Chips 'n Lumber
Ontario's Freymond Lumber has found a chipping operation makes for a good match with their lumber side.
By Paul MacDonald
You know that business is going pretty well when sawmill owners are more concerned about getting better weather-to get the logs out of the bush- and less worried about lumber prices. That's the situation many hardwood producers in Ontario found themselves in at the end of last year-with the past summer proving to be wet but with good lumber prices-and Freymond Lumber of Bancroft, Ontario is no exception. "The market for hardwood lumber is doing pretty well," says Lou Freymond, company vice-president. "But on the logging side, if we had not planned ahead and built road on our operations, we wouldn't have been able to bring in wood this past summer because we had so much rain."
This midsized mill's production is mostly hardwood, but it also does a fair amount of softwood, reflecting the local wood supply. "In the earlier days of the mill, we were focused more on softwood," explains Lou, who runs the mill with his brother Dan. "But that has changed and now hardwood is the focus. In any given year, we are probably 70 per cent hardwood and 30 per cent softwood. We still cut quite a bit of pine." In addition to reflecting the wood supply, the production is also in response to the more established and healthier hardwood lumber markets.
Interestingly enough, the majority of the hardwood they turn out is destined mostly for use in Ontario and Quebec, rather than headed to the booming American market. End users include furniture manufacturers and flooring plants. "The flooring market is doing really well," says Freymond. "In the last five to ten years, the market for #2 common maple and #2 common oak has been really good because of the flooring market.
That really counts for our operation because the maple growing around this area of Ontario is not really great quality. There's a lot of #2 common in it." The Freymond family has expanded the mill over the years to meet the growth in the market. "We built the present mill in 1982 and production has pretty much doubled since then. The big increase took place in 1990 when we put in some additional equipment and worked to utilize smaller wood."
A bulledger was installed to help handle the smaller logs and a new thin kerf saw helped them to speed up the sawing end. Freymond notes that the mill was among the first in Ontario to utilize thin kerf circular sawmill equipment. "A lot of the improvements on the sawing side were due to adding people who can look after the equipment. In the past, we had the old type saws, and we sent them out to get hammered out and fixed. "Back then, if the equipment didn't work well, then we would just have to put up with it because we were not able to fix it on site. Now, if something is not working well on the saws, we can fix it because we have the people.
If something is not working, it's out of there and we put in new equipment that works. Over time, we have been able to work on the overall operation and get the flow working better." The most recent addition was an updated carriage drive. Average production for the mill is between 32,000 and 35,000 board feet in hardwood, around 45,000 board feet in poplar and between 45,000 and 50,000 board feet in pine, all based on a one-shift operation. Total annual production is about eight million board feet a year.
The company takes an innovative approach to the lumber tally. They have a lumber grader who actually works- and walks-on the green chain, relaying information by a headset microphone to an operator located in a nearby booth who inputs the information into the computer.
Every day, we write on the board what the previous day's production was, and this information gets directly to the production people on a timely basis." The big move for the company in recent years was the installation of a chip plant, which significantly increased the total amount of fibre produced overnight. Most of the chips go directly to the nearby GP Flakeboard plant in Bancroft. Additional volumes are sold to other chip users in Ontario and Quebec. The chip plant was a positive move in a number of respects, says Freymond, including being able to utilize lower grade pulpwood and thinnings. "It has also diversified our company and helped to clean up the lower grade wood in the forest in this area. I think we're creating a better forest because of it." The chipping operation consists of a Nicholson 35inch debarker that feeds to a 72inch Morbark chipper.
The chipper can take anything up to a 21inch diameter piece of wood. Wood between 21 and 35 inches goes to a Serco 8000 clam loader that is equipped with a four-way splitter that takes the wood down to a manageable size for the chipper. They can utilize wood from four to 35 inches in diameter and from eight to eighteen feet long. The chip plant produces about 90,000 tonnes a year, or about 58 trailer loads a week. Freymond Lumber forms an important part of the supply chain for GP Flakeboard, with the mill acting as a flexible, virtually Justin time, wood chip supplier. "We help to keep the wood flow stable at GP," explains Freymond. "They have room for only so many wood chips. They can't always control what they get from the other sawmills in the region, but they can control their supply with us."
For example, GP might phone at the beginning of a week and ask them to "turn on" the softwood and they will chip nothing but softwood to meet those requirements. "They can pretty well gauge what they will need for the coming week, whatever that happens to be. But quite often, there will also be changes in the middle of the week." Another sawmill supplying GP might not be able to come through with chips because of a breakdown "and that's where we come in, filling the chip gap". "It works out well for us on the mill side and for the people selling logs because it gives them one more market for that low grade wood."
The GP mill is a good fit in the area because there is a lot of that low grade wood-the broad rule of thumb in the region is the supply is generally 70 per cent pulp wood and 30 per cent sawlogs. "In the past, we barely had enough of a market to deal with the Crown pulp wood, let alone the wood that came from private land," says Freymond. He notes that they are cutting entirely in managed forests on the Crown side and, increasingly, on the woodlot side.
On Crown land, the harvesting is done using a selection system, sometimes shelterwood systems in pine, and the odd small clearcut. "Really the only time we do a clearcut is when the management plan calls for a stand conversion, to go from one species to another." Forest management is also increasingly being practiced on the private woodlots. "In the past, many private woodlots were basically getting high graded. But I can see that in the last few years there is a switch over to more of a managed approach on the private side, with the pulpwood getting harvested along with the sawlogs.
A good number of the woodlots will have a forester mark the trees, while others will use a logging company that develops perhaps a less sophisticated, but still solid, harvesting plan. And there are still some woodlot owners who simply sell their timber to the highest bidder, without a lot of thought for the overall health of the forest. "But they are becoming fewer and fewer," says Freymond, noting the significant change in the last few years. "Even a few years ago, very few woodlots used to be marked.
But there is a trend towards more professional management of the trees." He adds there is some thought being given to a bylaw that would institute a minimum harvest size for trees in the county. About 40 per cent of Freymond Lumber's wood comes from Crown land, with the remaining 60 per cent coming from private wood lots.
There are 40 logging contractors who deal with the mill, either doing harvesting directly or in supplying timber. In addition to the private wood lots and Crown lands, Freymond has assembled its own forestland base over the years. "We put a lot of focus on private land, both in terms of buying timber from woodlot owners and purchasing land that comes available. That approach came from our father. "We've invested in the future on our land. We have a lot of young plantations where the timber is going to be good in 25 years. We like the idea of being able to manage the land if it's our own, versus another woodlot owner having control of the land."
Depending on the year, and what timber is available, they may take up to 10 per cent of the mill's timber requirements off their own land-or they may take no timber at all off this land. While the harvesting side is contracted out, Freymond builds all of its own roads and does its own trucking. To keep their loggers busy year round, they cut road right of way during the wet season and build road in July and August. The company was founded by Lou and Dan's father, Peter Freymond, who started with a modest operation in 1946 in nearby Dungannon Township. It moved several times-essentially going to wherever the timber was-before eventually buying out C W Bierworth & Sons, which was the oldest established sawmill in the North Hastings area.
At the age of 77, Peter Freymond still comes in to the mill from time to time, although he long ago passed on day-to-day operations to Lou and Dan. "Dad was in here this morning," says Lou. "He likes to know how things are going and he doesn't hesitate to tell us when we are not doing something the way he would do it," he notes. "But then when we explain how things have changed, he's fine with it." The commitment and quality of their employees, combined with the solid direction of two generations of the family, have made for a successful operation, says Lou Freymond.
As for the future, the Freymond family is conscious that although there may be some opportunities for expansion, they have to be balanced by the limits of the local forest resource. "You know, we could expand and sure, we could run another mill to utilize smaller logs. But I'm not sure the forest around here needs that. We're not sure if this area can take more pressure in terms of more wood being cut. And that's an important consideration for everyone operating in this area."
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last modified on Tuesday, February 17, 2004