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Hands-on Family Oversees Commitment to Quality: Ordie Price’s Sawmill Produces Furniture Grade, Appalachian Hardwood Lumber
Family-owned hardwood sawmill takes pride in quality production and service, relies on HMC saw equipment.
By Diane M. Calabrese
Date Posted: 3/7/2018
SOUTH GIBSON, Pennsylvania – Hands-on and family-owned, Ordie Price’s Sawmill, Inc. has a root dating to 1928. “We take pride in being family owned and operated,” said Austin Price, a member of the management team.
“We are a small family business,” explained Austin. “We are hands-on business owners. My brother Ordie III and myself are at the mill every day involved in all aspects of production. Ordie III is our forester and log scaler. We both run the headsaw. We both inspect all of our lumber. We both operate the dry kilns. We both sell the lumber we produce. When you call the office, you get a ‘Price’ on the line.” And you might end up talking to yet another “Price,” Austin’s sister, Lauren Price Ficarro. Lauren, a part owner, works in the office, and shares responsibility in tallying the mill’s lumber.
The level of engagement Austin describes results in a product that customers can be assured the Ordie Price (OP) team knows has been made to meet high expectations. “When we sell lumber to a customer, [the customer is] speaking to a ‘Price’ that was physically involved in the manufacture [of it],” said Austin.
Austin and Ordie III are the grandsons of Ordie Price Sr. and Doreen Price, who established the business. Doreen began working in 1932 and after Ordie died in 1963, she alone ran the business for more than a decade. In the mid-1970s, one of her children, Ordie Jr. joined her in running the business. (This brief excerpt of the mill history derives from a fuller account at the company’s website www.opsawmill.com.)
Today, OP focuses on the manufacture and distribution of kiln-dried, furniture-grade hardwoods. Not only does it sell domestically, but it also exports.
Peter Taylor, president of HMC Corporation in Contoocook, N.H., first got to know OP when he was working for a company that represented HMC. The year was 1975 and he began working with Doreen. Later, he and the HMC team began working with Ordie Jr. It was Ordie and his wife, Aline, who decided to build a new facility with a new mill equipment in 1985.
HMC Corp. has been involved in numerous updates to the OP mill since 1985. “Even though they are not a high production sawmill, they have embraced modern technology,” said Peter of Ordie Price’s Sawmill. “They are focused on yield and recovery. They do a very, very good job. They’re very hands-on.”
Although many members of the HMC Corp. team have been involved in projects at OP across the years, Peter has come to be friends with the OP team. “They are more than customers to me,” he said. That sort of outcome is one that vendors always hope will build from relationships with the end users of their equipment.
Austin gives us the essentials of the mill at OP. “We have an HMC electric double Rosserhead debarker, one head being a grinder head,” he explained. After being debarked, logs are scanned with an MDI metal detector before entering the mill.
Following debarking and scanning, logs go to a 60-inch Pinheiro single-cut band mill with an HMC electric carriage. It uses Mudata setworks and 2D scanning.
“Cants then go to a 48-inch Stenner resaw and merry-go-round system,” said Austin. “Boards are edged with an HMC edger. Lumber proceeds to the grading deck. Once graded, an HMC MDS-50 trims to length.”
Lumber is sorted by species, thickness, length and grade. Slab wood waste is chipped with a Precision chipper and chips are blown into chip vans that transport them to glue wood and pellet makers. Sawdust is blown into a silo where it is held in reserve as fuel for the Hurst boiler that heats the dry kilns.
Four conventional Irvington Moore (USNR) dry kilns, each with a capacity of approximately 50,000 board feet, are used for drying. Lumber is stuck prior to going to kilns, explained Austin. “Currently, we are around 50 to 60 percent of our production being kiln dried.”
The lumber that is kiln dried is inspected a second time after drying. Then it is double-end trimmed by an HMC electric two-saw trimmer, explained Austin. “[Then], again lumber is sorted by species, thickness, length and grade. Lumber is then packaged for domestic or export sale and tallied.”
Lumber that is sold green is banded and tallied. All banding is done manually. Maria Price, Ordie III’s wife, is involved in tallying the mill’s lumber, and not surprisingly runs some of the equipment as well.
Austin is not certain how Doreen and then, Ordie Jr. came to forge a relationship with HMC Corporation, but the connection they made has been long lasting.
“Our experience working with HMC has been very good,” said Austin. “Be it new equipment, parts or service, HMC does a good job of helping us with our needs.”
Austin has had the opportunity to work with many members of the HMC team. He cites Jim Wells, Jim Lee, Mike St. Onge, Joel Taylor and Brian Taylor as those with whom he has worked.
Yield and recovery become just a bit more of a challenge when a sawmill, even a high-tech sawmill, uses gatewood as its primary raw material. But OP has met the challenge.
“We rely heavily on gatewood, however, we have purchased standing pieces of timber if necessary,” said Austin. For the rare purchases of standing timber, independent contractors are hired to cut.
“Ninety-five percent of what we produce is kiln-dried furniture grade hardwoods for wholesale,” said Austin. “The other five percent consists of retail sales, rough-cut, kiln-dried, surfaced or moulded.”
A small finishing planer from Mida and a custom moulder from Northtech are used for the surfacing and moulding. But Austin emphasizes neither one contributes a significant component to the product line at OP. “Surfaced and moulded products are strictly on a small-volume, retail level,” he explained. “Moulded products including flooring, paneling, siding and mouldings.” And it is generally all custom ordered.
Across the last few years, ash, birch, black walnut, black cherry, hard and soft maple, hickory, and red and white oak are the species that have predominated in OP products, said Austin. Twelve employees at OP produce through their efforts between two and three million board feet annually.
The South Gibson home of Ordie Price’s Sawmill is an unincorporated community in Susquehanna County in the Keystone State. It is located in northeastern Pennsylvania in a region known as the Endless Mountains.
Among the enchanting places in the four-counties represented in the Endless Mountains region are viaducts. The Starrucca Viaduct in Susquehanna Co. was constructed in 1848 from native stone and is remarkable for its slender piers and arches. According to the Endless Mountains website, it is the longest bridge of its kind.
OP products leave the mill in several ways. “Domestic wholesale lumber is picked up at the mill, usually by flatbed trailer,” said Austin. “Export loads are loaded into 40-foot shipping containers on site. Retail sales are usually picked up by the customer. Occasionally we will do retail deliveries if necessary.”
The wholesale lumber reaches customers through brokers, as well as direct links to wholesalers and distribution yards. “On the wholesale end, we sell through a broker to some of our markets,” explained Austin. “We sell to other wholesalers and distribution yards as well.”
Retail sales allow OP to connect directly to customers in need. “[Customers] range from high-school students to home owners to contractors,” said Austin. “The weekend woodworker that tinkers in his garage to custom cabinet shops [are also among the buyers]. We have no problem selling someone one board if that’s all they need.”
The local outreach with retail sales illustrates a salient feature of Ordie Price’s Sawmill. “We have always been a horse of a different color,” said Austin. “We do what works for us as we see fit. We do not worry about what the ‘other guy’ is doing.”
Austin has been with OP full time since graduating from Elmira College in 2002. He earned a degree in business marketing and business management.
“My role at OP varies day-to-day and that is what I like about my position,” said Austin. “Some days it is sawing and lumber grading, other days it is doing preventive maintenance and purchasing parts, loading dry kilns or loading trucks with lumber for shipment.”
The fit the sawmill has found in working with HMC Corp. for more than 40 years allows it to take advantage of the products that HMC manufactures, such as debarkers, carriages, carriage drives, two-saw and drop-saw trimmers, and also the products that HMC distributes to complement its core products. The list of equipment HMC distributes includes bandmills, resaws, gang and board edgers, linear position and scanning systems.
HMC Corp. formed a strategic alliance with Stenner Ltd., for example, to better serve its customers and Stenner customers. Dating to 1953, HMC does not have quite as long a history as Ordie Price’s Sawmill. Yet its more than six decades of experience provide it with deep expertise that informs the equipment it designs and manufactures.
In his free time Austin is in involved with family and recreation. “I enjoy spending time with my wife and three children,” he said. “Hobbies include skiing, hunting, fishing, golfing, mountain biking and camping.”
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