Maine Lumber Producer Continues Making Upgrades To Sawmills That Cut Spruce and Eastern White Pine

Pleasant River Lumber Invests in Two Nyle Kilns

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HANCOCK, Maine – Pleasant River Lumber has continued to upgrade a sawmill it acquired a few years ago. This year the company has added two Nyle package kilns to increase drying capacity.

Pleasant River Lumber operates four mills in Maine — two that produce dimension spruce lumber and two (including the Hancock mill) that manufacture dimension Eastern white pine lumber.

Pleasant River Lumber purchased the Hancock mill at auction in 2011. It had been operating since the 1940s and made lumber for boxes and ammunition crates and other wood products until it was closed in 2010. The new owners immediately began to modernize the mill, which also had dry kilns and a planer mill.

Hancock is not far from the coast. It is located just outside of Ellsworth, a sizeable town just under 30 miles southeast of Bangor. Hancock is less than 10 miles north of Mt. Desert Island, which contains Acadia National Park.

Pleasant River Lumber is owned by two brothers, Jason and Chris Brochu, and their father, Adrian. The Hancock mill, which employs 41 people, cuts mainly 4/4 lumber. “Our target goal, green, is 300,000 board feet per week in five days, eight-hour shifts,” said Burley Higgins, plant manager for Pleasant River’s Hancock mill. The company sells to wholesale distributors in New England and elsewhere along the East Coast.

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The most recent upgrades to the mill were the addition of the two new Nyle dry kilns, each with 20,000 board feet capacity. One began operating in January and the other in May.

The mill needed to increase drying capacity. “It takes us seven days to dry pine correctly,” said Burley. “In winter it takes longer. Throughout winter we gain inventory.” The company does not dip lumber, and in the long term it did not want to continue building inventory of green lumber through the winter months. “The reason we’re putting in the new kilns is so we can keep up,” said Burley.

Another reason was to improve efficiency in drying operations. The company had been drying shorter boards in kilns that could hold longer material. “We were losing efficiency having to load (shorter lumber) in the 16-foot package kilns,” said Burley.

He was already familiar with Nyle and its kilns because the company’s drying capacity included existing kilns previously installed by Nyle. Nyle Dry Kilns is located just outside of Bangor, and its proximity was another reason why it was attractive as a candidate to supply new lumber kilns. When placing their order, Pleasant River Lumber asked for kilns to dry just their premium grade lumber, and that is exactly what Nyle Dry Kilns provided.

A Hurst biomass boiler is used to produce steam for all the company’s kilns. It is fueled with scrap from the sawmill operations that are processed into chips and also shavings from the planer mill.  “The Hurst doesn’t use that much (biomass),” said Burley. Most of the company’s chips are supplied to paper mills.

Since the company already had a boiler providing steam for the other kilns and residual material from the sawmill and planer mill for fuel, steam heat was the logical choice for the new Nyle dry kilns that were installed this year. “We needed to use that source,” said Burley.

The steam also can be used in the lumber conditioning process. “We do use steam to spray if we need to temper wood in the kiln,” noted Burley.

Front-end loaders are used to load the kilns. The Nyle kilns feature touch-screen controls that are Internet-protocol based, so they can be accessed remotely via smart phone, computer or tablet. “That’s crucial for winter power outages, said Burley.

Because the Hurst boiler is low pressure, an operator is not required to be on site 24/7. So it’s a double bonus to be able to control kilns from anywhere.

Green pine lumber has a moisture content of 40 percent. Kiln-drying the lumber brings it down to 12 percent.

The lumber manufacturing operations begin in the log yard with a Nicholson 27-inch ring debarker and a rosserhead 40-inch debarker. Logs are squared up on an HMC AC50 hydraulic linear positioning board dog carriage that is paired with a PHL 72-inch stationary double-cut band mill. The carriage is moved with a Tyrone-Berry hydraulic carriage drive. The headrig also features a Sering Sawmill Machinery HD log turner, and the headrig is operated with the aid of a USNR LASAR scanning  optimizer system. A PHL horizontal resaw removes the grade material, and the cant is sawn on a slow-moving Esterer sash gang saw with 17 blades.

“We typically average two or three passes per face on the double-cut,” said Burley. “If it is a small log we will often only make passes on the A1 and A2 face and send the remainder to the sash. We often only three-side the cant on larger logs and send it through the sash three-sided.”

The HMC carriage was installed about six or seven years ago and the PHL mill was added shortly thereafter. The carriage “has been a very solid, well-performing piece of equipment,” said Burley. The mill occasionally ordered some replacement parts and the HMC parts department has been “very responsive,” he added.

A Yates-American A12 planer surfaces four sides of the kiln-dried lumber. The planer, trimmers, sorters and stackers are part of the legacy equipment purchased with the mill site. A recent addition is a used Paul three-saw edger that was manufactured in the early 2000s. The optimized edger uses 16 lasers to scan for wane and gives a one or two-board solution based on the constraints set by Pleasant River Lumber.

The planer mill is “somewhat antiquated and bare bones,” said Burley, but that will change soon because the company is planning to make some improvements. For now, a tilt-hoist is on the infeed to a multi-head trim saw, which is followed by the planer, another trimmer, and graders and stackers. The planer mill also can produce other products, such as beaded siding.

Pleasant River Lumber has good markets for residual materials. Beside supplying paper mills with chips, sawdust is sold farmers, and bark is sold to a company that processes it into mulch. “We produce four truckloads of bark per week, three to four truckloads of sawdust, and sell eight to nine truckloads of chips,” said Burley. The company also has operations to bag shavings for horse bedding and produces about 4,000 bags per week that are sold to retailers.

Each spruce mill produces 100 million board feet per year. When continuous dry kilns are fully implemented, each mill will produce 150 million board feet annually.

Improvements and upgrades are an ongoing part of the business model at Pleasant River Lumber. They include the move to state-of-the art planer mills, a new lug line at one mill, and a rail spur between two facilities to speed shipping. The company also is building a new log line at the Enfield facility, which will have a rail spur to ship dressed lumber coming from a new planer mill at Dover-Foxcroft and also provide logs via rail to the new log line.        Optimization is used extensively at major machine centers at the spruce mills. Adding the two most recent dry kilns at the Hancock mill was part of the company-wide commitment to maximize efficiency at the four mills.

Working with Nyle on the project to add two kilns was a pleasure for Burley. “Nyle has a similar feeling (to our company),” he said. Nyle Dry Kilns is a family-owned business, and its business leaders understand family-owned companies.

Nyle, which brings more than four decades of experience to every kiln solution it provides, offers both turn-key and custom kilns. Hot-water heat, steam heat, gas-fired and dehumidification options are available in both track and forklift-loaded kilns.

Nyle strives to make kilns that can be operated optimally by the veteran and novice alike. All Nyle kilns are built from corrosion resistant aluminum to enhance longevity.

“Very straightforward” was how Burley described the installation process. Plans for concrete slab, steam piping, electrical service and walls were all detailed. Pleasant River Lumber hired a contractor for help with the first installation. “On the second kiln, Nyle did the whole thing – start to finish,” said Burley.

The two new 20,000 board foot package kilns from Nyle get high marks from Burley. “We’re very happy with them,” he said. “These smaller kilns are very efficient and quick to heat. They maintain their temperature.”

Burley stressed that Nyle listens to and understands its customers. The company’s relationship with Pleasant River Lumber is similar to the relationship the lumber company has with its customers, he suggested. Nyle puts a strong emphasis on the quality of its kilns and efficiency in the kiln operations, and those are similar goals that Pleasant River Lumber has for its products.

Burley earned a degree in electrical engineering from Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont. He was no stranger to the forest products industry before accepting a position with Pleasant River Lumber just a few years ago. “My family owned a pallet mill and sawmill in central Maine,” he said. The business closed in 2007, and Burley moved to Florida the same year and worked as a computer engineer.

His heart was still in Maine, however. He and his family returned to Maine after 10 years with Burley first taking a position with Pleasant River Lumber as a controls engineer. He later moved to Hancock for the position of project manager before being named plant manager.

When Burley takes time away from his work, he and his family enjoy going to their camp for recreation. “Our lives revolve around our (four) children,” he said.

Pleasant River Lumber is a member of the Northeastern Lumber Manufacturers Association and the North American Wholesale Lumber Association, which certifies its graders.

Burley very much enjoys his work at Pleasant River Lumber. “I feel a part of a team,” he said. “I feel like I’m contributing.”

(Editor’s Note: For more information about Nyle Dry Kilns, visit or call (800) 777-6953.)