Big G Wood Products Plans to Grow

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Timberland Machinery Big Jake Scragg Saw Is Workhorse in Arkansas Scragg Mill

WALDRON, ARKANSAS — George Gustafson dreamed of owning and operating a scragg mill, but he was involved in other entrepreneurial endeavors for a good 25 years.
“I was involved in the trucking industry in the early 80s and got into the pallet recycling business quite by accident,” said George, 53. A cousin had a friend who was giving him free used pallets; the cousin was cutting them up for firewood.
“I told him to sell them to me for a dollar apiece and he could buy firewood with the money,” George said. “Before long, I had about 500 pallets all stacked up. I made a few phone calls and soon I had sold them all for $4 apiece. And that’s basically how I got into the pallet business, and I’ve been recycling and brokering pallets for the last 25 years.”
Four years ago George sold his company, Complete Pallet, but stayed on with the company as a consultant.
When the company migrated toward manufacturing new pallets, George decided to take the leap in his career he had always dreamed of: operating a scragg mill to produce pallet lumber. Big G Wood Products was born.

George is happily operating his new business. Big G Wood Products has 10 acres, and the mill is housed in a 25,600 square-foot building. The mill, which has been running about two years, primarily makes pallet deck boards. The 25 employees produce about 25,000 board feet of lumber daily. Annual sales are about $2 million.
“I always tell people that going into the sawmill business from the pallet business is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire,” said George. “If you want to get into the sawmill business and you think you know what it’s going to cost, you need to double that figure at least once or even twice. There are a lot of hidden costs in operating sawmills that you just can’t figure on paper.”
When he was making plans to set up and equip the mill, George decided to invest in a Big Jake scragg saw from Timberland Machinery. “We decided to buy the Timberland scragg mill because it’s a high-volume producing unit, and this is the best way to run a scragg mill,” George said.
“We looked at other machines, but the production levels were not suited for what I was looking for in high volumes. I looked at several different manufacturers out there, and the Timberland looked to me to be the Cadillac of all scragg mills.”
The Timberland staff has been easy to work with. “Dennis Franks and Keith Gray were just really great in helping me pick out the right mill for the operation I wanted to run,” explained George. “The people at Timberland are great; they helped me with the entire layout and installation process. They told us how to set up the scragg mill, so all we have to do is do what they told us to do, and the mill is up and running.”
The Big Jake out-produces the other machinery in the mill, noted George. “So if you can remove the bottlenecks down the line from the Timberland Big Jake, the mill could really have the capability of producing 40,000 board feet of wood a day. It’s those bottlenecks that will keep you from producing those high volumes. For instance, you might have jam-ups at an edger. There really isn’t a perfect edger out there, and nobody’s made a perfect slab edger for short wood. So you find that the scragg mill produces so much wood that you overwhelm the guy at the double-end trim saw.” While George works to figure out how to eliminate those bottlenecks, he couldn’t be happier with the Timberland system.
Big G buys mostly mixed hardwood low-grade logs — tree-length wood and some bolts. George buys logs down to 6 inches in diameter and up to 20 inches.
“Anything over 20 inches and oversized is marked off to some of the local railroad tie mills,” he said. “Predominantly, we buy our logs from local loggers, and we also buy some standing timber and contract with local loggers to bring it into the mill.”
The company owns two knuckle-boom loaders. A Timberjack loader is used to unload trucks and stack logs in the yard, and a Volvo articulated loader is used to load logs onto the infeed deck of the mill.
The mill operations begin in the yard with a Timberland log merchandiser. It consists of a single 56-inch circular saw to cut the logs to the appropriate lengths. The bolts continue along a conveyor into the mill.
Timberland Machinery makes several variations of the Big Jake. Depending on the model, it can remove two slabs from the log, three, or all four.
George’s Big Jake processes the bolt into a three-sided cant. Two 48-inch circular saws remove a slab on either side of the bolt, and then the two-sided cant continues through a bandsaw that removes the top slab to make a three-sided cant. The three-sided cants exiting the scragg usually are 4x, 6x or 7-1/4x.
The Big Jake is fast. “We are able to run about 10 to 12 bolts or logs per minute on the Big Jake,” said George.”
Slabs are processed by a Timberland slab edger. The boards that are recovered from the slab edger and the three-sided cants are conveyed to a Tipton double-end trim saw to be cut to length.
For resawing the cants, Big G relies mainly on two Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle horizontal bandsaw lines: a three-head and a four-head. Each line has a Brewer single-head sizer bandsaw in front of it.
“The sizer saw basically cuts that three-sided cant back down to size,” noted George. “The three-head saw give you four boards out on the other end, and the four-head gives you five boards out on the other end. So you are not running all your junk through your saws.”
The company also has a Brewer two-head bandsaw line that usually is reserved for special runs — stringers or other lumber. “Predominantly, we make 40-inch deck board for pallets. We do some stringers, but we are really set up to make deck lumber.”
The largest cants usually are 7-1/4×12 to 15. The mill does not produce many of them. “We take them and split them with a Brewer wide bandsaw into 3-5/8s so we can make more fours,” said George.
The finished deck boards exiting the band saws continue along a conveyor to a Timberland Sidewinder de-duster. No. 2 grade deck boards are pulled and stacked before they reach the machine. “Everything works out better if you try to de-dust your No. 1 lumber first,” George explained. “All our No. 1 lumber is de-dusted and stacked either in stacks of fours or sixes.”
The wood is bundled and put in stacking racks supplied by Samuel Kent Baker Inc. It is put into inventory or loaded on trucks for delivery to pallet companies in Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma. Big G ships within a radius of about 500 miles.
All waste wood goes to a Progress Industries chipper. “We sell all our wood waste for fuel, and we are in the process of cleaning up our chips to sell clean chips to local paper mills,” George said. Sawdust is collected by a blower system and directed into a storage building.
Big G employs a full-time maintenance worker who comes in early every morning to service and maintain machines before the other workers begin their day. “He’s also scheduled to work every Saturday to make sure everything is up to par so we have minimal or no downtime,” George said.
Circular saw blades are serviced by several local companies. Bandsaw blades are replaced. George buys circular saw blades from local suppliers and buys bandsaw blades from Smith Saw Service, Piper’s Saw Shop, and Menominee Saw and Supply Co.
The company uses contract truckers to make deliveries, but George plans to add his own trucks in the future. “Although I am trying not to get into the trucking business again, it’s probably going to wind up being one of those evil necessities I will have to address — mostly for customer service issues. We will need our own trucks because of the reliability issue. It’s not always easy when you are dependent on contracted carriers.”
George, who likes to ride horses and motorcycle on weekends, has been a member of the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association for many years. Two of his three children work with him in the family business. His daughter, Misty, is the office manager. His son, Nathan, is vice president in charge of the day-to-day operations. “Nathan is really my trouble-shooter and my right-hand man,” George said.
Log supplies have been tighter than last year, when wood was abundant. “We had a real wet spring and an extremely wet and early summer this year,” said George. “The paper mills are way behind in their work, and they are paying in excess of $40 and up to $50 a ton for just about any kind of wood. With a scragg mill, we have to get in a better grade of wood than the paper mills, and most scragg mills are buying wood in the $30 range.”
Not only are logs in tighter supply, so are loggers. “A lot of local loggers have gone out of business over the last few years, and they have not been replaced by the next generation,” said George. “The new generation just does not want to do this kind of work. They don’t want to have to work hard anymore. Most of our local people, unfortunately, have been on welfare for the second and third generation, and they would like to stay there. We find that Hispanics want to do this work and we hire a number of them.”
Communicating with Hispanic employees presents little problems, noted George. “There is a percentage who speaks a little English, and I speak a little Spanish, so we get by,” he laughed.
Workers are paid hourly wages and are eligible for paid holidays and vacation time. “We don’t offer health benefits yet,” said George, “but we are looking closely at that for the near future.”
George wants to double sales within the next couple of years. “We will probably improve sales by offering value-added products and more specialty-type products,” he said. “There are lots of different specialized timbers that people are looking for, and the pallet business is really strong at this time. In fact, over the last four years or so, the pallet business has been a sellers’ market. I was in the pallet business for 25 years, and for 20 of those years you practically had to beg people to buy pallets.”
George also wants to expand into heat treating so he can supply cut stock that complies with international phyto­sanitary regulations. “We plan to get a heat-treating chamber sometime in the near future,” he said.
In the current market, prices for pallet pre-cut stock are fairly stable, but log prices are increasing. “This makes business a bit challenging,” George acknowledged. “Pallet prices are stable, and we kind of need to start getting some increases in our pallet wood prices to compensate for the rising log prices. We will have to get more money for our wood, or we will have to get more money by offering value-added products.”