Small Log Mill Helps Improve Productivity & Profits for Two Companies

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Natchez Hardwoods uses LT300 from AWMV industrial products to square logs into cants

NATCHEZ, Mississippi — One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. And what one company considers a nuisance, another company can turn into a valuable product. Such is the case with Rives and Reynolds Lumber Co. Inc. and Natchez Hardwoods.
The Rives and Reynolds Lumber Co. sawmill was not equipped to saw small logs efficiently, so two of the owners — Terry Reynolds and his son, Bruce — decided to create a separate company with different equipment to process the smaller logs. The result has been a more efficient use of resources for both companies.
To understand how AWMV Industrial Products, a new division of Wood-Mizer, helped make both companies more efficient, it’s necessary to backtrack and understand the relationship between Rives and Reynolds Lumber Co. and Natchez Hardwoods.
Rives and Reynolds Lumber Co. is a family-owned company that has been around for about 35 years. It was started by Terry Reynolds and Bill Rives, who was Bruce’s grandfather and Terry’s father-in-law, when Bruce was five years old.
When Bill passed away in the late 1970s, Bruce was already interested in the company. As a lot of kids whose parents are in the forest industry do, he worked around the sawmill or on the family farm in the summers. Then he went away to college, to Mississippi State University, and majored in business management. When he graduated in 1986, he joined his father in Rives and Reynolds Lumber Co.
Bruce’s education in business management has added financial expertise to both companies. “I think the accounting and the finance that I learned has helped me a lot,” he said. “I learned from my financial classes how to find my way around a balance sheet. Of course, managing people is very important, and I don’t think that it’s anything you can ever learn in school.”
Rives and Reynolds Lumber Co. cuts about 40 million board feet annually of hardwood. The company manufactures rough-cut lumber that is kiln-dried and sold to flooring, moulding, cabinet and furniture manufacturers or to concentration yards. The company has three locations in Mississippi: its original mill and headquarters at Louisville, where a planer mill and dry kiln operations also are now located, a sawmill at Kosciusko, and a sawmill at Natchez.
The Natchez sawmill was added in 2000. “That mill is a double-cut band sawmill,” explained Bruce. “It produces about 13 million board feet annually. The key to the production of this mill is to keep feeding big logs to it, and it became apparent that we needed to keep the smaller logs out of it. The smaller logs were really slowing us down.”
Terry and Bruce thought that if they could sort out the smaller logs and divert them to another facility, they could increase the efficiency of the Natchez sawmill. In addition, with the right equipment, they could recover more lumber from the small logs — those 12 to 15 inches at the top and averaging 14 feet long. So the idea for Natchez Hardwoods was born.
“My father and I formed Natchez Hardwoods in March of 2004,” Bruce said. “It was partly a way for my father to do a little estate planning and partly an experiment for the two of us to try.”
They started looking for a site and found what they were looking for right next door to the Rives and Reynolds Lumber Co. sawmill in Natchez. They bought a former sawmill site that had a 40,000-square-foot building — big enough to contain the log yard, the small log sawmill, and the lumber yard. “We purchased all new equipment to process our small logs that Rives and Reynolds Lumber Co. took in the gate,” Bruce said.
The linchpin of the new small log mill is an LT300 thin-kerf head rig from AWMV Industrial Products, the new division of Wood-Mizer. The objective in selecting the LT300 and ancillary equipment was to process the smaller logs into the same kind of lumber produced at the other sawmill. Terry and Bruce reached an agreement with a concentration yard that they sell to exclusively to buy the lumber produced at the small log mill.
Natchez Hardwoods is also equipped with a Brewco B1600 resaw system, edger and trimmer, a Fulghum chipper with a Precision chip-pack, and a dual overhead loading system manufactured by Pierce Construction.
“The logs are de-barked at the big mill, and then Natchez Hardwoods purchases those logs, de-barked, from Rives and Reynolds Lumber Co.,” explained Bruce. When the logs arrive by truck, they are stored inside the building, which helps to prevent drying.
A Cat 928 front-end loader places the logs onto the LT300 log deck. “They’re broken down to a cant at the LT300 head rig,” said Bruce. The cants, 14×14 or smaller, are conveyed to the resaw system.
“Wane boards that need edging are sent to the edger,” Bruce said. “Then the boards continue on to the two-saw trimmer. There, they’re trimmed to length. Then we hand-stack and package our lumber. We end-tally it with a tally machine, load it on the trucks, and send it to our customer.”
Bruce and Terry chose the LT300 thin-kerf head rig for several reasons. First, Bruce said, is the machine’s recovery.
“We only run a 0.100-inch kerf at the head rig,” said Bruce. “The machine gives us a means of breaking a log down with a thin kerf at a reasonable price. There’s just no other piece of equipment that will do the same job for the same money.”
The LT300 was operational quickly and easily. Only a few minor ‘tweaks’ were required to achieve the kind of performance they expected. “It was just the kind of minor adjustments that you’d expect to make to any piece of equipment,” said Bruce.
One concern Bruce and his father had was whether or not the LT300 could keep up — if it could cut cants fast enough to keep the resaw system busy. The concern turned out to be a non-issue. “It’s done exactly what we needed for it to do,” Bruce said. “We’re sending more logs across this LT300 than probably any other LT300 in the country.”
“It’s been great,” he added. “We did about 3.7 million board feet last year, and we should do about 4.5 million board feet this year. We were lower last year just because we didn’t get a full year in.”
Bruce and his father signed a maintenance agreement with Wood-Mizer to maintain the machine. “They come down semi-annually for a maintenance inspection in addition to our regular maintenance program,” Bruce said. When any technical problems have arisen with the LT300, Wood-Mizer has responded quickly.
“There have been times that we’ve needed parts unique to the machine that we couldn’t buy locally,” said Bruce. “The worst case scenario has been that the company has overnighted something to us, and we’ve had it the next day and been back up running.
“We didn’t realize until we bought this piece of equipment how big Wood-Mizer really is,” he continued. “When we first started, we thought we’d be just a number with the service department when we called, because you talk in terms of what your customer number is. But when you reach a service person, they’re knowledgeable about what they’re talking about, and they get parts out promptly. Their service department is just outstanding.”
Has Natchez Hardwoods accomplished what Bruce and Terry wanted to accomplish? “It sure has,” Bruce said. “It has exceeded all our expectations. Our numbers have even beat our pro forma numbers. It’s surpassed our projections for recovery, our overrun figure, and also production.”
What the staff at Natchez Hardwoods does the best, Bruce said, is work hard.
“With a small production mill, you become very aware of just how critical lost time and missing lines are,” he said. “This started out as a joke with the guy I have running the mill, Adam Wheeler. He actually put a decal on the LT300 for the sawyer to see that said, ‘Saw hard or go home!’ That saying started out as a joke, but it’s become our motto. We try to get the very most out of this equipment, which probably wasn’t meant for the kind of production we’re sending through it. We’re just trying to get the most production out of the equipment we have.”
Bruce, 40, says it’s too soon to know whether his children will follow him into the sawmill business. “I have two boys and a girl,” he said. His daughter is 15 years old, one son is three and the youngest is just three months. “Right now, it’s hard to tell whether my daughter will be interested in the industry,” said Bruce. “Right now her mind is on learning to drive.”
Natchez Hardwoods employs a total of 12 workers. The number has not changed much since the business started. “We started out close to that, and it hasn’t varied much,” Bruce said.
The most exciting thing he’s witnessed this year, Bruce said, is seeing Natchez Hardwoods do much more than he expected it to. “It’s been great to see recovery exceed our expectations,” he said. “We started with a bunch of guys who had never worked in a mill before, or even been around a sawmill before. We did a lot of on-the-job training and learned it all together from the ground up. So we know we’ve accomplished something.”
Wood-Mizer was involved in that training process. “They had a start-up guy who helped us train the sawyer, and they were involved for the first week with that,” Bruce said. “All the other jobs were trained by the mill manager or me.”
Bruce and his father are believers in what he calls “job rotation” or “multi-crafting,” so they try to train everyone in the mill to do every job. “Our employees are cross-training constantly to run other pieces of equipment,” said Bruce. “Everybody in the mill can do more than the job that they’re in. That way if one person isn’t there, there’s someone else who can do their job.” Mill manager Adam Wheeler and resaw operator Blane McGuire are two key employees who have contributed to the success of Natchez Hardwoods “from day one,” he added.
Launching a new business, Bruce and his father needed to keep overhead low, including employee benefits. “We started out with a new company for the first year, knowing that we weren’t going to be able to do some of the things that we did at the big mill,” said Bruce. “We knew we weren’t going to be able to provide insurance to start with, but we’ve tried to compensate for not having insurance by paying top wages.”
Bruce and his father also try to reward their employees in other ways. “We take a lot of holidays off,” he said. “If you add them all up, we take probably three weeks a year as holidays, and everyone receives holiday pay.”
Natchez Hardwoods has managed to find uses for all the waste wood generated by the sawmill. The chips go to a paper mill in the area. All residuals are sold to one customer, Graphic Packaging in Monroe, Louisiana. The chips are used in making paper, and the sawdust and bark are used for boiler fuel.
In the future, Bruce and his father want to start adding value to the lumber they produce at Natchez Hardwoods. “This particular mill site that we bought has some old dry-kiln buildings and pre-dryers,” he said. “In the future, we plan to refurbish them, and start kiln-drying our lumber.”
“What we do is ideally suited for the number of small logs we generate from Rives and Reynolds Lumber Co.,” said Bruce. One of the main factors in the success of Natchez Hardwoods has been the thin-kerf sawing of the LT300. “The other thing is being able to pick the logs that we’re sending to it,” he said.
And to keep up with that level of production, and with the quality of lumber they want to produce, Bruce and his father plan to replace and upgrade their equipment every couple of years.
“We want to keep up with the latest model,” he said.