Diversity Helps New Hampshire Mill: Retail Business, Pallet Operations Aid Poulsen Lumber Company

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About one-third of the company”s revenues come from lumber sales, another one-third from pallet sales, and the remainder from retail sales of building supplies.


LITTLETON, New Hampshire — Poulsen Lumber Co. is living proof that small sawmills can still prosper, but it helps if the owners are pitching in and also if the business is diversified.

Located in northern New Hampshire, just north and west of the White Mountain National Forest, Poulsen Lumber is in its 60th year of business. The company is owned by Allan Santy, who purchased the mill from Val Poulsen, Josh Santy’s grandfather. Allan, 59, has been involved in the business since he was 20 and became the owner 20 years ago. His son, Josh, works in the business, along with Allan’s wife, Chris, who runs the office. Like his father, Josh, 33, began working in the business when he was a young man, when Josh graduated from high school.

Poulsen Lumber cuts about 65,000 to 70,000 board feet per week. The company employs about a dozen people in addition to the three family members: five sawmill workers, four in the pallet operations, two in the planer mills, and two in the office. The business has six buildings situated on 27 acres.

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Asked to describe his father’s day-to-day role in the business, Josh replied, “It depends on the day,” but Allan typically runs a loader in the yard. Josh has duties in several areas: generally overseeing operations, maintenance, scaling logs, and sales.

Besides the sawmill and pallet manufacturing operations, the company is a full-service building materials retail business. About one-third of the company’s revenues come from lumber sales, another one-third from pallet sales, and the remainder from retail sales of building supplies. The company continues to sell all its sawmill production locally. Lumber products are sold air-dried to building and remodeling contractors and homeowners.

Poulsen Lumber cuts mainly hemlock and pine, white pine and red pine. The company also cuts some spruce, fir, and poplar. It buys logs ranging from 8-16 feet and some up to 20 feet, 8-36 inches in diameter. It makes both grade and low-grade lumber, with the low-grade lumber used in its pallet manufacturing operations.

With its two planer mills, Poulsen Lumber manufactures S4S, ship lap, channel rustic, panels, and other products. Lumber products typically are 3/4-inch material in widths ranging from 4-12 inches and 6-16 feet long. Timbers for timber frame homes also make up a considerable portion of lumber sales.

Business is good, according to Josh. “We’re quite busy,” he said.

The last five years has been ‘different,” he acknowledged. Sales from pallets helped carry the company through a slow-down in lumber sales in the wake of the recession. Also, sales to individual homeowners, as opposed to building contractors, have increased considerably in recent years, apparently as more homeowners took on do-it-yourself, home-improvement projects.

In the log yard the company has a Cat front-end loader, a pair of forklifts, and an older Hood log loader. The sawmill operations begin in the yard with an HMC V206 debarker that is situated under an overhanging roof. After debarking, logs are conveyed to the head rig, which consists of an HMC tong dog, four-knee carriage with Silvatech setworks and paired with a 50-inch circular saw and a 30-inch top saw. Logs are sawn on the head rig all the way down to a cant, usually a 3-inch cant.

Flitches are routed to a Cornell four-saw, combination gang-edger; one side has two movable saws for edging, and on the other side the remaining two saws operate as a gang. The gang typically is used to cut 3-inch cants into 3×4 material for pallet stock.

Material exiting the Cornell machine center goes to a transfer deck and then to an HMC double-end trimmer. From there it moves onto the green chain to be pulled by hand.

The mill also is equipped with a Stenner two-head band resaw for resawing cants into boards. Scrap material is collected onto a vibrating conveyor that carries it into a Morbark 48-inch chipper. The company runs Simonds saw blades on the head rig.

The most recent improvement in the sawmill was the addition of the Cornell gang-edger, which was installed four years ago. The mill has been equipped with used machines that have been refurbished, in some cases by the Santys themselves.

The company’s sawmill machinery brands are well known in the forest products industry. Michigan-based Morbark manufactures equipment for forestry, sawmill, recycling and biomass operations; the company offers a full line of flails, disc and drum tree chippers, chippers for sawmills, and chipping and grinding equipment. HMC, located in New Hampshire, manufactures sawmill machinery and equipment and also provides engineering layout and design; core products include debarkers, carriages and carriage drives, band mills, trimmers, and lumber and material handling equipment. HMC also has a strategic alliance with Stenner, which manufactures band resaws. Cornell is a former manufacturer of machinery primarily for the pallet and lumber industries; it was acquired in 2004 by Pendu Manufacturing, which makes a wide range of machinery and equipment for sawmill and secondary wood processing industries.

The planer mills are in close proximity to each other. One is a fully enclosed building while the other is set up under a shed roof. Each planer mill is equipped with a Newman four-sided planer. The planer operations also equipped with another, old planer and a Mattison moulder.

Like the sawmill equipment brands, Newman Machine Co. is well known in the lumber and pallet industries; in addition to planers, the company manufactures rip saws, trimmers as well as specialty equipment for the pallet industry, such as notchers, chamfer machines, and block saws.

Poulsen Lumber has been in the pallet business for 35 years or so. A lot of the company’s pallets are supplied to businesses that use them to ship goods overseas, so Poulsen Lumber offers pallet heat-treating services to comply with ISPM-15. The company produces about three truck-loads of pallets per week.

The pallet shop is equipped with a pair of chop saws. All pallets are assembled by hand with pneumatic nailing tools. The company has a mix of Grip Rite and Bostitch nailing tools provided by their fastener supplier, New Hampshire Tool.

Poulsen Lumber manufactures well over 200 different pallets, said Josh, all custom. A truck-load may have 10-15 different sizes. One of the most common sizes is 85×128. The company makes pallets as big as 10 feet by 20 feet and down to 16 inches by 22 inches.

About 80 percent of the company’s pallet production is heat-treated for use in export shipments. Poulsen Lumber is equipped with a Nyle heat-treating system for making pallets export-ready, and its heat-treating process is certified by Timber Products Inspection.

Nyle, based in Brewer, Maine, supplies kilns for drying lumber as well as systems to heat-treat pallets and firewood. The company offers both complete systems as well as kits and components. Standard Nyle systems are indirect fired, meaning there is no open flame for increased safety in operations. For pallet heat-treating, Nyle offers two systems  a complete system with a capacity of 660 GMA pallets, and another mounted on a shipping container or truck body with a capacity of 350 GMA pallets. The company also offers a complete kit for installation in a customer’s chamber, which can be sized for any capacity, or can provide the chamber as well. Nyle can also provide the chamber for pallet heat-treating, in addition to supplying components for companies that want to build their own pallet heat-treating system.

The company’s pallets are supplied to manufacturers within a relatively small area, a radius of 35 miles. Customers represent such varied industries as wood products to electronics.

Chips are sold to power companies for boiler fuel, bark is sold to local landscaper for mulch and some is sold wholesale, and sawdust is sold to farmers in the region. The recession had a negligible impact on the company’s operations, according to Josh. “We might have cut back on one person…we were able to keep everybody busy.” One of the most important things that has helped the company is its pallet operations. “We have a market for our low-grade lumber,” noted Josh. “Anything that does not make grade, we have a use for it instead of selling it.”

Employees get paid for the major holidays. They receive a week’s paid vacation after one year and two weeks after five years.

The Littleton area seems to have enjoyed healthy residential growth, Josh agreed. “A lot of people…are looking to get out of the city,” he said, to a more rural environment.