Del Franklin of Franklin Portable Sawmill Service needed more production. His recent purchase of the Cook”s Saw AC36 portable sawmill has more than doubled his output in a matter of a few months.
New Bern, NC—
Del Franklin, owner of Franklin Portable Sawmill Service, enjoys the reward of seeing timber, ordinarily destined for the landfill, become beautiful pieces of art, fine furniture, log cabins, paneling, wide-planked floors, crowned moulding, etc. But along with this custom niche, he is also reaping the rewards of expansion into a semi-pallet market as well. In fact, this past April he purchased his new Cook’s Saw AC36 mill to keep up with the ever increasing demand.
Del is supplying 10,000 to 12,000 board feet per week to one of his main buyers, Precision Moulding & Woodworks, Inc. of New Bern, NC. According to Bill Nelson, owner of Precision Moulding, his company purchases 20% to 30% of its lumber needs from Del which averages two to
three tractor trailer loads per month. The lumber includes a wide variety of both pine and hardwoods, including some Cypress and Juniper. Bill and Del have worked “hand-in-hand” for nearly six years.
Del has cut various special orders for Bill’s company as well throughout the years. In fact, one summer he yielded 100,000 board feet of heart pine from river salvage, which Precision Moulding used for flooring.
According to Del, Precision Moulding is his company’s “mainframe” which currently provides 80% of his business in a single contract. Del supplies Precision with 2×6 pine boards which are then resawn into 1×2 pine pieces for Bosch Manufacturing Company. Bosch uses them in dishwasher boxes, including four pine slats into each box for stability and protection.
“This has been our staple for the last couple of years. This order has kept us afloat…I had no idea when I started how much this business could really take off.” Though things have been good, Del continued, “I’ve still been working my daytime job for the New Bern Electric Company for all these years. I am afraid to stop.”
Business came quite easily for Del when he first began nearly 12 years ago. Not many in his community were doing custom work except for one older gentleman. It was this man who encouraged Del to look toward the future and consider this industry as a possible business venture. Shortly afterward, Del and Jennifer, his wife, purchased their first portable sawmill, which was not a Cook’s Saw mill. At the time, there were five to six counties in their vicinity that were hit by hurricanes. Trees lay strewn about and quick clean up was needed. No one was salvaging waste wood at the time, so Del utilized it and custom cut it for interested customers.
“I was the only one doing it,” Del said. “It was just a part-time thing at that point, but it was an excellent business and it started out fine, just by word of mouth and no advertising at all.”
As business thrived, Del began to realize that he needed to join with others if he was going to continue to excel in the business while maintaining his full-time occupation. After doing custom work alongside friend, Jack Holbrook, for approximately nine years, Del partnered with him in 2006. Jack, owner of Noralex, a timber-buying business in Vanceboro, was experiencing business changes at the time. He dropped his exports market to sell locally to independent sawmills. Their partnership has flourished because Jack has the additional equipment that Del needs, as well as the steady supply of landfill timber that’s being delivered by loggers, tree services, and at least three area municipalities.
“I really don’t do too much true portable cutting anymore,” Del said. “Instead, most of the wood is directly delivered to me. I don’t mind working indoors in the shade rather than dealing with weather conditions…We work from a ‘green angle’ really. We take pecky Cyprus, trees with nails and other debris, and large amounts of river salvage. We take the trees no one wants. That’s the only way we can live. I can’t compete commercially. The gas is way too expensive and the lumber’s too cheap to compete that way. Custom cut and niche markets are how we are surviving.”
Franklin Portable Sawmill Service receives a good mix of hardwood, pine and Cyprus. They cut anything from 28-inch wide flitches to grade hardwood. Del has customers who prefer flawed wood. One customer prefers pecky Cyprus, which is bacteria in the wood that creates diamond-shaped checkers throughout the tree. His customer uses the diseased wood to create paneling and custom furniture. Others request lumber that’s been metal stained for fine furniture. Del’s most unusual customer requests wood with exceptionally large knots for creating wooden bowls and wine trees. This particular well-known Carolina artist is often on back-order because his pieces are in high demand.
“I get to see the trashed wood from beginning to the end,” explained Del. “Customers bring me photos of their finished products. It’s quite rewarding to see the beauty that’s revealed…I want to share that with my kids and pass this business on to them if they’d like to work it.”
Del’s desire is to maintain a family-type business. His four-person sawmill team consists of Jack, Jennifer, one or two of his brothers, Curtis or Dwayne, and himself. Daniel Toler and Caleb Cayton work the company’s RENS metal detectors in the yard. Del and Jennifer have two children: Rebecca, who’s 13, and Richard, who’s 6. Rebecca’s learning to operate the fork lift loader and Richard tries to help wherever he can.
“I enjoy having my family at the mill,” Del said. “It’s rewarding when they can be there working alongside us. The children are learning so much about how to deal with people and growing in their business skills. They are watching how we deal with each customer as if they are a friend or family member. We practice listening to each customer to give them the product that they want. We want them to be completely satisfied with what we do for them. I do hope this business will take care of my wife
and children…that it may help them in the future.”
Del houses his Cook’s Saw AC36 in a 100ft by 40ft building on Jack’s 15-acre yard. Between Del and Jack, they own a Komatsu WA250 forklift loader, four Prentice 410E loaders, two Dresser 530B bucket loaders, a 5600 Kubota farm tractor with forks and buckets, two RENS metal detectors, a JA VANCE edger, and a new VANCE circle saw which cuts up to 32ft lengths for their oversized jobs.
Del’s Cook’s saw AC36 is a fully hydraulic mill with a 51hp Perkins Diesel powered unit. This particular unit is one of four models in Cook’s Saw’s high production line. Del ordered the unit without the optional debarker. Since operating his new sawmill, Del has seen his production more than double. On a good day he cuts more than 7,000 board feet. On a good day with his previous mill, production peaked at only 3,000 board feet. He also uses Cook’s Saw Super Sharp Blades. According to Del, he can get up to four hours of blade use on clean wood or about 3,000 board feet per blade on his mill.
He was only able to get 700 to 800 board feet from his former mill, even while using the same type blades.
“I can resharpen the blades three times before they break or run into a piece of metal,” explained Del, who uses three blades per day. “I absolutely love the blades. They are the fastest, flattest cutting
According to James Osmond, vice president of sales for Cook’s Saw Manufacturing, the AC3651 is their company’s best selling high production sawmill. The unit was primarily designed for the sawyer
looking to saw 3,000 to 7,000 board feet per day in production depending on the type of logs and the amount of labor, which will typically consist of a two to four man operation. This particular type mill, which sells for approximately $30,000 up to $47,000, is being used in the United States from Maine to Alaska and internationally in such locations as Canada, South America, Australia, Europe, Africa, and Russia.
“The reason these mills sell so well is that they have the potential to pay for themselves quickly,” James said. “They hold their resale value so well. We have a customer who purchased one a couple of years ago and he was able to pay for the entire mill in three months. In addition, he said with the extra money he had earned in those three months he bought himself a new Harley Davidson motorcycle to boot. Now, not everyone may be able to do what he did, but the fact is these sawmills are designed and built for all out high production sawing. They are tough, heavy built pieces of machinery made for performance sawing.”
With the expansion of Del’s business, he needed more production and his AC36 mill has matched the demand. With it’s operator friendly construction, Jennifer learned to run the unit within two weeks’time.
“It’s an easy mill to run and it’s got plenty of power,” explained Del. “I don’t seem to have anything that slows it down. The drag backs have really helped out a lot and it makes the process much faster.
My wife didn’t like our previous mill because it was underpowered for the large logs that we were dealing with. But with the Cook’s sawmill it’s got enough power and it makes it easier for her to use.”
Though his first mill gave him a solid 10,000 hours over the years, he said it’s “worn out” now. However, he still puts it to good use for re-sawing cants.
While Del continues his full-time job of running a line crew for the electric company, doing maintenance and installation of high voltage power systems, and distribution, Jennifer and Jack work the lumber operations full-time. Jennifer cuts up to 5,000 to 6,000 pine board feet on a good day. Jack cuts the hardwood. Del spends 15 to 20 hours on his days off from the electric company, Saturdays and Mondays, at the sawmill. Between Jennifer and him, his Cook’s sawmill gets 30 to 40 hours run time per week.
With business continuing to flourish, Del hopes to quit his full-time job within the next year to make the transition to full-time at the mill.
“I’ve also got my eye on the pallet market,” he explained. “I would like to do that a bit more. I’ve been doing some ads on Craigslist and at local markets to see what’s out there. If I get one more customer, like the Bosch order, I think I could make it full-time…But with the price of insurance and worker’s compensation, they don’t make it easy to be in business for yourself.”