said.
The debarker that Ceylon recently added to the mill was supplied by HMC Corp. in Contoocook, N.H. The HMC debarker works well even on frozen logs, said Ceylon.
The company collects the bark and grinds it into mulch. Wood scrap from the mill is supplied to another company that converts it into mulch. Sawdust is sold to farmers for animal bedding.
Dimension Lumber is located in Livermore Falls, Maine. The town of about 3,500 residents is in southwest Maine in the northern part of Andro­scoggin County on the Androscoggin River.
Livermore Falls is just one of many town namesakes — others include Liver­more Center, East Livermore and South Livermore — of the Deacon Elijah Liver­more, who was one of the first settlers in the region in the 1770s.
As for his unusual first name, Ceylon does not know its origin or whether there is a geographic tie. He said it was his father’s name and his grandfather’s before him. “My son didn’t get it,” he added.
Stan sees the approach that Dimension Lumber has taken as one that is likely to invigorate the wood products industry. “Sawmills that are paying attention to customer service,” as Ceylon’s is, said Stan, and mills that “produce a wide range in a regional market, will do well.”
When he is not working in his business, Ceylon enjoys taking time for snowmobiling. Despite the record cold, the winter of 2004 has not been a particularly snowy one in The Pine Tree State. So Ceylon is looking forward to a whiter winter next year.