Ohio Company Adds, Expands Dry Kilns: Walnut Creek Planing Uses Nova Dry Kilns to Produce High Quality Hardwood Components

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Ohio Business Uses Nova Kilns to Produce High Quality Hardwood

MILLERSBURGH, Ohio – The three Nova KDK-42EXT-P dry kilns that Dwight and Kenric Kratzer installed a year ago have worked out so well that the father-and-son owners decided to buy three more.
“The three new kilns should be in operation by early July,” said Dwight, 51, owner of Walnut Creek Planing.
The decision to buy the first three kilns from Nova Dry Kiln (each holding 50,000 board feet of lumber) was an easy one for Dwight and Kenric, 26, who runs the drying operations and is responsible for all equipment maintenance.
“We were buying all our kiln-dried material on the market,” Dwight said. “Having our own kilns will help us be more competitive in the market. We also have more control over our costs and the quality of the lumber we produce.”
Walnut Creek Planing, in business for 20 years, had been buying about 6 million board feet of kiln-dried material annually. “So with the six kilns, we can do about two-thirds of our production,” Dwight explained. “We still will have to buy some of our material from the marketplace.”
Dwight has two other sons involved in the business, Charles and Matt. Charles is engaged primarily in sales and marketing, and Matt does maintenance. He and his sons feel blessed by the business the Lord has granted them over the years.
Dwight grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania. When he was 15, his parents became missionaries, moving the family to Belize in Central America. “They moved there to teach the natives how to farm,” Dwight recalled.
The family spent 10 years there and during that time, Dwight met a young woman from Ohio who taught school for the mission. The two married in 1980. Two years later, Dwight and his wife moved back to Ohio.
Settled back in Ohio again, Dwight decided to get into the trucking business and bought a truck. “I got involved in the woodworking industry, hauling logs, pallets, and lumber,” he said. “Then in 1988 I was looking for a business to get into where my three boys and I could work together, and that’s when I started Walnut Creek Planing.”
Manufacturing Operations
Walnut Creek Planing is much more than a planing mill. The company remanufactures hardwood lumber into various components for the homebuilding industry and other industries.
Dwight and Kenric buy rough lumber, predominantly of red oak, poplar and white oak. “We are buying basically No. 2 and better with a lot of heavy stock like five-quarter to eight-quarter,” said Dwight.
Once green lumber arrives on site, one of the company’s two forklifts (a Caterpillar and a Taylor) move it to a place where it will be separated by sticks to air-dry.
“We air-dry poplar for about 30 days and red oak gets dried for four to five months,” Kenric said. The forklifts load green lumber into the kilns, and it is dried anywhere from five to 90 days, depending on thickness and species. After kiln-drying, lumber is moved to the planing mill to be processed into dimension parts.
The planing mill is located about six miles from company’s dry kilns. The Kratzers use A&J Trucking, owned by Dwight’s brother-in-law, John Wengerd, to haul the dried lumber to the mill. The planer mill is equipped with seven Toyota forklifts to move lumber and finished goods, and the dried lumber is stored until it is ready to be processed.
“We load it onto a lumber bunk deck where it is transferred to a Joulin vacuum hoist, where it is unpackaged,” explained Kenric. The lumber is fed automatically to a Timesavers planer, then it moves to a Scanimation scanner and optimizing system before being conveyed to a Progressive rip saw.
After ripping, the material is ready to be cross-cut. The next step is a passing through a WoodEye scanner and optimizer and then a Grecon Dimter cross-cut saw. The pieces are sorted automatically by width and length.
The mill may be working with as many as 30 different size components at any given time, said Kenric. “A lot of what we produce is lumber for stair components, such as spindles for staircases. We also make material for stair treads, so the material could vary anywhere from widths of 1-½ inches to 8 inches.”
The company also produces glued-up panels that are used for stair treads, chair seats and cutting boards. When the panels come off the sorting line, they are warehoused for a short period of time. Depending on what orders call for, the panels could move on to the moulding line or sanding line. The company operates five Weinig molders and eight Timesavers sanders.
“We also make custom-monogrammed cutting boards,” said Dwight. “All our parts are finished dimension molded or sanded when we ship them from here.”
About 70% of the components manufactured by the company are produced for companies that make staircases, and the remaining 30% is produced for trim and molding blanks. “We also operate a manual rip saw line that makes only select molding blanks and S4S boards,” explained Kenric.
Lumber Quality
Sawdust is sold primarily for animal bedding. Another portion of it is used to fuel the company’s wood-waste Bio-Fuel Technologies boiler that heats the dry kilns. About 90% of the dry kiln operations are fueled by wood waste.
Walnut Creek Planing sells its products throughout the U.S. and Canada and exports some products to Europe. The company’s seven buildings (115,000 square feet in total) are located on 107 acres. The planer mill has about 90,000 square feet.
The quality of the components produced by the company is very important to its customers, and lumber quality is, accordingly, very important to the Kratzers.
The quality of kiln-dried lumber was the primary consideration in selecting a kiln supplier, according to Kenric. The Kratzers considered several kiln suppliers before settling on Nova Dry Kilns.
“We felt it was a more gentle process as far as turning out a better quality piece,” said Kenric of Nova. They contacted several Nova customers, too, to research their experience with lumber quality.
Construction and installation of the Nova kilns went “extremely smooth,” Kenric reported.
Kenric, who oversees the drying operations, has been particularly pleased with Nova’s computerized kiln control system, Timber Dry Management, which he can even run remotely via cell phone. “It’s extremely simple, very automated,” he said.