In less than three months after taking ownership of the family sawmill business, 3rd generation owner Mike Junk and brother-in-law Shawn Fowler made the changes necessary to compete and thrive in the lumber industry. By installing a Wood-Mizer WM4000 thin-kerf industrial headrig to replace their old circular sawmill, Mike and Shawn positioned Honey Grove Hardwoods, LLC on the cutting edge of technology to increase efficiency, yield and profits for their business.
Honey Grove Hardwoods began as JM Junk Lumber Company and Sawmill by Mike’s grandfather in 1941. The family business was continued for several decades by Mike’s father before Mike and Shawn created a partnership and changed the company name to Honey Grove Hardwoods, LLC in July of 2013.
Cutting hardwoods to produce grade lumber for moulding, caskets, veneer, stair treads, flooring, ties and pallet cants, the U.S. based company used a circular sawmill as the center of their operation for more than 70 years. By using old technology and inefficient production methods, Honey Grove Hardwoods was struggling to keep up with competitive timber prices and increasing industry demand.
Circular Sawmill Operation
With more than two decades in the lumber business, Mike recently noticed a drastic change in the competitive industry. “For many years, the lumber business has been based solely on production. This is no longer the case,” he said. “The industry is changing from ‘how much you produce’ to ‘how much profit you can make’.”
To keep up with the evolving lumber industry, Mike and Shawn came to the conclusion that their circular saw with conventional wide-kerf blades had reached the end of the line. “We realized we were running outdated equipment when we weren’t getting the footage and grade yields that we thought we could get with thin-kerf technology,” Shawn said.
Fitted with a circular headrig and a log carriage, Honey Grove Hardwoods’ operation was not only losing yield, but their production set up was inefficient, forcing the sawyer to do multiple jobs at once. “A vertical edger was positioned in front of the sawyer booth on our circular headrig, which meant the sawyer was also the one doing the edging,” Shawn said. He explained that this process helped with saving costs on labor, but since the sawyer was rushed to saw as well as edge the lumber, it sacrificed quality and production. From outdated equipment to inefficiencies, Mike and Shawn decided to take a closer look at upgrading their entire operation.
Thin-kerf technology is a forward thinking approach to an industry that tends to think bigger is better. Not only do thin-kerf blades produce up to 30% more product from logs, but businesses who have adopted thin-kerf technology have reported lower costs for labor, blades and blade maintenance, electric bills and transportation when comparing to their circular or wide-kerf blade sawmills. Reducing waste and increasing yield is exactly what Mike and Shawn wanted to accomplish in improving their business.
Looking to learn more about thin-kerf technology, Mike and Shawn travelled to Wood-Mizer headquarters located in the United States where they witnessed the WM4000 industrial headrig in action. “After seeing the WM4000, we realized the potential production and yield increase advantage over the circular mill we were currently using,” Mike said. Seeing proof that a narrow band, thin- kerf blade sawmill could produce less waste, more product and use less energy to saw, Mike and Shawn decided to move forward with their operation and add a WM4000 headrig to their production line. “We felt the WM4000 was a very cost effective way to update our whole operation to thin-kerf without the huge investment that a large band mill would cost to purchase and maintain,” Shawn said.
Shortly after this decision, Mike and Shawn welcomed a few Wood-Mizer industrial specialists to their location to help put into perspective how they could update their operation and incorporate Wood-Mizer technology and equipment into their current business model. After receiving recommendations, Honey Grove Hardwoods installed a complete Wood-Mizer system.
Transitioning to Thin-Kerf
The transition from a circular sawmill operation to thin-kerf was a three week process where Honey Grove Hardwoods basically tore out all of their existing equipment from the debarker through to the wood chipper. After pouring concrete and adding the proper electrical connections, Honey Grove Hardwoods was back in business and ready to start sawing again.
Since installing Wood-Mizer equipment in their operation, Honey Grove Hardwoods has been satisfied with their investment. “Thin-kerf technology with the WM4000 has been working extremely well, even in very cold weather and dealing with frozen logs during the winter months,” Mike said. “The WM4000 has allowed us to focus on every aspect of the mill from logs to lumber without having to purchase as much raw material in this competitive market.”
After the installation of their new Wood-Mizer equipment, Shawn describes the everyday operations of turning logs into lumber. “The Log Deck helps ease the process of loading logs onto the WM4000. From there, logs are cut on the headrig and then moved from the sawmill’s built-in conveyor to the Three-Way Conveyor,” Shawn said. “Material is transferred from the conveyor to the Green Chain and then to the EG400 edger for a very smooth transition from logs to accurate lumber.” With this system, the sawyer no longer has to be the edger, which improves efficiency and quality of materials.
Mike and Shawn admitted to working through a learning curve with the new equipment. “We were used to operating with a log carriage instead of the log placed directly on the bed of the headrig, so we had to learn how to use the controls and setworks of the WM4000,” Shawn said. “We also had to learn the correct adjustments and mill alignments in order to keep the band finely tuned in order to produce accurate lumber. I’d like to give Wood- Mizer a special thanks for their customer support and helping to educate us on these issues,” he said.
Although Honey Grove Hardwoods basically produces the same products as with the old circular sawmill, Mike says that they have reevaluated what is cut out of each log with the huge savings coming from thin- kerf blades. “The larger kerf of the circle mill was causing us to purchase so much more raw material,” he said. “We were just turning more dollars and sawing logs faster, but not getting the yield returns we wanted on the lumber. Although our system looked productive, it wasn’t profitable.”
Compared to their old circular sawmill operation, Mike said their yield has improved greatly with Wood-Mizer equipment. “The yield factor is amazing with thin-kerf producing only one-third the waste of our circle sawmill, plus you can slab smaller and lighter which increases usable lumber,” he said. Being able to produce more product from fewer logs also cuts down on transportation costs and increases the profit per log. “We are getting the same amount of lumber while using 25% less timber and raw materials, which in turn, reduces transportation costs across the board,” Mike said. He also noted that the WM4000’s ability to saw the log and return the lumber right off the dragback was a great feature and helped speed up their production.
Honey Grove Hardwoods is also saving on blade maintenance. Thin-kerf blades are less costly to maintain and easy to replace if they are damaged. “The nice thing about thin-kerf blades is that you can change a blade and be sawing again in two minutes,” Shawn said. Minimizing downtime and repair costs has helped Honey Grove Hardwoods stay productive without having to wait on blade repairs or replacements.
When it comes to advice, Mike encouraged others to talk to those who have transitioned from a circular to thin-kerf sawmill. “Do your research and visit someone to talk about their experience of making a change,” he said. By visiting Wood-Mizer and taking advantage of thin-kerf technology, Mike and Shawn have positioned Honey Grove Hardwoods, LLC for success in the lumber industry for generations to come. “The WM4000 put us right back up to the competitive edge on utilizing and maximizing yields for our business,” Mike said.
- WM4000 (Thin-Kerf Headrig) Primary processing unit to initially break down logs
- High tech computer automation controls gives the operator several options to open and break down a log, allowing for grade cutting, patterns or multi-sized cants and ties
- Servo motors in the head increase up/down speed and positioning precision
- Blade guides incorporate integrated blade lubrication ports, flanged heat-treated rollers with high speed bearings and double block guides for optimal blade performance
- Standard offloading conveyor
- Pantograph system keeps all cables away from sawdust and debris, resulting in a trouble-free operation
- Log Deck (Stage and Load Logs)
Eases the process of loading logs onto the sawmill
- Controlled from the operator’s stand with hydraulically driven heavy-duty chains
- 9.1m (30’) maximum log length capacity
- Equipped with a stop and loader to ensure that a single log is loaded at one time
- Available in 3.7m (12’) and 6m (20’) standard lengths
- EG400 (Industrial Edger)
Secondary processing unit that keeps boards moving towards finished lumber
- Rugged board edger capable of edging 900mm (36”) wide and 100mm (4”) high material
- Powerful enough for hardwoods, the 22kW (30HP) Electric 460V/60Hz 3Ph 100Amp is also energy efficient to keep utility costs low
- Two standard lasers determine correct board position, increasing yield and grade
- Automatic variable speed is set by the thickness of the piece being edged
- Two 400mm (16”) inserted carbide teeth blades mounted on splined shaft
Watch the WM4000 in operation in Romania, in the video below.