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Son and Dad Take on Custom Sawing, Drying: Hood Farms and Sawmill Adds Second Vacutherm Kiln
Four-year-old company adds value to lumber with vacuum drying
By Diane M. Calabrese
Date Posted: 7/1/2018
NEW PALESTINE, Indiana – Black Angus cattle or supply chain coordination might be the stimulus. But a person just knows that it’s time to leap into a new professional niche.
Adrian Hood, owner of Hood Farms and Sawmill, often reminisced about the Black Angus his grandfather had near Kansas City, Kan. And he got more and more interested in Red Devon cattle, which are better suited for being grass fed only, and the possibility of raising them.
In 2014, Adrian jumped out of the health club industry and into farming – and wood products. He secured the heritage Red Devon cattle he valued. He also purchased a Wood-Mizer sawmill.
Leap is very much what Adrian did. “I bought a sawmill and started sawing,” he explained.
Right from the inception of his business, Adrian was committed to drying lumber. And he decided quickly that vacuum drying matched his goals. “What drew me to it [was] the speed over conventional [kilns] and the quality of the product,” he said.
Adrian chose a VacuPress from Vacutherm, Inc. in Barre, Vt. That was two years ago. Recently he added a second VacuPress.
In selecting VacuPress for drying, Adrian also established a tie with another person who had changed course – and reconnected to a family business. That person is Jim Parker, the president and owner of Vacutherm.
Jim was born the year his father started his business. And he grew up in the business, working alongside his father. “All I’ve ever done is design and build vacuum kilns,” he explained.
After college, though, Jim went to work for another company. Yet he often found himself thinking about vacuum drying and supply chains — and optimizing the connection between the process of drying and flow of lumber.
“I had an epiphany one day,” said Jim. “I saw a lot of potential in the [vacuum drying] business.” And he wanted to help realize it.
Jim quit his good-paying job in sales and went to work for Vacutherm. He envisioned a new, promising direction for the company. And his father gave him the freedom to act on it.
The changes keep coming at Vacutherm as Jim and his team keep pace with the requirements of customers. The iDry kiln is the company’s newest introduction to the market. “It’s based on the oldest type of vacuum kiln,” said Jim.
Instead of using metal sheets between lumber layers, the iDry system relies on air flow. The theory for the iDry dates to the 1960s and Vacutherm first applied the theory in the 1980s in its AirVac.
“This year we came out with a mini-version of the AirVac,” said Jim. “[The theory is] old but now packaged in [new] size and shape. You can dry practically anything in it.”
For Adrian the VacuPress is a perfect fit for the business plan at Hood Farms and Sawmill (HFS). That’s why he added a second VacuPress.
With two VacuPress systems in operation, HFS will be able to dry 12,000 board feet each week, said Adrian. With the addition of the new vacuum kiln HFS is ramping up custom drying for large producers of lumber and live edge slabs, and is looking expand the custom drying part of the business.
“We don’t sell anything green anymore,” said Adrian. Much of the wood sawn and dried at his company heads to builders and furniture makers in the Indianapolis, Ind. metropolitan area.
Home to HFS is New Palestine, Ind., a township in Hancock County with a population of approximately 2,050. New Palestine is part of the greater-Indianapolis region.
Already in its fourth year, Adrian’s company continues with a two-person team. “Just dad and I,” he explained.
The two men handle every task at HFS – felling, sawing, and drying. Wood fiber – mixed hardwood species – is procured in two ways. “We saw a lot of it ourselves,” said Adrian. “[And] I work with a couple of logging companies.”
Husqvarna chain saws are used to fell. Two skid steers, a John Deere and a Cat, move lengths.
The hydraulic Wood-Mizer that got the business started has been joined by a Lucas sawmill, which Adrian ordered from Australia via the internet. Wood-Mizer is headquartered in Indianapolis.
The proximity of Wood-Mizer is a nice plus beyond the strong performance of the sawmill, explained Adrian. He is just a short trek away from help with parts and blade maintenance. It was not nearness, however, that earned Wood-Mizer a place on the HFS equipment roster. Adrian did a great deal of research on the saw before buying and he appreciated the strong endorsements it received from other sawyers.
Adrian also purchased the Lucas sawmill after considerable research about its performance and the good reviews he found. He is very careful when choosing equipment.
HFS strives to ensure customer satisfaction. Adrian said that his buyers often comment about how perfectly flat the dried lumber they purchase from him is. He attributes the flatness to the VacuPress from Vacutherm. “They have a patented technology press that keeps the wood flat,” he explained.
Adrian credits Jim with helping him “get going” – answering questions, making suggestions. It has been a very good experience working with Vacutherm.
Brian Kingsbury, the controls engineer at Vacutherm, is another person Adrian has relied on. “Brian – he’s fantastic,” said Adrian, citing the extensive IT knowledge that Brian has and the assistance he has given HFS in fine tuning drying.
“Eight quarter and up is our specialty,” said Adrian. “We sell to individuals – anyone that wants [lumber].”
Walnut predominates among the hardwood species sawn and dried at HFS. Although HFS sometimes arranges to deliver products, most customers pick up lumber. Custom orders are also filled.
“We’re just a really small shop,” said Adrian. “I saw everything myself.”
Grading is done visually and Adrian notes that he learned as he went along. That resulted in some serious errors at first, he said.
Being a first-generation farmer is a rarity, but that’s what Adrian is. He’s happy that he switched careers.
“I’m a farmer and I also run a sawmill and a firewood business year round,” said Adrian. It’s a good mix of endeavors. “We’re growing. We’re really busy right now.”
HFS wants to give its customers excellent products – whether vacuum-dried lumber or grass-fed beef. The VacuPress yields dry lumber that is not only noticeably flatter, but also remarkably brighter with a wide array of hues, explained Adrian.
Moreover, the VacuPress allows for the successful and expeditious drying of thicker stock. It enables HFS to dry slabs as wide as 64 inches.
Not only does lumber emerge from the VacuPress with a vibrant appearance, but the process of vacuum drying results in lumber free from cup, twist and bow. Flat, and absent features requiring workarounds, means the lumber becomes a high-yield product in the hands of furniture makers and builders.
Water-filled aluminum plates heat the lumber in the VacuPress. Pressure on the wood, which can be as high as 1600 pounds per square foot, is part of the vacuum drying process. A membrane (rubber) on top of pile of lumber collapses on the lumber pile during the process. It’s held down by suction. (VacuPress is akin to a big pressure cooker with drainage.)
The VacuPress uses electricity as a power source for heating water. For customers who choose the iDry system, there is the option of using a hot water coil with a customer supplied boiler or an installed gas hot-water boiler system instead of electric heat.
Even lumber producers who are not interested in vacuum drying can tap into the expertise of Vacutherm thanks to TouchDry, a conventional kiln control system. TouchDry monitors airflow and moisture and remotely adjusts kiln components (such as fans) to keep a conventional kiln on track for the fastest and most energy efficient drying of lumber.
On the other end of the spectrum, Vacutherm works with companies that want to become part of or make use of a VacuPress drying center. The network of Vacutherm drying centers has more than 5,000 vacuum kilns in operation at this time.
“We were stuck for a long time between having too big and too small [options for customers],” said Jim. With the introduction of the iDry kiln and the organization of drying centers that use VacuPress, customers can find a solution that works for them.
Jim often gets asked about whether the Vacutherm systems meet the requirements for heat-treatment. Yes, they do. In fact, VacuPress exceeds USDA requirements, he said.
A source of professional satisfaction for Jim is seeing how equipment from Vacutherm has helped companies take hold and grow. He cites Hood Farms and Sawmill as such a company.
“[We] strive for top quality in all wood,” said Adrian. “We do our very best to produce the best product. We try to support other local businesses.”
Guidance for Adrian derives from his faith. “I’m a Christian, so the golden rule [guides me] – I treat others the way I want to be treated,” he said.
“I pretty much love everything [about my work],” said Adrian. “I’m blessed with the farm, the diversity of what I get to do. I like working with my dad; he is my best friend and we work great together. Also with my family on the farm – my wife and three kids”
When Adrian gets free time, he enjoys golf or a game of racquetball.
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