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The Timbermen Emphasizes Notching, 4-Stringer Pallets
Cut-Up Line Features Pendu Manufacturing Co. Gang Saw

By Diane Calabrese
Date Posted: 1/5/2004

CAMAK, Georgia -- Jim Hicks Sr. started The Timbermen Inc. in 1972. "He had been a professional forester for a number of years," explained Jim Hicks Jr., son of the company founder.

            Jim, who joined his father’s company in 1984 and today serves as president, spoke with Pallet Enterprise for this article.

            His father had abundant experience, and seeing an opportunity, "he decided to go into business for himself," said Jim, whose father remains the majority stockholder in the company.

            "We actually started out in the timber business," said Jim, describing the progression of business interests at The Timbermen. "The pallet business came next, and the sawmill followed."

            Diversity is definitely the watchword at The Timbermen. Not only is the company a diversified wood products business, the pallet manufacturing operations are diverse, too. "We make...60 or 70 different (pallet) sizes," said Jim. The Timbermen manufactures pallets as small as 32x32 and as large as 120x43. The company does a relatively small volume of business in GMA pallets.

            "Our capacity is about a million and half pallets per year," said Jim. To keep up with demand from customers, the company runs a second shift on some of its pallet nailing machines.

            The Timbermen sawmill supplies cants for the pallet lumber cut-up line. Occasionally, when the sawmill cannot keep up with demand on the pallet side of the business, The Timbermen buys cants to supplement the raw material it needs for the cut-up line.

            "It's a pretty well automated cut-up line," said Jim. The heart of the line is a Pendu thin-kerf gang saw to resaw cants. The cut-up line is "a little different than other" configurations that pallet stock makers may have, said Jim. A Brewer in-line notcher follows the gang saw. The cut-up line also incorporates a conveyor and a Campbell Redi-Stack stacker.

            The Timbermen has been using equipment from Pendu Mfg. since the early 1980s. "It's good equipment for a smaller manufacturer," said Jim. "You get a lot for your money."

            Pendu and The Timbermen actually share some essential components of business philosophy. A progressive approach, integration and innovation are as important to Pendu as they are to The Timbermen.

            The Timbermen puts a special emphasis on stringer notching operations. The Pendu notcher is equipped with Econotool tooling to cut notches with a 1.5-inch corner radius. Many pallet makers notch to a corner radius that is one-half to two-thirds less than that.

            By tapping the strength of the arch, one of the most important and reliable structures in the history of architecture, The Timbermen is able to add strength and stability to the pallet. The company has monitored the failure rate of pallets with the broad corner radius notch and has found it to be significantly less than pallets with other types of notches.

            The Timbermen relies on five Viking nailing machines for automated pallet assembly operations -- three Viking Turbo 505 machines and two Viking Champion machines. A small volume of pallets are assembled by manual labor and power nailing tools at a pair of tables.

            The company can provide pallet heat-treating service. It has a Converta Kiln system for heat-treating pallets that can heat-treat a truckload of pallets at a time.

            The Timbermen has been certified to supply heat-treated pallets and has all the required stamps. It also has an auditing contract with Timber Products Inspection Inc. to ensure that it is in compliance.

            The Timbermen buys standing timber and relies on contract loggers to do the cutting. The sawmill cuts strictly hardwoods, primarily oak species but also ash, beech, elm, sweet gum, maple, sycamore and others.

            The Timbermen first inherited a sawmill site when it bought a pallet manufacturer in Thomson, Georgia in 1978. The sawmill had been abandoned. The company built a new sawmill in 1979. The mill manufactures grade hardwood lumber and some pine lumber. “Most of our pine is sold as lumber," said Jim, and the company specializes in 1x4 and 1x6 Southern Yellow Pine. The pine is kiln-dried and finished in the company’s planer mill. Some pallet cut stock is sold to other pallet manufacturers.

            The hamlet of Camak has only about 200 residents and is a little over 100 miles due east of Atlanta and about 30 miles west of Augusta. The main office and 90,000-square-foot pallet plant are located on a 45-acre site. "The sawmill is about three to four miles down the road from the pallet plant," explained Jim. Drying operations, including sheds for air drying and dry kilns, and the planer mill are also located on the company’s main site.

            The sawmill is equipped with a Salem carriage and Jocar band head rig with Inovec optimization. A Cooper Yield Champ is used for sawing 40-48-inch bolts. The mill is also equipped with Brewer-Golden Eagle thin-kerf bandsaws for resawing cant material into deck boards that are conveyed to Pendu stackers.

            The Timbermen serves customers in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida. Among them are auto parts suppliers, building materials makers, produce growers and roof shingle plants. Other customers include a paper mill and a military base.

            The Timbermen contracts for all trucking, including the trucking of cants and pallet stock between the sawmill and the pallet plant.

            Waste wood generated by the company’s operations is processed by a hog, and the grindings are supplied to a particleboard plant.

            A native of Rome, Ga., Jim was always interested in his father’s wood products business. He did not join the enterprise immediately following college, however. Jim earned a degree in chemical engineering from Georgia Tech and worked for Westinghouse Corp. for three years. "And then I came home," he said. "I just wanted to be part of" the family business.

            When Jim takes time away from the business, he relishes being outdoors. "I like to ride horses," he said. "We like to fox hunt."

            Jim is a member of the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association and the Southeastern Lumber Manufacturers Association. He enjoys his leadership role at The Timbermen. "It's always challenging," he said. "It's always changing."

            He gets particular satisfaction from managing a business that provides needed jobs in the community. "We make a strong contribution to the local economy," he said.

            The Timbermen employs 170 people. "I have a dozen or so key people who have been with me for more than 15 years," said Jim. Key members of the management team are vice president and operations manager Sammy McCorkle, pallet plant manager Ronnie Dent, assistant pallet plant manager Bobby Bellamy, sawmill manager Steve Cooper, assistant sawmill manager J.R. Gilmer, personnel manager Teddie Love, maintenance manager James Love, and corporate secretary Teena Phillips.

            Asked about the success he has had retaining good workers and managers, Jim said, “I’m just lucky, I suppose." Yet one gets the sense from talking with him and listening to his commitment to the forest products industry that The Timbermen employees respond to his dedication and mirror it.

            The Timbermen has a rather extensive Web site, www.timbermen.net. It incorporates interesting features on pallet design and virtual mill tours. Four-stringer pallet design, especially its utility with pallets for heavy loads, is featured in some detail.

            Being an engineer, Jim has a particular interest in taking things that work well and improving them so that they perform even better. He has given a great deal of thought and analysis to how to proper load distribution and the benefits of four-stringer pallets.

            The Timbermen has converted many customers to four-stringer pallets. Pallets used for heavy loads are great candidates for the four-stringer design, according to Jim, because four stringers provide an economical way to achieve greater deck stiffness. The four-stringer design increases stiffness because deck board span between stringers is reduced.

            The Timbermen uses the Pallet Design System computer program licensed by the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association. The program enables the company to consult with customers and help them develop the best and most cost effective pallet design for a particular unit load. Technical assistance in pallet design extends to wood species, moisture content and type of fasteners.

            Jim also has analyzed the benefits of three-stringer wing pallets for lighter loads. He likes it because the pallet is more durable but requires no more wood than a conventional three-stringer pallet. Economy of design and progressive approach are enduring goals at The Timbermen.

            The company is in the midst of an expansion project – building a chip mill – that will get it into pulp markets. Pulp logs will be debarked by a drum debarker – and the bark sold to other markets – and then processed by a Morbark chipper. The addition of the chip mill will position The Timbermen “to handle all kinds of logs down to pulpwood," said Jim. "The pulpwood markets have improved recently," he noted.


Pendu Starts with Customer Concept


            For more than 25 years, Pendu Manufacturing Inc. in New Holland, Penn. has been building custom equipment for sawmilling, pallet manufacturing and other wood processing businesses. The firm is located in New Holland, Penn.

            Pendu engineers, designs and constructs its own machinery and equipment. The approach enables the company to start with a concept from the customer and produce a finished piece of equipment that precisely meets the customer's needs.

            Custom-built equipment that Pendu has built includes sling sorters, stackers, chain conveyors, gang saws and cut off saws. Pendu can collaborate on the design of pallet lumber lines that are semi- or fully automated.

            Pendu gets high marks from customers for its help in taking their ideas and making them a reality. Pendu cut-up and material handling machinery to help pallet companies maximize production often become proprietary.

            Pendu offers some basic ideas of its capabilities in several schematics that prospective customers can view at its website (www.pendu.com). Both light and heavy-duty stackers can be fitted into automated lines as take-away devices for either pallet components or pallets.

            The company can supply individual component machines or complete wood processing and handling systems complete with chain and belt conveyors, unscramblers and stackers combined with cut-off saws, scragg saws, resaws and notchers.

            Marlin J. Hurst acquired the Pendu product line in 1993. The acquisition served as another impetus for innovation.


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