Smart Management and Tight Controls on Lumber Waste Are Keys for the Success of Hunter Woodworks
Keeping costs low and minimizing lumber waste have led Hunter Woodworks to become a dominant player in the highly competitive southern California pallet market.
By Chaille Brindley
Date Posted: 4/1/2012
Going back to its early days, Hunter Woodworks has found ways to reduce wood waste and maximize the yield coming from its milling operations.
Bruce Benton, general manager for Hunter Woodworks, said, “I won’t tell you what our waste factor is but if I told you what it was out of 20 million feet of lumber you would fall out of your chair in disbelief. It’s incredibly low. We do not waste a lot of material. And that’s pretty amazing considering the fact that we do so many different sizes and the fact that we run all three major grades. Wood waste is one of the key factors we watch to maintain profitability.”
Hunter History – Maximizing Yield
George Hunter started Hunter Woodworks in 1943 at the request of local industrial businessmen who frequented the pool hall that he ran. Hunter bought a cabinet making shop and began producing boxes to transport Rheem water heaters. The company grew and expanded into pallets. Bill Hunter joined his uncle in the business and eventually took it over. The company transitioned from a location in
Hunter Woodwork’s current facility was designed to efficiently resize lumber and produce pallets. Lumber flows through the front of the plant moving from right to left. Material comes in via truck through the front gate or is transported on rail cars using the rail spur that runs down the right side of the property. Lumber is unloaded and stored in that area of the property and is moved to the milling lines in the center of the plant. Then 2x4s, 3x4s, 2x3s are sent to the nailing lines in the far left side of the property. Other material that needs to be resawn into 1x4s , 1x6s, etc. moves over to one of the two resaw lines. Finished pallets are then painted, stenciled or prepped for loading onto trailers for transit to customers.
Hunter Woodworks does not operate a kiln because the majority of the lumber it buys is already certified heat-treated.
It does provide export certified pallets made from this material; its HT pallets are audited and certified by Timber Products Inspection.
Hunter Woodwork’s sawing operation can process 100,000 board feet per hour, making it one of the largest facilities of its type in the region. Finding ways to maximize yield has been one of the keys to the operation since it began years ago.
Although it will sell off some scrap material that cannot be used, Hunter Woodworks looks to find ways to utilize what others may just consider wood waste. Some spare pieces Hunter Woodworks will nail together to make a block for a block pallet.
The resaw line allows Hunter Woodworks to take 2x material and make 1x4s or 1x6s – whatever is required by the customer.
Material coming from the resaw line is graded into three different grades – expendable, commercial, and quality. Kevin Hollingsworth, the sales manager for Hunter Woodworks, said, “One of the biggest selling points for us over our competitors is that we really produce true grades. We have expendable, mid-grade and high-end grade options. Most of our competitors basically call it whatever they want to call it at any given moment in time. For these competitors it’s just basically a lot of straight cut economy.”
Hollingsworth added, “The size of the property here gives us the ability to actually cull lumber and keep the lumber separated for specific jobs.”
Quality Machines that Run A Long, Long Time
Nobody would accuse Hunter Woodworks of failing to get the most out of its capital investment in machinery and equipment. The oldest piece of equipment in operation is a planer dating back to the 1890s. The majority of its equipment has been running for at least 10-15 years if not longer. Getting the most out of its machinery and limiting investment to only what the company truly needs has allowed it to keep its debt levels low.
Hunter Woodworks has twenty Industrial Woodworking Machine jump saws that have been in operation for at least 15 years.
Hunter Woodworks operates primarily Industrial Woodworking Machine jump saws in its cut up operations. It also uses two SCM gang rip saws and a Weima gang-rip saw.
The nailing operation relies on 13 FMC nailing machines. Some of these machines go back to the late 1950s/early 1960s.
Hunter Woodworks’ website claims, “No other pallet operation on the West Coast can compete with the production capacity and versatility of our 13 FMC Nailing Machines.” FMC nailing machines are much more common on the West Coast because they were produced in
The machine operators lay up two pallets at a time to run through the nailer. A half-finished pallet from the previous nailing step is in the first nailing position. The operators hand place the top decking on this half-finished pallet and position the stringers and bottom deck boards on the second nailing station. The jig moves through the nailer to complete nailing the first pallet and nail the bottom of the second one. The first completed pallet is ejected into the stacker and the jig is returned back through the nailer to begin the process again.
Coming out of the back of the nailing lines, pallets go either to be painted or straight into stock or onto the truck.
Hunter Woodworks uses incentives to ensure high production rates and quality products. Bruce said, “Pallet assemblers are paid on a piece work basis – so they make better than hourly pay rates. If they make a mistake and the units have to come back to be repaired, they have to go on an hourly rate to repair them. We have setup our system to encourage employees to make it right the first time because he is not going to make as much when he has to stop and make repairs.”
Nailing production is divided into two departments - machine nailing and hand nailing. The hand nailing department is utilized for smaller jobs, or for constructing more complicated units. Nailing tables are setup with variable jigs to allow for rapid construction and straight nailing.
Hunter Woodworks uses primarily Mid Continent Nail fasteners for its bulk nailing production. “I’ve used almost all of the pallet nail suppliers out there in the past. And Mid Continent is the best when it comes to quality and service,” said
Another benefit is that Hunter Woodworks likes to buy American made products.
Hunter Woodworks uses Yale forklifts for moving smaller loads and two large industrial Hyster lift trucks to load rail cars and heavier loads.
Hunter Woodworks follows an adjusted production schedule to avoid the heat of afternoon as well as the higher electric rate during the peak hours of the day. It runs a 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. shift for most of the year. During the summer months it operates a 2:15 a.m. to 11 a.m. shift.
Currently, Hunter Woodworks employs 60 production workers, two office staff, 10 sales representatives and four managers.
During the recession, Hunter Woodworks did not lay off any employees. Instead, it cut back hours and adjusted schedules to allow employees to find part-time jobs to supplement their income.
Hunter Woodwork’s Unique Culture Allows It to Survive Hard Economic Times
All of the current senior management team pointed to Bill Hunter as the driving force behind the company and the person who has set the tone for the operation. Bill Hunter took over control of the company from his uncle in 1950. He built up the operation and has turned over the control of the regular operations to his grandson, Jeremy Benz, who is the CEO. The senior management team also includes Jan Benz, president as well as Jeremy’s mother. Bruce Benton, is the general manager; Kevin Hollingsworth is the sales manager; and Efren Raya is the production manager.
But if we need money, Bill and Ruthie Hunter give us money to run and never said no to anything we asked...And I’m a non-family member. And it was just whatever I wanted to do, whatever we want to do now, Bill is 100% behind it.”
Bill Hunter keeps in regular contact with the management team and buys the entire office staff lunch every day.
Jeremy Benz joined Hunter Woodworks in 2001 with experience in the technology sector writing business plans for Internet startups. Benz said, “I really got an appreciation for a business like ours that makes something. The average employee has been here years. A lot of them have been here 25-30 years, which provides a stability you don’t find in the average corporate culture.”
For example, the production manager, Efren Raya has been with Hunter Woodworks for 40 years. He started out as a hand stacker and has gone on to do all the production jobs in the plant.
Its culture has helped Hunter Woodworks make it through recent economic hardships that have hit the industry.
Today, Hunter Woodworks is on a steady growth curve.
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