Texas Mill Upgrades with New Scrag: Crosscut Hardwoods Boosts Production with New Cooper Scrag Mill

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Texas sawmill upgrades with new Cooper Machine overhead end-dogging scrag mill to boost production of pallet cut stock.

Alto, Texas — When Randy McCown wanted to boost production of pallet cut stock and other industrial lumber products at his sawmill business, he turned to one of the leading manufacturers of scrag mills – Cooper Machine.

Randy’s father, Pat, purchased Crosscut Hardwoods with a business partner in 2001. After Randy tried unsuccessfully to win a roster spot on a National Football League team, Pat and his partner asked Randy to manage the sawmill company for them.

Crosscut Hardwoods is located in Alto, which is nearly 140 miles southeast of Dallas. It is almost mid-way between Dallas and Houston, about 150 miles to the south, and sells pallet stock to pallet manufacturers in both regions. The company has been in existence over 30 years and makes pallet cut stock, railroad ties, and pine timbers used in highway guard rail construction.

When he joined the company, Randy’s goal was to purchase the business interest of his father’s partner within five years; he reached that goal in 2005.

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Two years later he was appointed president and CEO of M&H Crates, which also has ties to the McCown family, in a restructuring move.

M&H Crates, located in Jacksonville about 20 miles north, was founded in 1968 by Randy’s grandfather, Rayburn. He passed the business down in the mid-1980s to Pat, who sold the company to the employees in 1998.

The need to boost production at Crosscut Hardwoods has been driven by the steady rise in sales that Randy has engineered at M&H Crates, which is the sawmill’s biggest customer of pallet cut stock. About 50 percent of the sawmill’s pallet cut stock production is supplied to M&H Crates.

Since taking the helm of M&H Crates, “We have grown in sales every year,” said Randy. He has grown the pallet company from producing about 20-30 truckloads per week to 40-50.

Randy comes from a football family. He played quarterback at Texas A&M, starting for two years, and briefly pursued a professional career. He has two brothers playing quarterback in the NFL: Josh plays for the Chicago Bears, and Luke plays for the New Orleans Saints.

“I never had any plans to go in the pallet business,” said Randy, although he earned a business degree from Texas A&M.

Crosscut Hardwoods has about 40 employees working in two buildings on 22 acres. The company cuts 240,000 board feet per week. About 60 percent of the company’s production is pallet cut stock. The rest is roughly evenly divided between railroad ties (and timbers) and pallet cants.

Crosscut Hardwoods already had a Cooper Overhead scrag mill, but it was more than 30 years old. (M&H Crates also is equipped with a Cooper Overhead scrag mill, and Randy has a third Cooper Overhead scrag at another mill that is not operating.)

“I just figured I was going to stay with Cooper,” said Randy.

“As far as scrag mills go, Cooper is at the top of the list,” he said.

Overhead end-dogging scrag mills have been a specialty for decades for Georgia-based Cooper Machine, which sold its first one in 1972. The scrag mills are designed and built for durable, long-lasting performance, little maintenance, and one operator. They are available with manual setworks, Cooper Machine’s own ultrasonic measuring system, or with Lewis Controls 3D scanning. The measuring system coupled with high-speed positioners automatically centers and positions the log for optimum cutting cycle and sawing patterns. Cooper Machine offers several variations of the Overhead scrag to cut logs from 36″ up to 20’ long. Cooper Machine works with the customer to determine the size needed for their operation.

Cooper Machine also makes other types of scrag mills, including the newer Skewing Overhead model and several Sharp Chain models, as well as other sawmill equipment: cut-up systems, gang saws, trimmers, edgers, and material handling equipment. Cooper Machine is also the representative for MIT band saws and carriages as well as Incomac dry kilns. (For more information about Cooper Machine, see the company’s website at www.coopermachine.com or call (478) 252-5885.)

Cooper Machine engineered an improvement for the Overhead, a rear dog lift upgrade, which has been shown to significantly increase production. The 90 degree and double dog is moved to the front carriage, and the rear carriage has a retractable dog. This retractable dog allows a new log to be loaded, scanned, and positioned ready to be picked up when dogs return. This upgrade speeds up the sawing and cycle time so that more logs can be processed. Cooper Machine offers this, as well as a new graphical display upgrade that adds a second monitor for viewing the image of the log and the optimum cut.

“There’s definitely an increase” in the number of logs that can be broken down, said Randy. Crosscut Hardwoods, which began running its new Cooper scrag mill at the start of the new year, is processing 10-15 percent more logs on a daily basis, he said.

The speed is in the equipment that loads the logs and puts them in place, Randy noted. With the old scrag mill, the log was placed in the staging area, leveled up, and the dogs on each end would stab the log. After two passes, the arms would open, the tie would drop, and the arms would return to the staging area to pick up another log.

With the new scrag mill, in the middle of the second cut, another log is thrown in the staging area and brought to the desired height automatically, the two arms open to drop the cant or tie, the back arm pivots 90 degrees and goes into the up position. “What you’ve gained is the time it takes to bring the carriage back,” explained Randy.

The new Cooper Machine scrag mill, designed for logs ranging from 8-12 feet long, is used to process smaller logs, those no bigger than 18 inches in diameter, in a building that produces mainly pallet deck boards plus railroad ties and cants. Orders for pallet cut stock will determine what length logs are processed.

The Cooper Machine scrag mill has 48-inch circular saw blades and has twin vertical edgers to produce three-sided slabs. The saws remove two sides of the log, and it is returned to the starting position and rotated 90 degrees and sent through again to finish the process of squaring it up. The finished ties or cants are moved by roller beds and chains to a Morbark Stac Track. As they move along a 100-foot chain conveyor the operator stacks them with a grapple according to length and size and then they are banded, ready to be sold.

After the slabs are edged the material is conveyed to a table to be graded. The material then goes to a Brewer multi-trim saw to be cut to length, then on to be resawn by two Baker Products four-head bandsaw lines. The bandsaw lines are set up side-by-side with Baker Products dedusters behind them to produce dust-clean deck boards. A Pendu 4400 stacker automatically stacks the deck boards coming out of the de-dusters.

The other building is equipped with a Hurdle headrig that is used to break down large logs. The 18 workers produce about one truckload of pallet cut stock per day – mainly stringers – plus one to one and one-half loads of railroad ties and timbers.

The logs are cut to length in the yard using a Prentice loader set up with a circular slasher saw, then brought into the mill by a Caterpillar loader and staged on a deck that feeds the headrig, which squares the log into a railroad tie, timber, or cant.

A Crosby horizontal multi-saw edger processes the side lumber coming off the log, and the material is routed to a Brewer multi-trim saw to be cut to length. The material is then fed through a Baker Products five-head horizontal bandsaw line to be resawn into pallet stringers. The five-head inline system eliminates a round-around to return material to the first bandsaw, noted Randy. Depending on the thickness of the material being resawn, some heads at the end of the line may be turned off.

This part of the mill also is equipped with a West Plains double-head notching machine to produce notched stringers for four-way pallets. The notching machine, equipped with Econotool cutting heads, can be used inline behind the Baker resaws to streamline the process and reduce handling.

The railroad ties, timbers, and cants that come off the headrig are conveyed via roller beds out of the building to the Morbark Stac Trac. Waste material is conveyed by Morbark and Precision vibrating conveyors to a Morbark six-knife chipper.

Crosscut Hardwoods produces deck boards as small as 7/16-inchx3-3/4 to 36 inches to stringers that are 1-1/2×3-1/2 and 60 inches. It produces cants in sizes of 4×6, 6×6, and 6×8 in lengths ranging from 8 to 12 feet.

The company buys low-grade Southern Yellow Pine logs down to a 10-inch top to be sawn into timbers. For hardwood, it buys about 60-70 percent oak and the remainder a mix of species such as ash and gum, generally down to a 6 inch or 12 inch top. All logs, pine and hardwood, are purchased tree-length.

The company normally uses Lennox bandsaw blades, purchased from Sawmill Supply in Timpson, Tex., and Simonds circular saw blades for primary breakdown.

The new Cooper Machine scrag mill was installed over Christmas and began running Jan. 2. Cooper Machine president Robert Cooper and other personnel came to Crosscut Hardwoods and spent about a week after the equipment was installed, setting it up, bringing it on line and providing training.

“I’m just really impressed with their commitment…to make a smooth transition,” said Randy.

“It’s done everything that they said it would,” said Randy. “I’ve been very pleased.” He compared the upgrade to the difference between a 1979 Chevrolet and a 2014 model. “It’s a big improvement,” he observed.

Asked if he had any plans for the future, Randy said, “I think the biggest thing is automation where applicable.” The company already has automated some operations in recent years, he noted. He added the second Baker Products four-head band resaw system a year ago. “Some days we could use three,” he said. The Pendu stacker, with one operator, has a capacity of 5-6,000 boards per hour; it would take two or three workers to accomplish the same thing manually, he noted. The Morbark Stac Trac, with one man operating a grapple, stacks material that would take three or four workers “with smashed fingers,” noted Randy.

The pallet and sawmill industry has improved somewhat, according to Randy. “It’s been better than it was yesterday, so to speak, but there are still challenges,” he said.

One of the biggest challenges lately has been competition from the oil industry for industrial hardwood material. “The oil industry has put a strain on everything,” said Randy. Sawmills that cut industrial material for the oil industry, which uses hardwood for timber mats and other products, buy the same low-grade logs as mills that make pallet cut stock or railroad ties. “The oil industry has deeper pockets than the railroad or pallet industries,” observed Randy, who is a member of the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association, and the National Federation of Independent Business.

In addition, the logging work force is aging, noted Randy, and loggers have to choose whether they should chase higher prices offered by mills cutting for the oil industry or stay with markets that have consistently relied on them for raw material. There is competition for truck drivers, too.

“It’s just made us rethink our (business) models,” said Randy. “Passing along pallet price increases is a very tough thing to do sometimes.”