North Carolina Company Cuts Cypress with Cook’s Saw Mfg. Mills
DUDLEY, North Carolina — Ken Wiggins has worked in the forest products industry in North Carolina most of his adult life, but it wasn’t until he reached his 60s that he ventured into the sawmill business.
Ken grew up in Vanceboro, in eastern North Carolina, and attended East Carolina University. He bought and sold timber and specialty lumber for about 30 years. His initial entry into the industry involved buying and selling specialty lumber for boat builders.
Ken, 63, started a sawmill business more than three years ago. Now with five employees, his company primarily mills cypress logs into dimension lumber. With two thin-kerf band sawmills supplied by Cook’s Saw, the company can cut about 10,000 board feet per day. Annual sales are about $500,000.
Ken’s company, Wiggins Lumber LLC, is located on the site of another former sawmill company that went out of business years ago. Ken leases the property, which contains 20 acres and a small handful of sheds and other buildings.
When he started out, Ken contracted with a man who operated a portable sawmill to do the cutting. He later invested in his first sawmill from Cook’s and hired one worker to help him.
Ken has owned three sawmills from Cook’s and currently owns two. He sold the first mill because someone wanted to buy it. He replaced it with another sawmill from Cook’s. Last fall he added a second sawmill from Cook’s in order to increase production. The newest mill, set up under a shed, is powered by a 50 hp three-phase electric motor. It is set up to saw logs up to 26 feet long. The maximum capacity of the sawmills is a log about 36 inches in diameter.
Earlier this year Ken added a Cook’s horizontal band resaw that is used mainly to make siding. He also has owned two Cook’s edgers in recent years and currently owns a Cook’s two-saw edger powered by a gasoline engine; the edger is the largest made by Cook’s and can edge material 4 inches thick. He also has an old Smith Band Resaw machine that is set up for resawing cypress material into shingles.
Ken and his workers made a modification to the newest mill to reduce wear and tear on the saw blades. He put in a water line and hooked up a hose to the sawmill so that it sprays a stream of water onto the side of log just in front of where the blade enters the wood. The stream of water serves two purposes: it removes sand and dirt from the log and also provides some lubrication.
The two sawmills are fully hydraulic, with features to lift and load the log onto the bed and turn, position and hold the log. They also have a board drag-back feature to pull the board back to the sawyer as the sawhead returns for another cut.
Ken buys tree-lengths logs, which gives him greater flexibility over the length of lumber he needs to make. He buys logs that are 11 inches on the small end. The wood is supplied by a logger in eastern North Carolina.
The company cuts mainly 4/4 and 8/4 cypress lumber in random width and length. Ken sells his lumber through a broker in Texas, preferably in truckload quantities; the broker sells to larger wholesalers and also to export markets. Ken has a relationship with another lumber dealer in Charleston, S.C., who sells some cypress siding for him.
Ken buys blades from Cook’s and also returns them to Cook’s to be resharpened. He has been using the new Super Sharp blade developed by Cook’s and has been pleased with its performance. The new Super Sharp blade lasts about one-third longer, he indicated.
Ken considered several other manufacturers before selecting Cook’s Saw. The portable sawmill he contracted with earlier, for example, was a different make. He chose Cook’s Saw primarily on the recommendation of someone else who had one and also because he was suitably impressed in dealing with the Cook family over the phone.
“I dealt with Cook’s primarily because I heard he had a good product,” Ken said. “When I talked to him, I felt very comfortable — that he was a no-nonsense kind of guy.”
His experience with Cook’s Saw since then bore out that initial impression. “Tim Cook is a straight-shooting guy,” said Ken. He will turn to Cook’s again as he adds equipment for the mill, Ken said; in fact, he already has talked to Cook’s Saw about the possibility of buying a more powerful, custom-made thin-kerf sawmill.
Ken and his wife live in Morehead City on the North Carolina coast some 100 miles to the southeast. He enjoys saltwater fishing when he has the opportunity.
His company also does some work with old heart pine timbers that have been reclaimed when old buildings are demolished, for example. These large timber often have nails, so they have to be removed by hand first, and then they are resawn on one of the sawmills to make heart pine lumber. Ken’s source for the material is his broker.
He has erected a roof over the newest sawmill to keep off the sun and rain. The other mill, powered by a diesel engine, is set up under a few shade trees, and the resaw is under a small shed roof that was added to an existing building. Ken is also having an office built — from his own cypress lumber.
In various places around the mill yard, the company stores logs, cypress timbers and lumber and also reclaims heart pine timbers. Ken has been accumulating slabs and is negotiating with a contractor to provide grinding or chipping services.
Ken sells his lumber rough, green and dry. He contracts for kiln-drying although he is considering adding a kiln to his mill, possibly some type of solar kiln for drying or pre-drying. Right now he is experimenting with small quantities of lumber and a concept for a solar kiln that uses black plastic instead of a clear material that allows the sunlight to penetrate; a dehumidifier is inside.
Cypress is not an easy species to kiln-dry, Ken explained. Is must be dried slowly and carefully. Air-drying lumber in his yard for 90-120 days aids the process.
“I highly recommend Cook’s Saw,” Ken said. “They have great integrity. They genuinely try to make sure that you are satisfied with the product they make…I’ve been more than satisfied with their efforts to keep me running…I would buy a new sawmill from them tomorrow if I needed one.”
“I wanted to buy from someone who stands behind the product, and he’s done that,” he added.