Randy D. Miller Lumber Co. Chooses BOLDesigns Kiln to Dry Yellow Pine

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North Carolina planer mill will dry 100 percent of lumber with new kiln.

WILKESBORO, North Carolina — There are as many ways to arrive at a decision as there are decisions to be made. The truism counts for business and for life in general.

As for decisions to be made in business, there are ways to narrow the choices and ease the decision-making process. Randy D. Miller, owner and president of the eponymous Randy D. Miller Lumber Company, used two tried and true methods for choosing his first lumber drying kiln. He conferred with colleagues and he called in a consultant.

“I talked to a few people who had BOLDesigns kilns,” said Randy. “All gave it a good recommendation.”

“I had a consultant, Dennis Clay,” said Randy. Dennis assessed Randy’s operation and recommended BOLDesigns.

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Dennis, who refers to himself as ‘the kiln consultant’ is based in Lenoir, N.C. He has written for this magazine on topics including the avoidance of the waste of energy during kiln drying. No one wants to waste energy. Doing so is costly – and inefficient.

BOLDesigns Inc. is located in Lenoir, N.C. “It’s about 30 miles away, which makes it easy to get parts,” said Randy.

We talked with Randy in early June, when he explained that the kiln he selected from BOLDesigns was being installed. He expects it to be running by early July.

“It’s a BOLDesigns two-track kiln, 36×63,” said Randy. “It will hold 100,000 board feet.” The kiln will be heated with natural gas from the grid.

The kiln will be used to take timbers down to 25 percent moisture content and 5/4 and 2-inch dimensional lumber to 19 percent moisture content. The timbers will be in the kiln for three or four days, said Randy. The lumber should require just 24 hours.

As for the time Randy expects to slash off the drying schedule, it’s significant. To air dry timbers it takes 120 days – “every bit of that,” he emphasized. Dimensional lumber sometimes takes longer.

“We basically buy rough-sawn lumber and dress it – plane it and dry it,” said Randy. “There’s also a crating shop, but it’s gone by the way for the most part.”

Until now, timbers and lumber have been air dried. The kiln from BOLDesigns is the first kiln for Randy’s company, which was established January 1, 1983. The kiln became a necessity for Randy’s company when he learned from his customers that “Lowe’s and Home Depot were no longer accepting air dried lumber.” Although Randy doesn’t sell to these outlets directly, his customers who treat lumber do, so the requirement for kiln dried lumber had a significant impact on Randy’s decision.

The site of Randy’s company straddles a road as two separate yards and encompasses about 30 acres, so there is plenty of space for air drying. “Total production in a year is 12 million board feet – all yellow pine,” said Randy.

Prior to 1983, Randy worked for his father who had a mill, filling in as needed on all machines. “I saw an opportunity to buy yellow pine,” said Randy. That motivated him to get into business for himself.

Although Randy anticipates maintaining the focus on yellow pine, he understands the fluctuations in the wood products industry well. And he explained that one thing he appreciates about the kiln from BOLDesigns is that he can use it to dry hardwood species, should he ever decide to take in hardwoods.

The Wilkesboro, N.C. home to Randy D. Miller Lumber Co. is strictly a planing mill and drying facility. Since the inception of his company, Randy has acquired two sawmills, Pine Log in Elkin, N.C. and S&L Sawmill in Denver, N.C. Twenty percent of the output of the Elkin facility and 75 percent of the output from the Denver facility head to the Wilkesboro planer mill. Low-grade material from Elkin and Denver is sold to pallet makers. The higher grade material goes to furniture manufacturers.

“At both sawmills, we contract with people to fell trees,” said Randy, whose company buys standing timber. Randy has an operations manager for all three facilities, but he does oversight of the Randy D. Miller Lumber Co. and its affiliated mills.

The planer mill in Wilkesboro has two planers – a Yates A-62 and a Yates A-20. For the most part, one planer is used for timbers and the other for dimensional lumber. The arrangement saves time by reducing changeovers.

“We do 5/4 on the A-62,” said Randy. “We try to do timbers – 6×6, 8×8 –on the A-20, but we can switch.”

Air drying has been done in the open. Once dried, material not slated to leave the yards immediately is sheltered in sheds. The system will soon change, of course.

One hundred percent of the output from the planer mill will be dried in the BOLDesigns kiln, explained Randy. The kiln will be loaded with Hyster forklifts. Ninety-five percent of the dried lumber will go to wholesalers who will treat the lumber before distributing it. And the remaining five percent will go to lumber suppliers. Randy said he has had good discussions about his operation with Howard Bollinger, one of the owners of BOLDesigns. And he looks forward to sustaining the conversation if questions arise. “So far, they’ve done what they said they would do,” said Randy of BOLDesigns. “So far, I’m tickled to death with it [the installation process]. I’d be very surprised if they didn’t do what they said they would do.”

The philosophy of the team at BOLDesigns is, in a few words, to reduce the variables in drying by reducing the mechanical variables. For instance, each board will ultimately have a unique moisture content (even if it varies just a tiny fraction from boards taken from the same log) — just as incoming logs will vary from one another (however slightly). Yet mechanical variables – the condition and surface integrity of the interior of the kiln, the functioning of fans and vents, the dependability of tracks – can be controlled by good design and careful engineering.

In short, BOLDesigns aims to construct kilns that take advantage of natural moisture and temperature gradients inside the kiln and boost that advantage with assists from reliable components. Wet venting, for example, ensures venting from the wet side of the lumber. To work optimally, the fan and vent set up that promotes the flow of moist air must be in excellent mechanical form. As BOLDesigns describes it, the idea is to “remove mechanical variables from the process” of drying lumber.

A bagging system from Premier Tech Chronos in Riviere-du-Loup, Quebec, Canada is used to bag the shavings that come off the planers. Randy’s company private labels the bags for wholesalers that sell to horse farms. It also sells bags to feed stores under its own label.

“We do mulch from both of the sawmills,” said Randy. “At the softwood mill we run a tub grinder. At the hardwood mill we run a horizontal Bandit Beast.” Dust from the sawmills is collected and sold to chicken farms.

The planing mill employs 27 people. Equipment that simplifies the logistics in the planing mill includes a LIGNA end trimmer, Hemco (USNR) sorter, two Hemco (UNSR) stackers – one at each Yates planer and a Morris stacker at the sorter. (USNR, headquartered in Woodland, Wash., is now the original equipment manufacturer for Hemco.)

Randy is a member of the North Carolina Forestry Association, which is headquartered in Raleigh. According to the NCFA, which analyzed data released by North Carolina State University, in 2011 (most recent figures available), forest products constituted the top manufacturing industry in the Tar Heel State. That top rank came despite the dramatic downturn the industry experienced in the state between 2007 (272,364 jobs) and 2011 (180,504 jobs).

And NCFA notes that as fast growing as the state of North Carolina is, forested land still totals 18.6 million acres. Most of the forested land (86 percent) is privately owned.

The town of Wilkesboro, N.C., the place where Randy’s planer mill is located, is part of Wilkes County. It is in the west and central part of the state. Approximately 3,000 residents live in Wilkesboro.

Recalling how he came to be engaged in the wood products industry and a business owner, Randy attributes a great deal to following in the path his father had taken. “My dad always worked for himself,” he said. “I wanted to work for myself. I like being my own boss – except on the days when everything goes wrong.”

With more than three decades of experience in the industry, Randy is well aware of difficulties others have had – and he has experienced. Many businesses did not survive during the last economic downturn, he said.

“I just try to stay in business now,” said Randy. “Now, business is the best it’s been in seven years.

Indeed, being ready for change is one way to sustain a business. So even though the crating that was once a bigger component of the product roster at Randy’s company has slowed, the production of pre-cut pallet parts has made up for it . Having the option of being able to use the drying kiln from BOLDesigns for hardwood is a good one.

When he takes time away from Randy D. Miller Lumber, Randy has a definite interest. “I like old cars,” he said. He restores cars. And among his favorites are two that he now owns – a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro and a 1970 Chevrolet Camaro. He drag races with the 1969 model.