New Mill Design Exceeds Production Expectations at Copiah Lumber

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CRYSTAL SPRINGS, Mississippi — One good experience often leads to another. For Craig Pyron and John Pyron, the co-owners of Copiah Lumber Company, Inc., the notion applies in multiple ways.

Take starting a business. In 1986, Craig and John, who are brothers, entered the wood products industry as brokers. “We were in the timber buying business and short pulpwood business, merchandising pine and hardwood,” said Craig, who talked with us for this story.

It did not take Craig and John long to begin to think that they might achieve more by building on the expertise they had with wood and extending their endeavors to buying standing timber and sawing it themselves. Hence, in 1990, they opened a saw mill. “We started out with a Hurdle circular sawmill, a Crosby edger and a Corinth trimmer,” said Craig.

Today, Copiah Lumber has two mills, which are called mill one and mill two by the team of 39 employees. Mill two was built in 1996 and it includes a Cleereman LP42 heavy-duty carriage. In 2003 they purchased a hardwood sawmill in Georgetown, Mississippi, now called Pearl River Lumber Company, Inc. Pearl River also has a Cleereman LP42 heavy duty carriage.

The choice of the Cleereman carriage for mill two proved to be another good experience that would lead to more of the same. “It’s a very simple, rugged piece of equipment,” said Craig of the carriage. It’s just the sort of machine that Copiah Lumber wants to fulfill its twin priorities of being versatile and productive.

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By the time Copiah Lumber began exploring the option of adding a stationary carriage and a moving bandsaw to mill one, it had a very favorable impression of Cleereman Industries, which is based in Newald, Wis. “We were very familiar with Cleereman,” said Craig.

The good interaction over the years with Cleereman meant that when the company introduced its Cleereman Lumber Pro thin kerf band mill, the machine got the attention of Copiah Lumber. “We wanted something faster, simple and reliable,” said Craig.

The Cleereman Lumber Pro intrigued. “It was a new design,” said Craig. “It looked real efficient. We’re big on production.”

At the time that Craig first encountered the Cleereman Lumber Pro, however, it was smaller than what he had in mind. So he asked about a custom build.

“I talked Fran Cleereman and Rod Chitko into building a 62-inch for us – instead of a 54-inch,” said Craig. (Fran is president and Rod is vice president, materials handling division at Cleereman.) With that, Copiah Lumber got the first 62-inch Lumber Pro from Cleereman, a size now available to all.

The team at Copiah Lumber worked with the Cleereman engineering department to do the preparatory work for the installation of the Cleereman Lumber Pro, building a structure and pouring concrete. By September 2015, the saw was in operation.

“[Cleereman] sent a crew of three people” said Craig. “Rod put the final touches on.”

Cleereman offers many models of its 17-degree angle, stationary carriage band mill. Options include high performance air, hydraulic or hydraulic linear setworks with turners and rotary bar turner.

Being able to capture market share in a fluctuating environment for products is important. Because the Cleereman Lumber Pro can be used in more than one way, it bolsters a company that wants to be as flexible as possible.

The Lumber Pro has multiple blades (up to a 10-inch double cut). They can be used to yield high-quality lumber or cants. A unique feature of the Lumber Pro is the ability to cut up to 30’ in length. Also important, the Cleereman Lumber Pro has a modular design. That makes its footprint as small as possible and reduces space (and energy) requirements. It also makes installation easier.

By adding the Cleereman Lumber Pro to mill one, Copiah Lumber can be exceptionally flexible. The company produces grade lumber, mat timbers, boardroad, cross ties, and pallet cants. The proportion of each depends on the nexus of prospective markets and specific orders. The company aims to capture the best markets, explained Craig.

“We’re very versatile here,” said Craig. “We sell our lumber rough green. We cut whatever we can sell. We cut whatever we think is the best utilization.”

John does purchasing of raw material. He buys standing timber and gate logs. The company then contracts for all cutting.

“We saw red oak, white oak, poplar, gum, sycamore, beech and hickory,” said Craig. “Seventy-five percent of what we saw is oak.” All of it heads directly to mill two, where it is graded, trimmed and sorted.

In addition to the Cleereman LP42 carriage, mill two has a McDonough 7-8A band mill and a McDonough 62-inch horizontal resaw. It also has a Hi-Tech 55-bay sorter and a Baxley trim saw. (A Baxley planer-mill trimmer system can turn out 150 or more lugs per minute.)

There is a HMC rosserhead debarker that starts the line in each of the two mills. And except for the Hurdle in mill one, every other piece of breakdown equipment on the lines is fitted with scanning packages from Lewis Controls in Cornelius, Ore. The Lewis Controls have been in place only since 2013, but Copiah Lumber actually started scanning in 1998 with different controls.

The Hurdle circular saw in mill one has quite a track record. It’s the same saw that was purchased new in 1989 when Copiah Lumber was just gearing up and preparing to launch.

Mill one also has a West Plains 600 resaw with hydraulic setworks. Like all the mill equipment, it was purchased and fitted into the line when the time was right. Craig gives a great deal of thought to how pieces of equipment will contribute to the goal of maximum production.

The early days of Copiah Lumber were quite different from the high-production company with the two mills that operates today. “My brother John sawed and filed the saw,” said Craig. “I ran the loader, unloaded log trucks, loaded lumber trucks, sold the lumber and managed.”

Starting as they did proved a good method for Craig and John. “We learned at the ground floor,” said Craig.

“My grandfather was in the sawmill business, but he was out of the business before John and I were born,” said Craig. For Craig and his brother John, the inception of Copiah Lumber was truly an entry into a new sphere of industry.

The customer base for Copiah includes moulding plants, cabinet plants, furniture plants and flooring. Every bit of the process is something that Craig relishes. “Just to watch those logs get sawed into lumber products is very gratifying,” he said.

Contract haulers are used for deliveries of lumber and chips. All waste produced by the two mills goes to Precision chippers, two in mill one and one in mill two. The chips and sawdust are then sold to paper mills.

Crystal Springs, the home base for Copiah Lumber, is part of the eponymous county in the southeastern part of Mississippi. Copiah County derives its name from a word that Native Americans applied to panthers – calling panthers, specifically. Crystal Springs has approximately 5,000 residents.

The eastern cougar is the common name for the panther that roams in the southeastern United States. Yet the animal has at least 15 other common names – and a robust body of folklore – tied to it. The eastern cougar consumes white-tail deer as its primary food source.

Craig and John belong to the Mississippi Forestry Association, which is headquartered in Jackson, Miss. The MFA dates to 1938. It was organized to represent the diverse contributors to the forestry industry in Mississippi and includes land owners, foresters, contractors, manufacturers, state and federal agencies, and suppliers of related products and services.

In all things, the MFA aims to promote understanding about the use and conservation of forest resources. Committed to fostering knowledge, MFA members participate in educational outreach. Each summer, high school students interested in agriculture tour the operations at Copiah Lumber through the Mississippi Soil and Water Conservation Youth Camp.

From his first experience with Cleereman via a Cleereman carriage, Craig has had confidence in Cleereman products. Again, it was that confidence that ultimately led to the purchase of the Cleereman Lumber Pro thin kerf band mill in 2015.

Cleereman Industries has been developing and manufacturing sawmill machinery for more than 66 years. The principles that guide the company are straightforward and focused on the customers that use the machinery. Customer service is Cleereman’s number one priority.

For one, Cleereman is committed to making high-quality products. The concept is simple: High-quality products allow the end users of the products to realize high production and high performance.

Second, and correspondingly, Cleereman strives to achieve streamlined designs that are especially durable because they minimize the number of moving parts. And third, service and support are absolute givens.

Is there a philosophy of business that keeps Copiah Lumber strong? “Treat others the way you want be treated,” said Craig.

As for the way that Craig and John were able to build their successful business – from the ground up, mill component by mill component, the brothers react to their success with humility. “We’re mighty humble and thankful that God has blessed us here,” said Craig.

When Craig has free time, he has a very definite priority. “I like to spend time with my family,” he said.