Small sawmiller George Brough has been kept busy milling the timber harvested for energy project right-of-ways in Alberta.
By Tony Kryzanowski
Record high cattle production and clearing of easements for natural gas pipelines have paid off handsomely for Alberta portable circular sawmill owner George Brough. More cattle production means that ranchers need more lumber for corrals. Plus wood cleared and decked on the growing number of pipeline easements, as a result of natural gas industry expansion, has created a largely untapped portable sawmilling opportunity.
A greenhorn in the custom sawmilling business, Brough says the income from his sawmilling activities has paid for his sawmill twice over in a year and a half. He farms near the community of Boyle in north-central Alberta. During his first year, he spent about half his time custom sawing and the other half working for himself, producing and selling about 100,000 board feet of lumber from logs he purchased from private wood lots.
He ran one local custom sawing advertisement and stayed busy for a year. Owner of George's Custom Sawing, Brough says it was his love of woodworking that propelled him into this business venture, despite the fact that his own experience in forestry was limited to log hauling. "I build things and I was forever going to the store to buy lumber," says Brough. "I found it hard to buy lumber at the store because they didn't make it the way I wanted it. So I thought if I bought a small mill, I could supply my own lumber and get what I wanted."
One market for his services lay with farmers and ranchers in the region who had decked wood that was left behind by pipeline crews clearing right of ways. It was hardly worth their while to sell the logs to local sawmills, who were only offering to pay them $18 per tonne. Brough custom cuts the logs at a rate that's about 12 per cent cheaper than other local band saw owners because his circular saw is able to produce higher volumes of lumber over a shorter period of time.
He will also manufacture lumber from the logs, pay the owner $100 per thousand board feet, or give them the opportunity to take their payment in actual manufactured lumber. "They are happy with that rate because they'd never get that kind of money from a big sawmill," Brough says. The majority of the lumber is used for corrals or any building construction that does not require stamped lumber. Last year, one rancher purchased 33,000 board feet of lumber in a single order.
Brough also purchases standing timber on private wood lots, felling and using horses to skid the logs to minimize damage to smaller stems. Sometimes he uses a small tractor. Before selecting his portable circular sawmill, Brough conducted plenty of research. He felt the Brough says that, with sawmilling jobs in close proximity to his home, he can be on site and producing lumber in an hour. our circular saw to cut good clean squares and use the band as a resaw."
The company's twin saw models use four cycle or diesel power and cut to an accuracy of plus or minus 1/32 of an inch. Its single saw models cut to within 1/16 of an inch. Brough says his sawmill's cutting accuracy is surprising. "If you have a wrong board, it's your fault," says Brough. "The mill doesn't make mistakes. The only time it will make a mistake is if there is human error. If your saw starts to wander and heat up, you are trying to push too much production through." All sawmill blades have six carbide tipped teeth that can be sharpened right on the mill.
Brough says he sharpens once a day, whether they need it or not. He rotates two head and two edger saws on a regular basis and they are still in use after well over 100,000 board feet of production. The company says the average life of the circular saw blades is 20,000 to 40,000 board feet before retipping. That blade performance is particularly impressive when you consider that Brough saws both hardwood and softwood species. These include aspen, fir, spruce, pine and tamarack. He has even produced lumber from old fir and cedar power poles.
Brough says he has no qualms at all about sawing aspen, although he does slow his blade speed down slightly because it is a hardwood. He loses about 25 board feet per hour in production as a result. He rated fuel consumption of the unit as satisfactory at 4.5 gallons of diesel in 10 hours. Over the course of the past year and a half, he has experienced no major downtime only stopping to replace normal wear items such as bearings.
After a quick, free hands-on demonstration from D & L Double Cut Sawmills, Brough says he was able to catch on to the mill's operation almost immediately. "Mind you, I've gotten a lot faster," says Brough. "When I first started out, I could look at a log and tell you nothing about it. Now, I can look at a log and tell you exactly what I'm going to get out of it. I can tell you how much to the inch, and how many two by six or how many two by ten you will get."
He has produced a variety of dimensions, with excellent results and accuracy down to as small as one by four. "Using small logs, we produced 2,000 board feet of one by four in just over eight hours for a local farmer," says Brough. Compared to band saws, he feels that by carefully manipulating the log he achieves better fibre recovery using his circular saw on logs that are crooked or contain some rot.
His TS 30 is "really safe to run," he adds. "There is no way that the piler would get his hands caught in there. Also, during operation, the saws are rotating away from everyone so that if there is any sawdust or a piece of log that breaks, it isn't going to fly back at the operator." Brough continues to attract a lot of business just through word of mouth and is pleasantly surprised how well his investment has panned out.
D & L Double Cut Sawmills is a BC company that has been building sawmills for 45 years and has mills in operation all across Canada. It manufactures four double cut circular saw models with the saw operating on a horizontal plane, as well as two double cut twin saw models, featuring a vertical head saw and a horizontal edger saw combination.
The sawmills are called "double cut" because on the single saw system, the operator manually pushes the carriage and manually feeds the saw down the log on the track system. Once at the other end, the saw is pushed out and manually fed back through on the opposite side of the log that was just cut. The twin saw models enable two saw cutting actions, one verticle saw and one horizontal saw.
This gives each of these models a built in edger and power feed. With a capital outlay of about $27,000, Brough purchased the company's TS 30 double cut twin saw model, capable of handling logs from 6 to 20 feet long, and up to 30 inches in diameter. "I could see where I could get the production out of it and also afford to hire a fellow to pile the lumber," says Brough. D & L Double Cut Sawmills also manufactures other models, able to handle logs from four to 20 feet long, up to a 48-inch diameter. Its double cut single circular saw sawmills can handle logs from six to 20 feet, up to 16-inch diameter.
There is no need to debark the logs prior to sawing, or turn the logs after each saw stroke. "The most production my neighbour has been able to get with his band saw is 1,200 feet per day," says Brough. "I'll have that sawn by coffee time. At the end of the day, I've got maybe 4,000 to 5,000 board feet. So I can afford to pay my piler $50 per thousand." "Many have purchased band saws to find low production and high blade maintenance when cutting round logs...but don't dismay," the company says on its Web site. "You can purchase circular saw had higher production potential and, after watching his neighbour's band saw in action, opted for a portable circular saw instead. He purchased a D & L Double Cut sawmill because of its circular saw design, simplicity, easy set-up and low maintenance.
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