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Johnson Lumber Benefits from Mill Upgrades
Specialist in Eastern White Pine Lumber, Log Homes Has Strong Ties to HMC Corporation
By Diane M. Calabrese
Date Posted: 12/1/2007
CARTHAGE, New York — Eastern white pine lumber and timber products are the mainstay of Johnson Lumber. Eighty percent of the company’s production is kiln-dried and surfaced lumber products, and the remainder is timbers and other components for log homes.
It wasn’t always that way, however. The company used to be devoted to manufacturing hardwood lumber. “We did hardwood from 1977 to 1985 — hard maple, cherry, oak, birch,” said Robert Johnson, who owns Johnson Lumber with his brother and partner, Ronald.
The competitive market in the northern tier of the Empire State prompted a change. “There were too many hardwood mills around us,” explained Robert. “We needed a niche.”
Robert lives in a log home, and marketing log homes is another enterprise that he and Ronald share.
For a time, the brothers’ lumber company included operations to make mulch, including colored mulch; however, they sold the equipment 18 months ago. Now, Johnson Lumber puts waste wood through a West Salem Machinery Co. grinder. It sells the grindings to the company that bought its equipment for the mulch operations.
Johnson Lumber suffered a fire in 1995. To get started again, Robert began to search for equipment. “I called three to five manufacturers,” including HMC Corporation, he said.
Talking was only where the process began. Robert took to the road to get a firsthand look at equipment and the manufacturers behind it. “I went to visit (HMC),’ he said. “I liked their shop — a very clean shop, very organized.”
HMC Corp is located in Contoocook, New Hampshire. The company has been in business over 54 years. Besides its core machinery line of debarkers, carriages, trimmers, waste conveyors, lumber handling equipment, band resaws, chain turners, metal detectors, tilt hoists and band mills, HMC also offers layout design and installation services.
HMC helped Johnson Lumber get up and running again. “After the fire, HMC helped us draw up plans, get some decks, and get going,” said Robert. Essentially, HMC provided a new sawmill.
Through the course of the years, Johnson Lumber has added more equipment from HMC. In the course of it all, Robert has come to know Peter Taylor, the owner and president of HMC. He has great appreciation for the advice and service he has gotten from Peter, said Robert.
Even so, when Robert is looking for a new piece of machinery, he does due diligence on other suppliers and their machines and weighs the options. A year ago, for instance, the mill upgraded its debarker. The older machine was an HMC. After considering other manufacturers, Robert still chose an HMC V-2110 debarker.
HMC offers four models of rosserhead debarkers with a long list of options, such as all hydraulic or all electric. Customers can choose a debarker that closely fits their requirements.
From the HMC debarker, logs are conveyed to an HMC carriage. The carriage is an HMC AC40 Board Dog that has provided many years of long, dependable service. The IESCO 125 hp carriage drive is an electric regenerative drive purchased within the last two years. The other half of the head rig is a McDonough 6-foot double-cut band mill.
Resawing is done on a Cardinal 6-inch gangsaw, and edging is done on a Paul optimized edger. Paul, a German company, has been making woodworking equipment since 1925. The company introduced the first double-sided edger in 1948.
Boards exiting the edger head are conveyed by an HMC rollcase to an HMC MDS50 trimmer, and finished lumber goes onto an HMC green chain that was added in 2007.
The HMC MDS50 trimmer is a good application in mills that manufacture lumber in a wide range of thicknesses. The frame of the trimmer is 12x12 ½-inch steel tubing; it bears the weight of the saw ladders and serves as a reservoir for the pneumatic air lines.
Timbers for log homes are routed to an HMC band resaw; technically, the resaw is a CEI 4800 for which HMC purchased the drawing and manufacturing rights.
For drying white pine lumber, Johnson Lumber uses two Cathild dry kilns and two Irvington-Moore (now USNR) kilns. The four kilns have a combined capacity of 300,000 board feet. Johnson Lumber buys hardwood fuel chips to fire its boiler.
(Cathild Inc. in Victoriaville, Quebec, Canada is part of Cathild Industrie, Masigné, France; it specializes in conventional dry kilns, both stainless steel and aluminum, and has done more than 430 installations in Canada.)
The planer mill, built in 1994, is equipped with a Yates A2012 six-head planer and an HMC MDS0 drop saw trimmer with a bin sorter. “HMC designed that for us,” said Robert. “We had the idea, Peter drew it up, and he ran with it.”
Peter considers the sorter in the planer mill a sort of ‘mini’ sorter. Before it was added, lumber was sorted and pulled by hand.
Controlling labor has been important to Johnson Lumber, said Robert. There is fierce competition for workers in the region where the company is located, he indicated. Ten miles away is Fort Drum, home to the Army’s 10th Mountain Division. In recent years there has been a lot of construction at the Army base, said Robert, which has impacted labor. The mill improvements made with help from HMC enabled Johnson Lumber to reduce its workforce from about 50 employees two years ago to 23 now.
Johnson Lumber is based in Carthage, New York, a town of 3,700 residents. Carthage is located just 30 miles south of the Canadian border and 25 miles from the western shore of Lake Ontario.
Robert, a native of Carthage, comes from a family of five brothers and three sisters. His father was successful in real estate, and he made a commitment to help each of his children get established in a business.
Carthage refers to itself as the ‘gateway’ to the Adirondacks, a recreational and resource-rich area that attracts worldwide attention. The vast Adirondack Park, encompassing about 6 million acres, is about 30 miles to the east. Conservation and outdoor recreation are very much a part of the region along with its forestry industry, and Johnson Lumber strives to ensure that all its raw material is fully utilized.
Johnson Lumber got its start with the purchase of an old sawmill. The only wood products experience Robert had was cutting firewood. The company had one employee in its earliest days. Robert worked as a sawyer, and he liked it.
“My brother and I both sawed for 10 years,” Robert recalled. “We were always hands-on as sawyers.” With the two owners and one employee working, the old mill cut about 3,000 board feet per day. The men also made pallets and hay wagons.
As the business grew, Robert and his brother began to subdivide tasks and assume more managerial roles. Robert handles or oversees sales, scheduling, employee management and other administrative tasks and Ronald supervises the mill operations.
Johnson Lumber buys Eastern white pine logs within a 150-mile radius of Carthage. The company buys logs ranging from 8 feet to 16 feet from other mills, through brokers, and also buys standing timber and contracts for logging. The company has a couple of trucks to haul logs and also uses contract truckers. In the yard, incoming logs are scaled, sorted and put into inventory.
Before selling the equipment for its mulch operations, Johnson Lumber was producing about 600 truckloads of mulch annually. “It was too much,” said Robert. The tempo was wrong, he explained; the mulch business was seasonal and required a lot of effort for the limited time. The mulch operations detracted from the sawmill.
Johnson Lumber had its own logging operations from 1985-88. Like the mulch production, it was an ancillary business activity they tried and later rejected as not a good fit with their core business. Focus is important to Robert and Ronald.
The company added its first planer and first dry kiln 20 years ago. Both additions began a shift to new markets and opened up a path to growth that subsequently defined the company’s fortunes in future years.
Johnson Lumber produces an average of 45,000 board feet of lumber per day. Over the years, the company has undergone changes inside and outside the mill. It moved to its current site in 1980. In 1984, Robert and Ronald launched Johnson Log Homes as an outlet for Johnson Lumber products. So far, more than 300 homes have been sold.
Timbers used in the log homes are air-dried and then kiln-dried. The idea is to set the pitch in the logs. Two sides or surfaces of the log are planed and shaped with a double tongue and groove pattern. The double tongue and groove construction resists penetration by water and impedes air filtration.
Johnson Log Homes, which does wholesale and retail sales, markets kiln-dried Eastern white pine in 1x6 or 1x8 tongue-and-groove. It also offers rough timbers in dimensions such as 4x10, 4x12, 6x6, 6x8, 6x10, 6x12, 8x8, 8x10 and 8x12 in lengths to 16 feet or in 18- to 20-foot lengths. Tongue-and-groove logs are available in standard 6x8 as well as 8x6 and 8x8. The company also sells accessories and supplies for log home construction, such as weather seal, all weather foam, log sealant and log fasteners.
The business philosophy of HMC is to provide equipment to lumber manufacturers that will help them improve lumber quality and yield while improving efficiency. One of the things that Robert appreciates most about HMC Corp. is its flexibility. When the HMC trimmer was added to the sawmill, he explained, all the decks around it had to be custom built in order to fit the existing space, 20,000 square feet. The layout design and machinery fit so well that the installation took only two days. Having the mill down just 48 hours was another important benefit of working with HMC, Robert said.
HMC recently added a new two-saw trimmer to its offerings. The HMC Electric High-Speed Two-Saw Trimmer, which has saw sets in excess of 6 feet per second, is designed for lumber and for cants or ties up to 9 inches thick. The saws are powered by 10 hp TEFC arbor motors. The movable saw strand and feed chains are powered by variable speed electric vector drives. The Electric ET-10 also has a programmable 18-button setworks.
In addition to its own line of sawmill machinery, HMC Corp. has a strategic alliance with Stenner USA under which it distributes Stenner band resaws and accessories.
After fire destroyed their mill in 1994, Robert and Ronald never hesitated about whether to rebuild. They can remember the exact time and day the blaze began: 4 p.m. on October 14. By Jan. 16, 1995, construction had started on a new mill, and it began operating on May 1, 1995. The mill was quickly producing 20,000 board feet each day and on a trajectory for expansion that has carried it to the present.
Johnson Lumber belongs to the Northeastern Lumber Manufacturers Association and the North American Wholesale Lumber Association. Robert and Ronald take professional and community involvement seriously. They give tours to schools, clubs and individuals to help educate people about the forest products industry.
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