Rebuilding after fire, Baker Timber adds Pinheiro planer-moulder to make value-added products
RAPID CITY, South Dakota — You might say that Baker Timber Products proved its mettle in a trial by fire — a real fire.
The company had just been getting the hang of its reconditioned Pinheiro planer-moulder when its sawmill and planer mill – and the new Pinheiro — were destroyed by fire.
Bill and Bob Baker, owners and brothers, had an enormous decision to make — one that would affect the future of not only their own family and the family-run business, but the futures of their 30 employees and their families as well.
Baker Timber Products had installed its new Pinheiro in the fall of 2002. “We had just gotten that up and running for about four months before the fire in February of 2003 burned our mill down to the ground,” Bill recalled. “We were still getting our feet wet in understanding the range of its capabilities.”
Even within that short period of time, however, Bill recognized the Pinheiro could move his business forward successfully because of the value-added products he was able to manufacture with the new machine.
“We were impressed enough to know that we wanted to continue working with the Pinheiro,” Bill said. “So we decided to get the sawmill going again to begin production. It’s definitely been a plus for our company.”
The fire forced the Bakers to make some very hard business decisions. “Our family has been in this business since 1961,” Bill said. “We’ve always enjoyed this work, so it didn’t take us long to decide to go forward and rebuild.”
Baker Timber Products is located in the Black Hills of South Dakota on 48 acres. It has three major buildings, including the new 12,000-square-foot sawmill and planer mill, a 5,000-square-foot maintenance shop, and a 1,200 square-foot post peeling mill. The company’s maintenance staff performs any needed metal fabrication work in the mills as well as routine preventive maintenance and major overhauls of equipment. Baker Timber Products also employs its own loggers to harvest timber it buys from ranches in the Black Hills region. The company works mainly with Ponderosa pine, processing about 7,500 board feet per day.
The Bakers took advantage of the opportunity to start from the ground up and redesign the mill to improve efficiency. “We wanted to make our mill better than it had been so the sawmill flow would go a bit smoother,” said Bill. “So if there is anything good that happened from the fire, I guess it’s that we were put in the position of doing some things we always thought we should have done with our previous mill.”
With the help of Stan Spilecki of River Valley Machinery, Bill was able to locate a used Pinheiro to replace the one that was destroyed in the fire.
“We got an idea of what he wanted to accomplish, and, as is typical of most of my customers, he was looking to do a lot of different things with a machine that’s relatively easy to use,” said Stan.
The planer-moulder can remanufacture lumber into value-added products. “Value-added is key, especially when you are serving regional markets which need a wide variety of products,” Stan added. The Pinheiro planer-moulder can be changed over quickly and easily for the next run. Heavier than an ordinary moulder, it is designed for both planing and moulding jobs.
It took Bill and his staff about 18 months to rebuild and get the business back to within about 80% of where Bill felt the company should be. Throughout rebuilding, the Bakers did not lay off any employees. “We put those guys to work helping us rebuild,” said Bill. The South Dakota Board of Economic Development and the local Rapid City Economic Development agency were helpful in securing low-interest loans to help finance rebuilding, and the local Black Hills Electric Co-op offered low-interest and long-term financing. Great Western Bank was instrumental in helping secure interim financing.
Production flow is a lot smoother now in the newly designed mill. The Pinheiro planer-moulder is the centerpiece of the remanufacturing operations.
The Baker Timber Products sawmill produces rough-sawn lumber. Before adding the Pinheiro machine, the company had limited markets. It produced rough lumber, fencing material and some pallet lumber that was sold to agricultural markets, lumber remanufacturers, and pallet manufacturers.
With the planer-moulder capability, Baker Timber Products has moved into production of tongue and groove lumber and panels, log home timbers and log siding.
“Now we can add value to the lumber we saw,” said Bill. “So instead of running it through as a 1-by-4, you can make it into a 1-by-4 tongue and groove, and that opens up new opportunities in residential markets.”
One of the benefits of the Pinheiro is its range of versatile capabilities. “We can produce 1-by-4 and 1-by-6 tongue and groove log siding as well as 6-by-8 log home timbers — all with the same machine,” Bill said.
Baker Timber Products manufactures two types of lap log siding: 2×6 and 2×8. “I install a curved knife in the top head, and that cuts my round profile for the log-style log siding. When it’s put on the exterior, it looks like the building was constructed using whole logs,” Bill said. “So you can take a regular 2-by-6 and make it into something that not everyone has, and there is a very good market for this type of product.” The back is flat and the siding is about 1-1/2 inches thick.
The Pinheiro is used to process 1-inch material — typically 1×4, 1×6 and 1×8 — into tongue and groove boards and panels. When used to process logs into log home timbers, the Pinheiro planes four sides to make a 6×8 tongue and groove D-log.
The sawmill continues to produce rough-sawn 1-inch and 2-inch lumber, 5×6 squares and special sizes like 3×8, 4×12 and 4×16 timbers. The company sells rough lumber to markets in the five-state region surrounding the Black Hills, including Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana and North and South Dakota.
“We focus on specialty projects,” said Bill. “If someone comes in saying they need a certain product, I never say, ‘We don’t do that,’ ” Bill said. “I say, ‘Well, let’s see if there’s a way we can make this work.’ ”
Producing different products for different markets makes good business sense to Bill. “We are flexible and diverse, and we don’t have to rely on any one thing if we happen to come on bad times,” he said. “We always have projects going that pull us through, and we’ve been able to prosper in this way.”
COMPANY ROOTS, MILL OPERATIONS
The company has its roots in the pulpwood business. It was started in 1961 by the Bakers’ father, Clayton. Bob was the first to join the company, and Bill officially joined a few years later. They cut pulpwood into 8-foot, 4-inch lengths, and it was loaded onto train cars and shipped to paper mills in the Great Lakes states. Baker Timber later expanded into milling posts and poles and gradually added operations in sawmilling, logging, chipping and grinding.
Bob generally oversees the logging, chipping and grinding operations while Bill supervises the sawmill, planer mill and post and pole operations. Bob’s wife, Rita, and Bill’s wife, Diane, handle all the office operations.
“I can remember skidding logs with my father using a horse one summer when I was a young schoolboy,” said Bill. He has worked in the family business ever since except for earning an education degree from Black Hills State University and teaching physical education for a couple of years. “I saw more potential and growth opportunities here for myself, and I’m happy I made that decision.”
Baker Timber Products performs mechanized logging operations with Timbco feller-bunchers and John Deere skidders. At the landing, a Pierce boom delimber removes the limbs and bucks the logs to length.
Baker Timber Products also runs a chipping operation. The company uses a Morbark whole-tree chipper to chip small diameter trees and tops. “We sell these chips to Merillat particleboard plant in Rapid City, which is one of the country’s largest cabinet makers,” Bill said.
A Vermeer grinding machine processes the remaining logging slash into mulch. The machine is also used to perform grinding for storm clean-up work; the crew uses the grinder to process fallen trees and limbs.
In the company’s yard, the logs are run through a shop-built debarker, and the bark is collected and sold for mulch.
The sawmill is equipped with a Forest-All head rig, carriage and vertical edger with Silva-Tech computerized setworks. Replacement parts and support are provided by Hill Top Manufacturing. As boards are removed by the head saw, they are trimmed to length by a double-end trim saw.
Small diameter logs are routed to the post and pole mill to be peeled for fence posts and rails. The pole mill is equipped with an AAA Augustine post peeler, which peels off the bark and removes any irregularities. “We are in the process of purchasing a Bezner rounding machine that eliminates the taper you get from using just the post peeler,” Bill said.
Residual material — edgings, end-trims and slabs — is chipped by a Precision chipping machine and also shipped to the Merillat particleboard plant. The shavings that are a by-product of the planer mill are bagged and sold for animal bedding to farm stores, cattle haulers and ranches.
Bill purchases saws and saw teeth from BH Payne, which also performs saw maintenance for the company.
Long-term plans include adding dry kilns so the company can produce its own kiln-dried lumber products.
One way of showcasing a company’s talents and capabilities is to wear what you make, so to speak. Baker Timber Products will showcase its products in its new office, which is still under construction. “We are constructing this building out of all the products we make,” Bill said.
The office building will be made of 6×8 log home timbers. “In the interior we will have our 1-inch tongue and groove paneling and log siding,” said Bill, “so when people walk into our office, they can actually see and touch all the products we make.” The ceiling will be decorated with more tongue and groove paneling.
Baker Timber Products has come a long way since the fire that could have put an end to the family-run business, and Bill is quick to give credit to his employees. “We like to think of ourselves as a family in this family business, and we take care of our people,” he said.
All employees have the opportunity to earn incentive pay based on production rates. They also are eligible for health insurance, paid vacations and a retirement plan that matches up to 3% percent of their earnings. Employees receive extensive safety training, and the company offers training in handling hazardous materials and lock-out-tag-out procedures.
The company markets itself in some trade publications, but one of Bill’s favorite venues is the annual home show sponsored by Black Hills Home Builders. “It’s a three-day big affair, and the show always gets a lot of people walking through to find new ideas,” he said.
Bill and Bob are dedicated to their chosen career, which is evident in the number of associations they are involved with, including the Black Hills Regional Multiple-Use Coalition, whose mission is to advocate for managed forests for a variety of uses; Bill served as president of the coalition for a year. The company is also a member of the Black Hills Home Builders Association, the Inter-Mountain Forest Association, and the Inter-Mountain Roundwood Association.
For fun and relaxation, Bill coaches junior wrestling in Rapid City — a volunteer activity he has done for 30 years. After he’s put in a hard day’s work, you might find Bill on the banks of a Black Hills stream enjoying fly fishing — “one of my favorite things to do,” he said.