The quality and production of the Kara circular saw system is getting attention from small sawmill owners like Saskatchewan's Robert Nagy who are producing for niche markets.
By Tony Kryzanowski
When it comes to the evolution of small sawmilling in Saskatchewan, you might say that Robert Nagy is on the cutting edge. Nagy is preparing to take his typical, custom designed, low volume dimension sawmill to the next level and the backbone of his business plan is a new Kara thin kerf circular saw. This Scandinavian designed one-man sawmill has found a market in 60 countries, but only relatively recently has it been recognized as an alternative to bandsaws in Canada. Finnish based Kara has been around since 1918. Bandsaws still occupy an important place in sawmilling because of their ability to deliver superior lumber quality in a variety of dimensions. With that quality, however, there is often a trade off, with lower production numbers and the need for more blade maintenance. A thin kerf circular saw, though, may represent a viable alternative to those entering the sawmilling market, or to circular sawmill owners wanting to invest in more modern technology.
Most of Robert Nagy's sawmill experience as a youngster came at the stacking end of the sawmill line. Today, Nagy and his wife Barb own Nagy Land and Lumber which consists of a 13quarter section-or 1,950acre-grain farm and sawmill near the community of Mistatim, about 200 kilometres east of Prince Albert. Nagy returned to sawmilling eight years ago, after leaving a full time job. With grain farming, there are periods of intense work, and intense boredom. In an effort to manage the boredom side, Nagy decided to rejoin the forest industry and purchased a custom-built sawmill, which coincided with the purchase of a quarter section of land that contained a significant merchantable timber supply. "The timber that we sawed from that land paid for the land in the first year, which was pretty amazing to me," says Nagy. "The monetary return was rewarding, and I found I enjoyed that type of work. And it has been a good sideline for the farm. I find the margins in lumber a lot better than the margins in farming, and in years like this when grain prices are down; it is nice to forget that I'm a farmer once in a while. It does help financially, no doubt about it." Nagy realized the limitations of his first sawmill in that he was competing with forestry giants in the dimension lumber market and the real money was in value-added wood projects.
He went shopping for a sawmill system that could deliver higher quality and flexibility while handling a variety of wood species, as well as the ability to manufacture a wide range of lumber dimensions. While the majority of Nagy's wood supply is white spruce harvested from private land, he also manufactures lumber from poplar, tamarack, pine and birch. "We're in transition," says Nagy. "We're trying to evolve from the rough sawn green lumber market to more finished products and value-added type products. For example, we are looking at tamarack and birch for flooring." Nagy left no stone unturned in his sawmill equipment research, which included investigating the vast amount of information available on the Internet. Initially, he began gathering information on bandsaws and, over time, he formed the opinion that there was not a great deal of difference from one bandsaw system to the next. "I then stumbled on to the Kara circular saw and started comparing the two types of systems," he says. "I decided to go with the thin kerf circular saw for reasons of blade maintenance associated with band mills.
The cost was similar to high end bandmills, so I just decided to go with the Kara." Kara offers four main models, starting with the F2000, then the YS, Master, and Twin Master models. As a longtime worldwide provider of sawmilling equipment, Kara has developed a complete line of options depending on the needs of individual purchasers. Nagy, who was so impressed with the product that he became a Kara dealer for Saskatchewan and Western Manitoba, says Kara sawmill systems start at $60,000 (Cdn). His Kara YS was installed last spring. Production was slower initially when compared to his more familiar older sawmill. But it has now improved so that Nagy feels confident that with decent sawlogs and producing two-inch stock, he can manufacture as much as 1,000 board feet per hour. "If you can do 1,000 feet per hour with two or three men, you can make it pay," he says. "We are achieving more than double the production of a bandsaw. The quality of the sawing is very high, and it is well suited for value-added type projects. It is very accurate and creates smooth boards. Actually, you can take the lumber and build with it without planning." Right now, he has the sawmill set up on a highbed, highway trailer.
They have constructed a wooden deck built on an incline to feed logs to the mill entry point. A front end loader delivers logs to the deck. The sawmill operator manually sets the individual logs into position.
Manufactured lumber is automatically kicked in either direction from the sawing table and finished product is manually stacked, or sent through an edger and then stacked. The lumber air-dries in the yard. Nagy Land and Lumber has also installed a planer mill in a continuing effort to achieve maximum product value. While the Kara sawmill is manufactured in Finland, Nagy says the vast majority of wear items such as bearings and hydraulic hoses are common parts that are readily available in Canada. Nagy Land and Lumber hopes to become a year-round sawmilling operation and has applied to the Saskatchewan government for a Crown timber allocation. A guaranteed timber supply will allow them to attract more fulltime staff and to enclose the sawmill. Nagy is already convinced that there is an almost limitless market for niche type wood products. "There is a big market out there if you can supply what they want," says Nagy, who currently sells about 30 per cent of his production to the United States through a broker. He adds that networking is an extremely important aspect to marketing the sawmill's production. "Over time, you gather up a lot of different names of people that are buying wood and it pays to keep in contact with them," he says. "Things are always changing. It is just a matter of keeping in touch with the people that know what the markets are." So far, Saskatchewan sawmill owners have shown a lot of interest in the Kara product line, particularly during demonstrations at the recent Saskatchewan Forestry Expo in Prince Albert. "There is not a lot available for small scale sawmill guys in Canada right now, other than bandsaw mills," says Nagy. "So, there seems to be a lot of interest in these mills."
The past year was a time of surprise as lumber markets experienced a short-lived boom and consolidation in the Canadian forest industry continued at a rapid pace. During the sit we paper are international. Kennedy said there is speculation that StoraEnso, which has done a lot of deals in Europe, may start to look to North America. Roy McIntosh, national director of the forest industry practice group at KPMG, also said the industry could easily see an outside player, from Scandinavia for example, enter the picture. "There are some compa in the panelboard market, he says. He noted that OSB has gone from a small share-10 to 20 per cent of the market-to a large share of over 50 per cent of the panelboard market inor going ahead, there are fears of another glut in the future.
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