ALLENSVILLE, Pennsylvania — David Zook got into the hardwood sawmill business at the ripe old age of 22, buying a mill from his older brothers. He has continued to improve and expand the mill since then, frequently turning to Mellott Manufacturing Co. for machinery and equipment to handle and move logs and lumber products.
David, now 40, grew up in an Amish family in Allensville, which is located centrally in Pennsylvania, about 30 miles south of State College. The town is situated in the Kishacoquillas Valley, also known as Kish Valley and Big Valley, a valley in the Ridgeand- valley Appalachians. The Amish settled in the valley in 1791. The community is the third-oldest Amish settlement still in existence.
David was educated in Amish schools, which provide a formal education through grade eight, then worked on the family farm. By the time he was 18, he was working in a sawmill owned and operated by his father and older brothers. David ran the head saw and also maintained and repaired machinery and equipment.
His father and older brothers had purchased a used Frick handset sawmill in 1985 and used it primarily to cut lumber from damaged timber that was salvaged from the family farm. In 1992, however, they decided to expand the mill operations beyond simply cutting logs from their own farm and to make it more of a business venture. They added some equipment and doubled production to about 2 million board feet per year.
At the time David purchased the business, the mill was equipped with a Precision debarker, a newer Frick sawmill, a Reckart edger, and a Montgomery wood hog. The company’s eight employees were producing about 3.5 million board feet per year.
David envisioned improving and expanding the mill when he bought it and set about doing just that.
Today J.M. Wood Products is located on 8 acres. Facilities consist of a log yard, sawmill, steamer, shed for air-drying and storage of lumber products, a shop and office.
The company’s 20 employees produce about 150,000 board feet of hardwood lumber products per week, or 7.5 million annually. In addition, the company re-sells about 1.5 million board feet of logs, mainly for export.
David has relied heavily on Mellott, primarily for log and lumber handling and conveying equipment, since 2006. Much of the equipment he has ordered has been through Kline’s Equipment, a dealer for Mellott.
J.M. Wood Products buys both standing timber, sub-contracting for harvesting, and ‘gate’ logs from logging contractors. In the log yard, logs are handled and fed to the debarking system with a Tigercat 2160 loader-forwarder. Logs are debarked on a rosser head debarker which is scheduled to be replaced by a new Nicholson r2 ring debarker in June.
David decided on the Nicholson ring debarker for a couple of reasons. It will improve debarking and reduce the loss of wood fiber and also increase production. Some export customers require logs to be debarked, he noted.
Logs exit the debarker via a Mellott log trough and enter the mill on a Mellott deck that feeds the head rig, a Cleereman carriage and mill with a circular saw and top saw. The head saw squares up the log. The slabs drop onto to a Mellott vibrating conveyor that carries them into a Precision chipper.
The square goes to a Stenner 6-inch band linebar resaw with a Mellott runaround system. Flitches and two-sided timbers or cants are transferred to a Sherman combination gang-edger the company rebuilt. Boards go to a Mellott drop saw trimmer, are conveyed 90 degrees through a curve transfer to an unscrambler that singulates boards and delivers them to the grading station — all components supplied by Mellott. At the green chain, four employees pull and stack lumber by hand. Rail ties and timbers are routed in the opposite direction from the trimmer to the back of the sawmill to be handled and stacked by a forklift.
David has continued over the years to turn to Mellott, particularly for material handling equipment. “They make well-built equipment, and they have excellent service,” he said. An added factor is that the manufacturer is only a 90-minute drive away. “So we’re not that far away,” added David.
A drop saw trimmer is popular in sawmills for trimming lumber and other material to length at the end of the production process. However, in recent years as markets have changed, some mills have turned to cutting bridge timbers or similar products, and a typical drop saw trimmer cannot process material so large. Mellott designed a drop saw trimmer that can handle the big material.
“One of the things we do a lot of is figure out how to fit equipment into the amount of space that a customer has,” said Dale Mellott, vice president of the company. In designing the drop saw trimmer and 90-degree turn for J.M. Wood Products, the space limitations were “a bit cramped,” he noted. “It was a challenge to get it all to fit in the space that David wanted.”
Being a follower of Amish religious principles, David eschews the use of electricity in the mill. All the machines and equipment are powered by hydraulics or diesel engines.
Since David wanted the trimmer to be powered by hydraulics, Mellott designed it as a line shaft trimmer: all the saws run off of one line shaft. Other types of drop saw trimmers typically require the saws to be realigned when the belts are re-tightened, noted Dale. “We made the saw ladders so they’re guided and telescoping,” eliminating the need to re-align the saws when the belts are re-tightened.
Besides supplying the trimmer and other systems as well as various log and lumber handling and conveying equipment, Mellott has supplied the operator’s cab and controls for the head saw, a bar turner to turn logs on the carriage, roll case and transfer system to feed material to the edger, and more.
Mellott Manufacturing Co., Inc., based in Mercersburg, Penn., is a family-owned and operated business with roots to the 1960s. It manufactures rugged and reliable equipment for handling and moving logs, lumber products, and residuals. The company can design and build a wide variety of special conveyors and machines for the sawmill, pallet, and woodworking industry.
The Mellott product line includes debarkers, live decks, log troughs and other equipment for handling and processing logs, and drop belts, unscramblers, roll cases and much more for moving and handling lumber and other products. Mellott, which also holds patents on several innovations through the years, also manufactures bandsaws and trimmers.
Mellott has a reputation for its heavyduty steel and hydraulics, as well as for manufacturing equipment that is economical, safe to operate, and easy to maintain. (For more information about Mellott and its products, visit www.mellottmfg.com.)
J.M. Wood Products cuts primarily red oak, white oak, and walnut and makes a number of different kind of products. About 60 percent of the mill’s production is rough cut dimension lumber in random length and width. About 25 percent is dimension timbers and planks, primarily for mats. Another 10 percent is railroad ties, and the remaining 5 percent is pallet cants.
“We do a lot of red oak,” said David, in 8/4, 10/4, and 12/4. Much of it is airdried and shipped on stickers to customers in the Middle East.
“We also do a lot of fixed width to local flooring plants and specialty flooring companies,” said David. Lumber cut for these customers is a “heavy 4/4,” in widths such as 6, 8, 10, and 12 inches, and sold in random length.
No. 1 and No. 2 and better grades of lumber are sold to local concentration yards.
A small portion of the company’s production is sent out to be kiln-dried.
J.M. Wood Products cuts about 1 million board feet of black walnut that the company also steams to attain the dark color associated with walnut. The process, which is headed up by Elvin Swarey, is done in a steamer supplied by Brunner- Hildebrand Lumber Dry Kiln Co. and takes four days. The company also provides custom steaming services for other mills and lumber yards. David mentioned that they have had the steaming chamber for about a year and have been very satisfied. “It has done everything that they promised,” he said. He added that his company is considering adding another Brunner-Hildebrand conventional kiln with 25,000 board foot capacity in the near future.
Brunner-Hildebrand has over 15,000 kiln installations worldwide and offers a diverse product line including steaming chambers (using either direct steaming or indirect via a steaming tub), conventional kilns, green kilns, vacuum kilns, continuous kilns, and pallet kilns, as well as kiln control systems. The company’s latest innovations have been the implementation of Alternating Climate in its B9400 Computer Control System, and the introduction of a completely new weighing system for moisture control measurement.
Paper quality chips are supplied to paper mills and also a business that uses them in manufacturing laminate flooring. Bark is supplied to a company that processes it into mulch. Sawdust is supplied to farms for animal bedding; oak sawdust is supplied to farms that use it in growing mushrooms.
David has no definite plans for further improvements at the mill other than to upgrade equipment as needed in the future. One thing he has considered over the years when investing in equipment is durability and reliability. “I tend to look at heavier-built equipment,” he said, “equipment that will provide longer service.”
David oversees the business, which is a member of the National Hardwood Lumber Association and the Pennsylvania affiliate of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, and he also handles lumber sales. Several family members are involved in the business, too. David’s brother, Ben, is the mill manager, and another brother, Jonas, operates a forklift. David’s oldest son, Wilmer, works in the log yard. He singled out his forester and log buyer, Nathan Stonerook, and also Elizabeth Detweiler, who keeps the company’s books.
The company provides paid holidays plus, after two years of employment, paid vacation time.
The collapse of the housing industry in 2009-10 and the resulting Great Recession adversely impacted J.M Wood Products. “Yes,” said David, a member of a local Amish church who is involved in activities of the Amish community. “It sure did.”
However, the downturn in business was brief as he quickly adapted in order to continue to prosper. The company reduced employment for about three months, a brief period when it was not at full production. It recovered and expanded. Now it is cutting 2 million board feet more per year than prior to the onset of the Great Recession, plus has added log sales.
Asked how he was able to develop customers in the Middle East, David said, “Just being willing to put together the product the way they were requesting it.”
He was first approached by a Canadian lumber business to supply products for markets in the Middle East. That business has since folded, but the owner, who had widespread knowledge of lumber markets in Europe and the Middle East, continues to find business for David, who pays him a commission on sales.
“For us, it’s definitely paid to be willing to adapt and listen to your customers,” said David, “rather than just make it the way you want to make it.”