HAZELTON, West Virginia – Allegheny Wood Products, a leading manufacturer of hardwood lumber, recently added drying capacity at one of its concentration yards, turning to a supplier it has trusted for lumber kilns for more than 35 years: SII Dry Kilns.
With nine sawmills, eight in West Virginia and one in Pennsylvania, Allegheny Wood Products produces 230 million board feet of grade lumber annually. Half the output is dried at five kiln facilities.
“Allegheny Wood Products is a primary producer of hardwood lumber,” said John Crites II, company president. “We are a very vertically integrated company by investing heavily in the resource – having a year’s supply of timber ahead of our mill.”
The company’s customers range from railroad tie treaters, pallet and flooring manufacturers for green lumber and a wide range of wood products manufacturers for kiln-dried lumber, such as furniture, millwork, cabinet and dimension manufacturers. The majority of Allegheny Wood Products lumber is sold rough with less than 10 percent sold as surfaced. Allegheny Wood Products exports over 50 percent of kiln-dried production lumber to 20 countries.
Red oak is the dominant species the company manufactures; it accounts for about 30 percent of the company’s production. Cherry and soft maple each account for approximately 20 percent of production while white oak accounts for about 10 percent.
The company’s operations employ 1,053 full-time workers. Logging and trucking contractors that work exclusively for Allegheny Wood Products employ another 600 people.
Eighty to ninety percent of the raw material for the company’s sawmills comes from tracts of standing timber the company purchases. “Allegheny Wood Products primarily purchases standing timber from landowners and works with nearly 100 different logging companies in West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania to log and deliver logs to our nine mills,” said John.
His father, John Crites Sr., founded Allegheny Wood Products in 1973. John, who grew up working summers in the company when he was in school, has been a full-time contributor to the family business for 26 years.
John earned a bachelor’s degree in wood science from West Virginia University before joining the family business. His interest in tying together the best practices of silviculture and business resonate with those of his father.
His father was a forester who worked for the Hardwood Corporation of America before founding his own business. He also worked to establish the forestry program at Haywood Tech.
Allegheny Wood Products built its first kilns in 1984. It was the start of what is now a 35-year business relationship with SII Dry Kilns in Lexington, N.C. The lumber producer now has 47 SII Dry Kilns spread over five locations in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
The latest SII kilns added to Allegheny Wood Products were four units that were recently installed at the concentration yard in Hazelton, West Virginia. They differ in one important way from all the others: wood waste material is not the fuel source for heat.
“All our facilities use wood waste to provide heat for their conventional kilns with the exception of this bank of four new kilns at Hazelton,” explained John. “We are using natural gas for these kilns.”
There is a wood waste-fueled boiler at the Hazelton facility, and it provides heat for eight older kilns. However, the boiler did not have the capacity to heat four more kilns.
“It was painful for us” to have to choose natural gas (from the grid), said John. “We’ve always been big, big advocates for wood waste.”
The current prices for natural gas made it a viable choice for the four kilns, although John added, “We still feel wood waste is more economical.”
Hazelton is located in the ‘corner’ of West Virginia, near that spot that borders Maryland and Pennsylvania. There was never a question if the company would consider another kiln supplier when it decided to add kilns at the facility. “The only kilns that Allegheny Wood Products has ever built or installed are SII Dry Kilns,” said John.
Allegheny Wood Products has 58 lumber kilns in all — 11 of them from other kiln suppliers. John explained. “The only non-SII dry kilns the company runs are the result of acquisitions of companies that Allegheny Wood Products has made over the years. I would say this is the result of our trust in SII and faith in the quality of not just their product but of the service and support they provide.”
John explained why he is a strong believer in SII Dry Kilns — the company’s kilns and service. “We have always thought that SII is the best value with their combination of high-performing kilns and the knowledge that the Mathews family (the owners of SII) will stand behind their product.”
“There are several dry kiln companies out there,” noted John. “But when it comes down to the Mathews family, we started pretty early with them back in 1984. Whenever they built something, we knew they were going to stand behind it, support it.”
Dan Mathews, president of SII Dry Kilns, fondly recalled the history he has had with the Crites family and their business, along with Allegheny Wood Products staff. “I have had the pleasure of working with John (Crites Sr.) and Pat Crites (John Sr.’s wife), E.L. Cole (Pat’s father), John Crites II, as well as their first kiln operator, Jerry Mallow, project managers Harold Lewis, Tom Plaugher, Tom Phares, and Mark Lauer,” he said. “We have also worked with several other employees as well on individual sites and projects.”
From the first installation of SII Dry Kilns at the Allegheny Wood Products facility in Petersburg, West Virginia, to the most recent installation at Hazelton, Dan and his colleagues at SII Dry Kilns have watched their customer grow. The SII team has been ready to help Allegheny Wood Products meet their requirements for kiln-drying hardwood lumber.
“Due to the volume of lumber that is manufactured by their several sawmills, it is extremely important for them to have the ability to successfully dry multiple species and thicknesses,” observed Dan. “To SII, that means building kilns that can dry fast-drying species requiring high airflows, adequate venting, and appropriate heat to maintain set points. Additionally, when drying slower-drying species or thick high-grade lumber, those same kilns need to be able to dial back airflow through the use of inverters, to maintain proper control to ensure that temperatures and equilibrium moisture content remain very close to set points in order to minimize degrade.”
Allegheny Wood Products, which is headquartered in Petersburg, West Virginia, is committed to the environment and sustainability in all its activities. The company is a member of the National Hardwood Lumber Association, the Appalachian Hardwood Manufacturers Inc., the American Hardwood Export Council, the Pennsylvania Forest Products Association, and the West Virginia Forestry Association.
The company’s newest sawmill is in Smoot, West Virginia. It is equipped with a Cleereman slant carriage and a McDonough 6-foot double-cut band mill for primary breakdown. The head rig is optimized with a USNR LASAR 3-D scanning system. Secondary breakdown is accomplished with a McDonough combination thin kerf gang-board edger.
Allegheny Wood Products has good markets for its residual materials — bark, sawdust, and wood chips. Residual wood material also is supplied to an affiliated business, Appalachian Wood Pellets, which processes the material into hardwood fuel pellets for home heating.
The company set up the pellet mill and affiliated business when a paper mill closed that had been an outlet for chips from the Allegheny Wood Products sawmill in Kingwood, West Virginia. The pellet mill operates around the clock but is highly automated and only requires two workers. It uses sawdust provided by the sawmill. The pellet mill has bagging operations, and the pellets are bagged and supplied to independent dealers under private labels and also sold to ‘big box’ retailers.
The development of the pellet mill and business illustrates the business philosophy of Allegheny Wood Products. “Our philosophy – we believe you must never rest on your laurels,” said John. “Either run it wide open or don’t run at all. (Strive) for a new production record every day. Stay until the job is done.”
The goal of the vertical integration at Allegheny Wood Products is to “control the resource back to the source,” said John. A company is better able to “control its own destiny” by doing so.
When John was interviewed in June for this article, he was hoping for a swift end to the retaliatory tariffs imposed by China on imports of U.S. lumber. Much of the red oak his company produces goes to China, and he does not know whether buyers there will be receptive to paying the new tariffs.
With deep experience in forestry and business, John knows he must cope with fluctuations that occur in the wood products industry and its markets. His focus is on being prepared to deal with them.
“I’ve been around the business all my life,” said John. “I think I enjoy all aspects of it. Everything we do, we either make it, or we don’t make it. We don’t get any subsidies.”
John relishes the many people he gets to know through the ties of Allegheny Wood Products. When he has free time, he spends it with family. “We enjoy hunting, camping and West Virginia University sports.”
SII Dry Kilns Is a Family Affair
Dan Mathews cannot think about the path he took to becoming the head of SII Dry Kilns – helping out the family business while in high school, years working as an architect, returning to the family business to provide design-build services — without thinking of his late brother, Tom.
“I was first exposed to a dry kiln when 15 years old while building a kiln for my father’s new company for a customer in Laurinburg, N.C. during my summer vacation,” he recalled. “During my college years I worked off and on in some form of construction, and some of those jobs were building kilns around Georgia in the early 1970s.”
After graduating from college Dan practiced architecture in his hometown for 10 years. Then he was approached by his father and his brother, Tom, to join their company and provide design and engineering services, and he became part of the family business. Within a year Dan and Tom talked to their sister, Paula Turlington, into joining the company as well and assisting their father in sales.
“In 1995, our brother, Tom, lost his battle with cancer, and we felt destroyed,” said Dan. “Tom would have been my father’s successor had he lived, but as fate played out, after a few years I was appointed president.”
“Almost 25 years have passed since I took this position, and we are proud to continue as a family-owned manufacturer with a third generation helping fulfill my father’s legacy. Vice presidents Brian Turlington and Ben Mathews have both taken major roles in running the company, and my daughter, Mary, is our parts sales manager. They are all very proud of the company their grandfather began 50 years ago.”