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Mississippi Mill Adds Second Head Rig, Starts China Export Venture

Fred Netterville Lumber Co. Puts in AWMV LT300 Thin-Kerf Head Rig to Boost Production

By Diane M. Calabrese
Date Posted: 8/1/2006

WOODVILLE, Mississippi — Charlie Netterville, president of Fred Netterville Lumber Company, was named after his grandfather. “My grandfather was a cattleman, a Church of Christ minister and a sawmill owner,” said Charlie.

        Like his grandfather, Charlie has taken on multiple challenges. In addition to operating Fred Netterville Lumber Company with his co-owner and younger brother, Howard, who is the company’s secretary-treasurer, Charlie is a pilot. He has also just started a term (2006-2007) as president of the Hardwood Manufacturers Association (HMA).

        “It’s an honor to be chosen” to head the HMA, said Charlie. It’s doubly rewarding because he is following in his father’s footsteps. “My father was the second president of HMA, 1985 to 1986,” he said. His father, Fred, died in 2000 in a horseback riding accident. He, too, was a doer; besides operating a sawmill he was a farmer, growing soybeans and raising cattle.

        When Charlie got into the sawmill business, he worked alongside his father, who had established Fred Netterville Lumber Co. in 1952. Fred had bought his father’s small pine mill, which had been going since the mid-1940s.

        “Dad came out of school, graduated Ole Miss,” said Charlie, and decided to put his degree in business from the University of Mississippi to work in wood products.

        Charlie got into wood products full-time even faster than his father. After three years of studying business in college, Charlie concluded in 1980 that he was ready to stop listening and begin doing. Joining the family business was a move he had long planned on making. “I always loved it,” he said. “I’ve always worked for my father or myself.”

        The trials of keeping up with an ever-changing wood products marketplace seem to inspire Charlie. Readjusting and adapting in order to run a profitable business is an effort he takes on wholeheartedly.

        Consider the planer mill at Fred Netterville Lumber Co., which does surfacing on request and for an extra charge. (A Yates-American model B-26 two-side spiral head planer gets the job done.) Customers can save on freight by purchasing planed lumber, noted Charlie. Shaving 1/8-inch or 1/16-inch off the surface makes a money-saving difference in the weight of a load. He does not hesitate to explain the benefits of the service to customers.

        Charlie applies the same sort of creative thinking all across the mill. He wanted to increase the volume of cants processed at the linebar resaw without continuing to run two shifts. Good employees are getting more difficult to find, and even with two shifts going the linebar resaw was idle much of the time. Charlie’s solution: add a second head rig.

        Charlie had seen an AWMV Industrial Products (a division of Wood-Mizer) LT300 head rig in operation, and he thought it might be just what he needed to keep the linebar resaw cutting at  full capacity on one shift. “I just thought it would be a cheap way to increase breakdown,” he said. And he was correct.

        The AWMV LT300 was up and running at the beginning of this year. “It’s increased our production,” said Charlie. The AWMV LT300 produces more cants to go to the linebar resaw.

        Installing the AWMV LT300 was pretty simple. “We already had a concrete slab,” said Charlie. It took only the effort of drilling a few holes. The operator for the AWMV LT300, who is an experienced sawyer, was able to get up to full production in just three or four weeks, said Charlie.

        With the AWMV LT300, Fred Net­terville Lumber Co. is able to saw about 200 more logs per day.

        The AWMV LT300 is designed to give the sawyer an unobstructed view from the operator’s station. An air jet keeps the cut surface free of sawdust. The AWMV LT300 uses a 30 hp engine to power the narrow, thin-kerf bandsaw blade, so big logs can be cut with less energy.

        Initially, the lean look of the AWMV LT300 surprised some of Charlie’s colleagues. They wondered whether the economical bandmill could increase production the way he expected. Now, Charlie can show them the results. The AWMV LT300 is the first Wood-Mizer machine that has ever been in service at Fred Netterville Lumber Co.

        Charlie is responsible for timber procurement. The company buys about 60% of its raw material on the stump. The remaining 40% comes in as ‘gate wood’ — logs purchased from independent contractors.

        Netterville Lumber has a logging division, operating under the name C&J Timber. C&J harvests some of the timber the company buys, and contract loggers also are used. The C&J crew is mechanized, relying on a Tigercat feller, two John-Deere skidders and a Prentice knuckle­boom loader.

        The company brings tree-length logs and short wood into the yard. “We try to take in 12-inch (diameter) and larger, No. 2 and better logs,” said Charlie. Every log is measured with a Doyle scale rule.

        There are three foresters among the more than 150 employees at Netterville Lumber and its sub-divisions. One of them is currently filling in as a foreman in the logging operations.

        The company has a system of ponds to store the logs and prevent them from drying out and checking. “We keep two to three million board feet under water at all times,” said Charlie.

        Every log that is brought into the yard is tagged with a bar code. “We bar code every log we bring in,” said Charlie, using a system from Forestry Systems Inc. “So we know our overrun and yield every day.” The tags are scanned at the end of every shift.

        A Nicholson 44-inch ring debarker is used to debark all logs. The bark is processed by a grinder. About one-third of the bark grindings are used for boiler fuel for the company’s dry kilns, and the remaining grindings are sold for boiler fuel. The debarked logs are scanned by an MDI (Metal Detectors Inc.) metal detector.

        A log deck feeds large logs to the company’s Filer & Stowell 7-foot bandmill, which is paired with a Corley carriage with Jacobson carriage drive and Lewis controls. The smaller, straightest logs are taken off the deck and moved to the AWMV LT300 to be sawn.

        The logs are cut to a 17x17 cant, and the cants are kicked off to the Corley linebar resaw or McDonough 54-inch center-split bandmill.

        In 2001, the Netterville mill added a Hi-Tech four-saw optimized edger and a Hi-Tech trimmer. A grading station follows the trimmer. The lumber is sorted and stacked with a CSMI 30-bin sorter and CSMI stacker.

        A Pierce dip-tank system allows the company to treat lumber to prevent stain. All lumber is end-coated with a wax sealant to prevent checking or splitting.

        The mill has a file shop and services many of the blades that it uses. Generally, the bandsaw blades are serviced in the file shop, and the circular saw blades are sent out for repair. Blades for the AWMV LT300 are returned to Wood-Mizer to be re-sharpened.

        By late summer, Fred Netterville Lumber Co. will have a combined dry kiln capacity of 670,000 board feet. When Charlie talked with TimberLine in June, a kiln from USNR with a capacity of 118,000 board feet was being added to the eight existing kilns, which are from COE Mfg. and USNR.

        “We dry all of our No. 1 common and better and some of our No. 2 common” lumber, said Charlie. When Charlie started in business with his father 26 years ago, his duties included running the boilers and dry kilns.

        Given that that the LT300 is made by a division of Wood-Mizer, Charlie often refers to his AWMV head rig as Wood-Mizer. “Wood-Mizer was a very good price to get our production to 10,200 to 10,400 board feet per hour,” he explained. With the addition of the AWMV LT300, the mill was able to cut back to one shift per day and reduce labor significantly.

        Finding good, stable employees has not always been so difficult. “We have two employees that have been here 54 years,” said Charlie. “Some have been here 38 years.”

        Charlie attributes some of the difficulty in finding and retaining good employees to the 21st century notion that work involving physical labor is not as valuable as sitting at a desk. He laments the loss
of manufacturing capacity in the U.S., but he is determined to keep his family business viable.

        “We’re trying to find ways to compete,” said Charlie. “Wood-Mizer helps us do that.”

        For what he considers a relatively modest investment, Charlie’s mill is now able to produce about 2,000 more board feet per hour, a 25% increase.

        Fred Netterville Lumber Co. produces 25 million board feet annually from Southern hardwoods, including cypress, oak, ash and poplar. The lumber ultimately is used to make millwork, flooring and furniture. Some of the cypress is remanufactured into exterior panels.

        Fluctuations in markets make it important to be versatile, noted Charlie. For instance, consumer preference in kitchen cabinets can affect demand.

        “We’re 80 percent red oak here in the South,” said Charlie. But red oak “lost its favor to maple” when women began preferring maple kitchen cabinets. Finding new markets for red oak lumber was a key to adapting.

        “We’re just a family operation,” said Charlie. “We’ve been here over 50 years. We have no intention of leaving. We have timely shipments. We know our customers well.”

        When necessary, Charlie knows how to make cost-effective changes. Investing in the AWMV LT300 is one example.

        Another example: he is partnering with two competitors in Mississippi in a new venture to export lumber to China. Along with Rutland Lumber Co. and Rives & Reynolds Lumber Co., Fred Netterville Lumber Co. is part of joint venture named Hardwoods of America. The companies expect to export 10 million board feet of lumber annually to China from six sawmills.

        Fred Netterville Lumber Co. does all its own trucking through a separate trucking holding company. It has a fleet of 30 18-wheelers, which do back-hauls as well as deliver lumber to customers.

        In addition to the trucking company and C&J Timber, Netterville Bros., a sawmill in Jackson, La., is part of the Fred Netterville Lumber Co. umbrella. The company acquired the mill in Louisiana 11 years ago. It produces about 6-6.5 million board feet per year.

        Expanding to sales in China was a carefully considered decision and a response to changing market conditions. “We lost our furniture manufacturing in the United States, and that’s why we went overseas,” said Charlie.

        Woodville, headquarters for all of the operations under the Fred Netterville Lumber Co. name, is located in southwest Mississippi. The town has approximately 1,400 residents and is the seat of Wilkinson County.

        Charlie’s sons are getting more and more involved in Fred Netterville Lumber Co. His older son, Matthew, 23, recently earned a degree in accounting and now is working for the company full time, taking charge of the yard and running the kilns. His younger son, Seth, 20, is learning the business and attending college. Learning the business from the ground up is a must, said Charlie.

        The piloting that Charlie enjoys takes him into more than one type of aircraft. “I fly helicopters and airplanes,” he said. A company plane allows Charlie to mix his love of flying and business. He often flies the plane to meet with important customers. In addition to flying, he also enjoys saltwater fishing.

        As president of HMA, Charlie looks forward to seeing the organization’s membership grow. The HMA, with 134 members, promotes hardwood manufacturing through media outreach and education. It gets the word out regarding the beauty and utility of U.S. hardwoods, especially targeting architects and other specifiers who make decisions about lumber in planning and designing building projects. An annual wage survey enables HMA members to assess whether they are in range with recruitment and retention of employees.

        HMA offers a great deal to its members, including an easy way to get to know one another and to share information. There are two regional meetings each year that include mill tours. “I think the camaraderie, being able to go to our other members’ mills” is important, said Charlie.

        “There’s an 80/20 rule,” Charlie observed. “Only 20 percent in a business organization participate” fully. He would like to increase that to at least 40%.

        Besides serving as president of HMA, Charlie is on the board of another major trade organization, the National Hardwood Lumber Association.

        Being thoroughly engaged in his many activities — family, business, community — is something he learned from his father and grandfather. So is taking a broad outlook. His grandfather often cut pine for people building houses and he helped churches with the lumber they needed. He did not always get paid right away. But by extending credit, he helped to build the community.


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