Thin-Kerf to the Test: We know it’ll produce more lumber from a log, but is the reduced production worth it?

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This Wood-Mizer article contains testimonials from a half dozen customers about the positive impact that Wood-Mizer’s thin-kerf headrigs, resaws, and small log processing systems have had on their profitability and longevity.

We all know how a thinner blade means more finished product from the same source material. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize that benefit and determine that it makes sense to saw high value logs with as thin a blade as possible. But as the steel gets thinner, overall production capabilities are reduced as well. Just mentioning the words ‘reduced production’ to a seasoned sawmill operator is enough to make them squirm uncomfortably. Money can’t be made without product. And in this economy, money is harder to come by than ever before. Without it, we cannot continue supporting employees, paying off debts, and bringing home the bacon.
It’s important that any change in our business strategy improves the outlook of our financial future. Is there any way that the reduced production of thin-kerf sawmill headrigs actually fit into a forward thinking business strategy?

The Tradeoff – Thin-kerf sawmills do a great job reducing ongoing operational costs.
Increasing production is a sure way to increase possible profits. More product means more sales. However, large investments in equipment operational costs, payroll, and debt come along with the ability to maintain high production levels. More risk can prevent a company from being able to quickly take advantage of new market opportunities, and places them more at the mercy of economic ups and downs.
“I think the [thin-kerf headrig] is definitely going to be a big part of the lumber industry in the future. I will always have one, it should be integrated into any operation. It’s not only the kerf; it’s your electric bill, it’s your parts bill, it all comes together at one big savings. I have tried to tell the mills around, you need to put one of these in!” Ed Robbins, Ohio Valley Veneer

Return on Investment
The other side of profitability is not related to how much you produce,
but how much it costs to produce that product. If you find a way to turn a log into the same product for less, then you just increased your profit margin. That’s where thin-kerf mills really offer some attractive solutions. Here’s a few ways these machines reduce regular operational costs, costs that can’t be reduced when using conventional equipment.

A Lower Power Bill
A whole lot less horsepower is required to put a .055 thick, 1 1/2”-1 3/4” wide band blade through a log, compared to a wide band blade or circle blade on conventional mill equipment. Ed Robbins (Ohio Valley Veneer) runs three Wood- Mizer industrial headrigs at his walnut log plant in Piketon, Ohio, comments: “When I was running a circle mill over [in Piketon], our electric bill was $3,200 a month. When I put the Wood-Mizer in, chipper, blower, and air compressor, our electric bill was $930 a month. Then we put the second Wood- Mizer in ’06, and our electric bill went up to $1,300 a month.” Lower power bills coupled with higher yield from the high grade walnut logs has made a night and day difference in the profitability of Ed’s Piketon facility.

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A Lower Initial Investment
Base prices for thin-kerf headrigs start around $70,000. Base prices for an entire system – logs in, lumber out – start at around $120,000-$150,000. Instead of the millions traditionally associated with starting up or expanding a sawmill operation, thin-kerf machines get the same product rolling out for a whole lot less initial capital investment. The whole concept of thin-kerf sawing greatly reduces the steel needed to produce lumber. Several sample layouts at demonstrate how modular and flexible these systems are for making various products. “Wood-Mizers are inexpensive but they make good lumber and get good yield out of the log. Eventually we’re going to replace most of the circle mills with thin-kerf bandsaws.” Sam Dunaway, Dunaway Timber Co.

Lower Blade and Maintenance Costs
The narrow-band blades used by thin-kerf headrigs are cost-effective to purchase, easier to sharpen, and some sawmill operations just consider them disposable. Compare that mindset to conventional mills that require an experienced filer and large filing room just to maintain the large band and circle blades. Wood-Mizer, an early champion of thin-kerf blades, offers multiple blade configurations tailored for specific sawing needs, and offers industrial level sharpeners and setters to keep the blades ready for sawing over and over.

Who it’s Working For – How thin-kerf headrigs have helped wood producers expand, diversify, cut costs, or just get started.
Dunaway Timber Co., 30MMBF annually
The late Sam Dunaway was a visionary, and his name is well known in the lumber industry. Mr. Dunaway initially bought a Wood-Mizer headrig just to “tinker with”. Now Dunaway Timber Co. runs 6 Wood-Mizer headrigs as a part of their larger operation. According to the company’s president Henry Christ, the 6 headrigs have accumulated over 90,000 hours of operation, and account for 60%
of total production.

Jennings County Pallet
“With the downturn, we found ourselves struggling to be both competitive and profitable. We had to do something to improve margins. Looking ahead to the future of our business, we thought the [thin-kerf] technology might be the key to controlling costs without sacrificing quality. Installed in our plant, it has proven to be all that and more. We have been able to do well in some tough times because of this equipment and we expect it will allow us to be even more competitive.”

Jason Smith, Westbury Lumber, 3MMBF Hardwood lumber annually
Furniture Supplier
Jason runs two LT300 headrigs in his grade lumber operation, supplying companies like Ethan Allen and Holder Furniture with high quality lumber. His comment about his thin-kerf headrigs was, “With thin-kerf you saw the right amount of quality lumber for less. It’s not crazy to saw less but make more money from what you’ve sawn. There are some critics of the narrow-band thin-kerf mills, but we can silence them pretty fast if they give us a few minutes and watch. That bandsaw is hungry! You just have to feed it fast.”

Kendall Dupuis, Dupuis Logging
Added Logging Profits
Kendall Dupuis realized that logging was not the only way they could ride out economic ups and downs. Diversifying their product was key. “Our decision to add the LT300 before the downturn has proven to be a benefit to us. Because we are able to get the most value out of the best logs we harvest, we are able to benefit from both the log and the lumber markets.”

Ed Robbins, Ohio Valley Veneer
30MMBF annually
“There’s a spot for the Wood-Mizer. And that is sawing that high dollar product, where you’re giving up a little volume, but you’re making it up with your margins. There’s a niche for [thin-kerf headrigs]. I think every mill ought to own one, of any size. If you utilize it and integrate it into your sawmills, it will make you money, and it has been one of the best investments I’ve made.”

Dismissing thin-kerf altogether may not be healthy for companies really looking for ways to increase profitability and longevity. To discuss how thin-kerf headrigs, resaws, and small log processing systems can make a difference for your business, visit or talk to an experienced sawmill consultant at 800.553.0182.
Editor’s note: The preceding was paid advertorial by Wood-Mizer.