New Sawmill Positions Pennsylvania Hardwood Producer for the Future: Stoltzfus Forest Products Looks to Mellott Mfg. for Design and Machines

Stoltzfux Sawmill
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PEACH BOTTOM, Pennsylvania – Sam Stoltzfus set up a sawmill 29 years ago, but with his son, Benuel, assuming a leadership role in the company, they knew they would need a new mill to take Stoltzfus Forest Products into the future. In the process of designing and equipping the new mill, a key supplier was Mellott Manufacturing.

Benuel, 29, has been involved in his father’s business ever since boyhood. “The company was started the year after I was born,” he said, “So the sawmill is about all I have ever done other than help on the farm growing up.”

Stoltzfus Forest Products is a hardwood lumber producer in Peach Bottom, a small village in southeast Pennsylvania. It is located on the east bank of the Susquehanna River, a little over 20 miles south of Lancaster and almost to the Maryland state line.

The Stoltzfus Forest Products mill, situated on 10 acres, produces about 10 million board feet of lumber annually, and its operations employ 20 people, including two foresters. The region has abundant forests of white oak, red oak, white ash, birch, soft maple, cherry, poplar, walnut and hickory. The company cuts all these species to make grade lumber in thicknesses ranging from 4/4 to 16/4. Low-grade material is cut into railroad ties, mat timbers, industrial blocking, and pallet cants. Lumber products are generally sold wholesale by the truck-load. All of the company’s production is sold green.

About 60 percent of the company’s production is grade lumber, which is sold to concentration yards, and the remaining 40 percent is low-grade or industrial lumber products. About 35 percent of production is poplar, and red oak and white oak each comprises about another 25 percent. The other 15 percent is a mix of mainly hickory, maple, birch, and some other species.

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Sam, 52, who still does some farming, loads trucks with finished goods and also works in the office, mainly managing accounts payable and payroll. Benuel runs the head rig for two hours every morning. The rest of the day he oversees the day-to-day operations of the business; he handles lumber sales, puts together cut lists from purchase orders, manages the log inventory, and leads the two foresters.

The Stoltzfuses are an Amish family, and Benuel has three brothers and a sister who are involved, too. Abner is in charge of mulch production operations. Henry oversees maintenance and repairs. Another brother, Melvin, helps stack lumber during the summer when school is out. And a sister, Elizabeth, works in the office part-time.

The company essentially out-grew its roots. “Until three years ago, the mill was still on the farm,” noted Benuel. The dairy component – and cows – are now gone, but the farm operations continue.

Sam and Benuel, co-owners, decided to build a new mill to increase production and also to increase efficiency. “We only had two acres before,” said Benuel, and the mill building itself was 7,000 square feet. “It was really tight…It was hard to get around, and the trucks would get jammed up.” They had a 30,000-square-foot pole building erected on the new 10-acre site, an old salvage yard located just across the road from the old mill. They kept the resaw from the old mill as well as some rolling stock, but the rest of the equipment was sold by Tri-State Auction.

In the years they have worked together, Sam and Benuel have adhered to core values. The values that guide them and their company are: a will to succeed; integrity, openness and honesty; quality; encouraging members of the company to find ways to solve problems; being responsible for the environment and respectful of neighbors and community.

When Sam and Benuel decided to take the blueprints for a new mill they had been working on for some time and actualize them, they found assistance from another Pennsylvania company with equally strong core values: Mellott Manufacturing Co.

Whether it is starting with the design for a single machine or beginning with the concept for an entire mill layout, Mellott has abundant experience turning ideas into reality. (The Mellott family history can be traced to the 19th century and family members who also combined farming with a sawmill.)

Stoltzfus Forest Products has turned to Mellott for sawmill equipment since 2004. Mellott has supplied “well-designed equipment and very reliable service,” said Benuel, so he and his father decided to rely on Mellott to design and equip the new sawmill they wanted to build.

Mellott supplied all material handling equipment for the logs and lumber as well as several key machine centers: a rosserhead debarker that is used as a butt reducer, the sawyer’s booth, lumber grading station, and a three-level sorting system for railroad ties and timbers. Mellott also wired some of the controls for the new head rig.

The Mellott material handling equipment included the log deck, log troughs, numerous conveyors and rollcases, lift arms, transfers, and related equipment — all designed to move logs and lumber quickly and efficiently through the process of debarking the logs to grading, sorting and stacking finished lumber goods.

Father and son had been making plans for a new mill and refining those plans for years.

“For probably five years before we moved, we knew we were going to do that,” said Benuel.

When the land across the road became available, they bought it. The next step was getting a new mill built. The Soltzfuses collaborated with Mellott. “They were a huge help to us,” said Benuel. The new mill began operating in 2016.

“Carl (Park) at Mellott and I spent many hours going over our prints for the new mill,” said Benuel. “Mellott expertise on how a mill should be laid out has paid off.”

Carl is a sales representative for Mellott. His background illustrates the depth and breadth of the experience that Mellott brings to the table when it consults with customers. “Carl worked at a couple of mills, so he knew mills,” said Benuel. In addition, he was knowledgeable about equipment from his years of working for Mellott.

Carl advised the Soltzfuses to go with a slightly larger building, recalled Benuel. Maximizing the size and production capacity of the mill would pay off in efficiency and throughput, he advised them. Based on Carl’s advice, they chose to construct a longer building that enabled them to eliminate bottlenecks and to equip the mill with a double-cut head rig recommended by Carl.

Stoltzfus Forest Products also received assistance with developing its new sawmill from Jim Kline of Kline’s Equipment & Mill Supplies in Duncansville, Pa. Jim has been a dealer representing Mellott for more than 40 years.

Jim visited Stoltzfus Forest Products and took various measurements for the new mill layout. “He was very helpful in coordinating the project with Mellott,” said Benuel.

The mill operations start with a John Deere 437D knuckleboom loader and a CSI slasher size that bucks tree-length logs to the correct length. The bucked logs then go to a Mellott 48-inch LMR rosserhead debarker; it is operated as a butt reducer to trim the logs for better flow through the mill, said Benuel. The logs are debarked with a Nicholson R2 ring debarker and then travel through an MDI metal detector.

The logs are squared up on a Hurdle Machine Works LT carriage with Lewis controls that is paired with a Cleereman carriage drive and track. The head saw is a TS Manufacturing 72-inch double-cut band mill, and there’s a story behind it. Hurdle purchased the band mill new in 1995 and planned to set it up to test carriages, according to Benuel. However, the plan was never implemented, and the band mill sat in the company’s shop for 20 years until Hurdle decided to sell it. Even though the band mill was over 20 years when Benuel and his father bought it, it was brand new, and they were able to buy it for about one-third the price of a new one. The company previously ran a Hurdle circle mill until the new mill was built.

The cants coming off the head rig move to the Hurdle resaw that was kept from the old mill. The boards and flitches go to a Pendu edger and a Pendu drop-saw trimmer, and the finished lumber goes to the Mellott grading station and finally to a 100-foot green chain to be pulled by hand and stacked. Railroad ties and large timbers are routed to the Mellott three-level sorting system.

The carriage is from the Hurdle Magnum series manufactured by the Tennessee-based company. The Magnum LT model is a linear carriage designed for large, custom mills. Like other carriages in the Hurdle Magnum series, the LT is built to be both a simple and heavy-duty tong dog carriage. If a customer does not find the exact carriage it wants in the Hurdle Magnum line, Hurdle can custom-design and manufacture a carriage to their specifications.

The Hurdle grade band resaw incorporates a patented design that combines maximum production with maximum grade recovery from each cant. It gives the sawyer a clear view of each cant so he can make the best choices for turning the cant to obtain the maximum number of high-grade boards.

Stoltzfus Forest Products buys standing timber and contracts for logging and trucking. The company tries to buy timber within a radius of about 60 miles but has gone as far as 100 miles, depending on the timber. It also buys additional grade logs — about 10 percent of its log supply — from other sawmills and loggers.

Every part of the tree is processed into a saleable product. “Nothing goes to waste,” said Benuel. That’s one of the things he most enjoys about Stoltzfus Forest Products. Two other aspects of the business he enjoys are working “with a team of motivated and productive employees” and “the opportunity to continuously improve and get better at what we do.”

A Rotochopper horizontal grinder and an Edge trommel are used to process bark and scrap material into mulch, which is colored by the trommel into black, brown, and red shades of mulch; the company also offers a mulch product specifically for playgrounds. A Bell’s Machining 6000 firewood processor is used to convert some low-grade logs into firewood. Mulch and firewood are sold bulk only and mainly to wholesale customers.

Stoltzfus Forest Products, a member of the Pennsylvania Forest Products Association and the National Hardwood Lumber Association, puts a high priority on forest management. The company’s foresters can work with landowners to develop a plan that promotes and enhances all dimensions of sustainable forestry practices – from stream bed protection to erosion prevention and wildlife management.

Continuous improvement is also ingrained in the business philosophy that guides Mellott Manufacturing. That company’s equipment is made of heavy-duty steel and powered by heavy-duty hydraulics. Mellott Manufacturing combines these features with innovative design and automation, and the company has obtained many patents for its innovations.

In addition to its well-known lines of equipment for log handling and processing and lumber handling and processing, Mellott offers special items such as bark metering bins, lumber tallying systems and timber drilling systems. The company also manufactures band saws for head rigs or resaws.

Mellott Manufacturing was founded in the 1960s by two brothers, Hayes and John Mellott. It was Hayes who said the company would be committed to excellence in workmanship and attention to detail.

That kind of commitment is appreciated by Benuel. “Mellott will stand behind their product,” he said. “They’re just a great company to work with – (one that) is constantly looking for ways to improve their service.”

“They have been very good,” added Benuel. “They’re very knowledgeable. If we need help troubleshooting a problem, we can call someone on the phone right away who will walk us through the process. We’ve had very good help from them…if we need it.”

Mellott Manufacturing offers full engineering and design services and also does all metal fabrication and equipment manufacturing in-house. The engineers are dedicated to assisting customers with the plans they have for their mills – be it a change in a machine or a complete reconfiguration or new layout. The company’s manufacturing plant is fully equipped with shears, press brakes, lathes, horizontal boring mills, welding gear and much more. The company also offers custom-built power units. The ability to fully fabricate and manufacture equipment products reduces the time needed to meet requests from customers.

Stoltzfus Forest Products seeks to “be an industry leader building trust and confidence with customers and employees through continuous improvement,” said Benuel. It also seeks to “give timberland owners profitability by producing the highest value lumber, mulch and firewood products.”

Stoltzfus Forest Products is an advocate for sustainable forestry and excellence in forestry management. “We try to manage timber in the most sustainable way possible by removing the low-value trees, which in return gives us better quality timber in the future and gives landowners more profit,” said Benuel.

When Benuel takes time away from his work, he enjoys spending quality time with his family. He also enjoys hunting with his father and brothers.