Cook”s Saw Manufacturing is celebrating its 40th anniversary. The company, started with humble means, has now become a leader in bandsaw technology.
Wicksburg, Alabama—The Cook family’s business motto has always been “We want to help you make more money.” And that’s what they’ve been doing for the last 40 years. Cook’s Saw Manufacturing, LLC, has been faithfully investing into its customer base while expanding, broadening, and fine tuning its business and equipment knowledge.
Stephen Cook, co-owner of Cook’s Saw, said that he and his brother, Tim, and Dad, Kenneth Cook, have always had a voracious appetite for learning how to do things more innovatively and skillfully.
Their family comes from a long line of hard working men who value the effort and process of work, just as much as the final results of the work.
Kenneth began the family business in 1970 in a 1,200 square-foot shop built behind the church parsonage. He was a full-time preacher of a small country church, a husband, and a father of three sons. He was raised by his own father to be busy and to give back to the community. His father had taught him saw sharpening on a Foley Belsaw machine.
In an effort to not financially burden his congregation, Kenneth started repairing small blades for cabinet shops. After a few months he was able to purchase a Foley grinder, which he mounted inside an old green Volkswagen van. Kenneth’s business then moved quickly to servicing sawmills where he hammered head saws and repaired strobe saws that ran in gang rips. He would travel as much as a hundred-mile radius to search for work, but he always maintained his availability and his heart for those in his church and his family.
“He’s the workingest preacher I’ve ever seen,” stated Stephen Cook. “He had a running joke with the local dentist when I was growing up that he’d do more teeth than the dentist ever could…cause he was taking care of all the carbide tips in everybody’s saw blades.”
Because of his favorable reputation, sawmills began calling him to sharpen circle saws as well. Kenneth, having no prior experience, began reading books and experimenting with the art of hammering tension into circular saw blades. According to his son, Stephen, he learned the art well and his dad’s business began to increase even more. All the while he earned a master’s degree in divinity and continued to preach for at least 20 more years.
Stephen remarked that in those days many sawmills where sending blades back to the manufacturers citing that the blades must have come from a “bad batch of steel;” however, others gave Kenneth a chance at reviving the worn and warped blades. According to Stephen, his father researched and found an old sawmill resource book from the late 1800’s that spoke directly to the problem of hammering the appropriate amount of tension into the saw blade. As Kenneth practiced this method he found that his customers’ blades were better than they had been originally.
Kenneth is 72 now and has been retired for nearly 10 years. Two of his sons, Stephen and Timothy, are the co-owners of the business now. Stephen remarked that their dad passed on the trade and his ethic of hard work. By the time they had become adults, the company owned a variety of different sawmills, including Frick Double Alt sawmills, peckerwood mills, and a range of manual gang sawmills. They learned on these mills and also repaired a variety of gang rip sawmills for local mills as well.
In 1990, when the sons were in their teens, Kenneth had purchased a worn out machine shop, which the family fondly called their “Noah’s Ark”. This shop was the place where the boys began playing with the lathe and on the horizontal mill. They spent many years refurbishing and tinkering with the old equipment, which also included three circle mills. One of the mills was recreated into an automatic carriage and built with an accompanying turner. They spent a few years working on this equipment without servicing machinery in the public sector. By the time they were in their early twenties, the boys began branching out towards machine work with the sawmills that they were already in relationship with. They began repairing rollers in edgers, as well as welding and surfacing down parts. In the hope of picking up more work, the company name was changed from Kenneth Cook Saw Service to Cook’s Saw and Machine.
But according to Stephen, they realized that the company needed more than a name change: they needed new equipment. So in the mid 1990’s their machinery business officially began with the initial purchase of two manual ENCO Milling Machines. They made sharpeners and other pieces of equipment, and began building sawmills. They also began welding blades and saw their business grow from 500 to 1,000 to 2,000, all the way up to 10,000 blades per month. They developed a solid reputation as being the best in band-blade welding and Tim became known as the “best educated thin-kerf man around.” And by 1999 they had moved to computerized equipment and built a 2,500 to 3,000 square-foot metal building shop for woodworking and molding. Along with that initial shop, their office, bandshop and warehouse currently totals 40,000 square feet of buildings over 20 acres of land. They now own three computerized milling centers, three computerized lathes, two original manual ENCO machines, and a couple of other manual machines. According to Stephen, they keep the manual machines for short/small jobs or for jobs that need special handling. Cook’s Saw has grown immensely over the last 40 years despite its humble beginnings.
Stephen admitted that he and Tim didn’t know if they could figure out how to run the “complicated” computerized machinery, but they knew that it was a vital investment for their company. It was a way of serving their customers more quickly and effectively. “I remember the Jones and Lambson blade was our first repair,” he recalled. “Tim and I spent a full week trying to code this machine and we finally wrote a program to build roller guides for the sawmills.”
Over the years as the brothers were growing in their understanding of sawmill machinery, different strengths became apparent. Each one has learned to work to his greatest area of strength. With regards to each brother’s contributions to the company, Stephen keeps everything functioning in the personnel aspects, manages finances, and studies and creates business strategies. Both brothers make joint decisions on equipment purchases. Stephen commended Tim as being the company’s best salesman and the engineering brains of the company. According to Stephen, Tim is “gifted in mechanics”. He possesses the ability to see something that he wants to fix or to create in his mind’s eye. Stephen stated that Tim can put something together completely in his mind before he physically handles the materials.
“He (Tim) knows how things work and he can understand intricate things in minute detail,” Stephen said. “That’s what he does; and because he understands (these things) so well, people come to him for help and he helps them gain confidence in what they are doing. I have an understanding of the overall concepts of the equipment, but his realm of understanding surpasses mine. He’s the one that came up with our Super Sharp Blade which is now patent pending. Both of our names are listed on this invention, but he’s the one who did it.”
Cook’s Saw Manufacturing offers a variety of products including band wheels, hydraulic sawmills and edgers, bandsaw blades, and sharpeners and setters. They are considered to be leaders in bandsaw technology. According to Stephen, Cook’s Saw AC36 hydraulic sawmill was the first in the industry to be built with enlarged bandsaw wheels with an accompanying debarker and board dragback.
“We popularized this concept,” stated Stephen. “And now these components (debarker and board dragback) are expected on all newly purchased models.”
Stephen highlighted that their patent pending Cook’s Super Sharp bandsaw blade is the best blade on the market today due to its wood penetrating capabilities. The blade is able to cut the wood for a greater number of hours than other models because of several factors, one of which is the mix of steel ingredients consisting of carbide, magnesium, and silicone. This blade is able to penetrate the logs evenly while maintaining the sharpness of the blade which effectively burns less fuel and pulls less amperage from the motor while cutting logs. The longest selling item of Cook’s Saw has been their bandsaws. In general, Cook’s Saw sells 400 bandsaw blades a day nationwide.
Cook’s Saw offers many varieties of mills. The AC36, which cuts up to 36-inch diameter logs, is one of the company’s biggest mills. It comes in several models depending on the amount of hydraulics desired and whether the engine is a 51-horse power model or a 62-horse power model. The MP32 manual/semi-manual mill cuts up to 32-inch diameter logs, while the MP24, the smallest sawmill, is considered as a hobbyist mill. Last year, the company built its largest mill ever, the AC52 hydraulic mill. According to Stephen, this mill was specially constructed to cut Cypress logs up to 52 inches in diameter and it cost about $85,000. It’s located in North Carolina and has been running for nearly six months.
When asked about the success of Cook’s Saw Manufacturing, Stephen noted that their company’s standard is based off the Bible, because they are the standards that his father taught him and his brothers to live by. They want to be fair and honest in business because that’s what we should all be doing towards one another. They desire to treat people how they themselves want to be treated.
“We enjoy helping people learn how to operate their sawmills properly,” Stephen stated. “We share with them all that we can because we want to help them be successful…to help them make money. Hopefully, in return, they’ll buy blades from us. Not everyone does, but that happens sometimes. We have had people though the years say that the information that we gave them saved their business. And I have to say that has been so satisfying.”
For the Cooks, it’s not just about living those values in their business alone. Stephen and Tim encourage their 40 employees to live balanced lives with work, home, and family. A framed list of values mounted on their conference room wall includes their six major values, which are all based on Christian principles: integrity, accountability, fairness, excellence, innovation, and tradition. Stephen is the first to admit that he’s not perfect and that not everyone agrees with him on things, but he realizes that he can’t please everybody all the time. He also realizes that it’s important to re-assess things along the way to make sure everything’s staying on track and moving ahead in the best ways possible.
“It’s important to lay out business plans ahead of time to help the company continue to grow,” said Stephen.”To use wisdom, good judgment, and good sense. Our core values need to prevail throughout the company. People need to understand that the core values are very important…We had a good year last year, not necessarily an outstanding year for these economic times, but it is a testimony to us helping people and wanting to do the right thing.”
For 2010 the Cooks are planning on putting more emphasis on resaws, specifically grade lumber resaws and pallet resaws. According to Stephen, he and Tim want to focus on this particular need because the pallet industry has been suffering. They want to create more economical means for those in the industry so that they can make more money in these economic times.