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Blackberry Dimensions Increasing Production of Hardwood Cut Stock
Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle Double-Bay Gang Saw Is Work Horse of Cut-Up Line

By Diane Calabrese
Date Posted: 5/1/2004

CHRISTIANSBURG, Virginia -- Varied endeavors, multiple locations and many strong hands keep Turman Lumber Inc. and its related companies thriving and growing.

            The Turman Group umbrella covers forest products businesses and other companies. Yet the main root among the many companies (see accompanying article) is Turman Sawmill Inc., which Michael Turman, company president and a part owner, started some 35 years ago.

            "I try not to get too focused on one business," said Michael. "I change with the times. We also have six or seven convenience stores." Diversity is the key to riding across non-peak intervals, he explained. When business slows in one area, it typically moves at a faster pace in another.

            In the forest products industry, Michael said, one of the most important elements of success is tying together as many components as possible. "We've done a good job of vertical integration," he said. "We do a lot with the products we've got."

            One of the first people to join Michael in his multifaceted business was Truman Bolt. Thirty years ago, Truman helped Michael form Turman Lumber Co., which became the second sawmill on a roster that would continue to grow. Truman is the manager of Turman Lumber and also a part owner.

            Turman Lumber is mainly a hardwood sawmill business, currently sawing about 75% hardwood and about 25% pine. It supplies nearly half the cants it produces to Blackberry Dimensions, an affiliated business that manufactures pallet stock. The two companies share a location and acreage in Christiansburg, Va.

            Coy Rakes manages Blackberry Dimensions, which took its name from an existing land holding company in the Turman Group. Coy has been with Blackberry Dimensions since its inception four years ago. Blackberry Dimensions takes the low-grade, hardwood cants from the Turman Lumber mill next door and resaws them into pallet components and other industrial lumber.

            "We supply cut stock, crating, dunnage," said Coy. "Our main deal is supplying stock to pallet companies. No assembly. You wouldn't want to be competing with customers."

            Blackberry Dimensions did not operate at full throttle in 2003. Even so, working 30-34 hours per week in three days, the team of eight employees took in and processed 8 million board feet of cants, said Coy. "This year we expect to do 9 million feet of cants," he said. The company plans to add a day of production, going to four 10-hour days.

            "I cut a wide range," said Coy. "We specialize in three and one-half inch wide material." The company makes lumber ranging from 3/8-inch boards to material that is 8 inches thick. "Runners seem to have become our niche," said Coy. "I can cut up to 14 feet in length."

            Coy tries to negotiate advance sales with pallet manufacturers so he can plan the best use of cants coming from the Turman Lumber mill. For example, if the mill is going to be sawing poplar for three days and Coy knows he is going to get 45,000 board feet of poplar cants per day, he tries to sell cut stock that meshes with that raw material and customer requirements.

            Being able to remanufacture as much of the cant material as possible adds profitability to the companies. The sawyer has to decide how to cut what comes in and make the most of it, noted Coy.

            Blackberry Dimensions typically works with cants that are 6 to 12 inches wide and in lengths of 8, 10, 12, 14 and 16 feet. The cants enter the cut-up operations in one of two ways. A loader retrieves cants stored on the yard and puts them on the infeed of the main cut-up line. Some cants, such as two-sided cants, come from the sawmill via a direct infeed. Both feeds merge at a roll case that carries cants to a Dickerson twin-select cut-off system set with predetermined stops.

            Once the cants have been cut to length, the sawyer decides to which bay of a Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle gang saw to route them. One side of the Brewer gang is set up for resawing the sized cant material into stringers, and the other side is set up to resaw them into deck boards.

            Deck boards typically are sawn to 3 ½ inches wide. Stock moves to a slow-speed belt, and parts are graded and sorted visually with scrap picked out. The No. 1 stringer stock is pulled out and either stacked or fed to a West Plains waterfall-type notcher. Some rejected parts that are culled are good enough to be sent back and remanufactured.

            Ultimately, all material is banded and marked and moved with forklifts to storage areas or tucks. Blackberry Dimensions does some of its own deliveries and also uses contract truckers. It supplies customers throughout the mid-Atlantic and as far West as Indiana and Illinois.

            The pallet cut-up operations run with a mix of veteran and new machines. The 1984 Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle gang saw continues to serve the company well. "Brewer has been one of the best names in the business," said Coy, who is not surprised by the machine’s durability.  The West Plains notcher is relatively new; Coy said he is "extremely pleased with it."

            Waste from the cut-up line drops onto conveyors. It is combined with waste from Turman Lumber and chipped with a Fulghum 66-inch chipper; the two Turman facilities supply six truck-loads of chips daily to paper companies. The company also generates about four or five loads per day of sawdust, which is sold for boiler fuel.

            Blackberry Dimensions relies on Wilkes Tool Inc. for saw blades, cutting tools and service.

            Before he took over as manager at Blackberry Dimensions, Coy ran a sheltered workshop for 20 years. That is when he got interested in pallets, so much so, in fact, that he decided to have the sheltered workshop employees make pallets.

            "We produce a good product," said Coy. "I look for long-range relationships with customers." What he enjoys most about his work, he explained, is tapping into the versatility of the raw material. "We're dealing with a resource that replenishes itself," he said.

            Blackberry Dimensions and its affiliated businesses continue to adapt to the needs of various wood products markets. In March 2003 Turman Lumber began producing beams for rafters and log homes. The beams are sawn on a Wood-Mizer LT-40 portable sawmill. The company is producing 20,000 to 30,000 board feet of beams per week that range from 18 to 40 feet long.

            A new affiliated business, Turman Log Homes, will begin operations soon in Hillsville, Va., producing log home kits primarily from white pine.

            Besides its entry into the market for beams, Turman Lumber has some other notable characteristics among related mills. "We're the largest producer of lumber" in the Turman family of mills, said Truman. "We cut 100,000 feet per day here." That is twice the volume the other mills cut.

            About half of the incoming logs at Turman Lumber are ‘gate wood.’ The remainder is standing timber the company has bought and harvested.

            Logs come from Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina. The mills in the Turman family are nestled among the Appalachian, Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountain chains.

            Each mill has at least one logging crew attached to it. Some are contract crews. But the mills also employ some of their loggers. One crew uses a Timbco track cutter. Others rely on chain saw felling. The crews are equipped with skidders and dozers. “Each crew has its own truck," said Truman. "We haul for two contract crews, too."

            Each mill among the affiliated businesses is a separate corporation. Each has its own payroll, but under The Turman Group, headquartered in Floyd, Va., some administrative tasks, such as insurance and collecting taxes, are centralized.

            "Three of the mills are just like brothers and sisters," said Truman, citing Turman Sawmill, Turman Lumber and Walker Mountain. "I know what they're doing on a daily basis. We interchange logs," and so on, he explained.

            At Turman Lumber, there are two ways for logs to enter the mill, Truman explained. "We have two debarkers and two head rigs.”

            Scragg logs are fed with a knuckleboom loader to a Morbark debarker and then are routed to a Cooper end-dogging scragg mill. The grade operations begin with a wheel loader that moves logs to a Fulghum debarker; the debarked logs are broken down on a Dickerson head rig.

            Depending on the log, the head saw is used to remove two sides or four sides. Four-sided cants go to a Stenner resaw and two-sided cants are routed to a Ligna thin-kerf gang saw. After edging, the boards from both lines merge and are conveyed to an unscrambler. The next stop is an HMC Corp. trimmer. "We've got a guy behind the trimmer," said Truman, "who grades and marks with crayon."

            The Ligna Machinery thin-kerf gang saw gets high praise from Truman. Its lubrication system ensures the thin-kerf saw performs very well.

            Turman Lumber collects the bark from its debarking operations and buys additional bark from other companies, such as Westvaco and Weyerhaeuser. A pair of Jones Mfg. grinders process the bark into mulch. The company invested in a Becker-Underwood mulch coloring system in late 2003, and the equipment is being put into service this spring to produce colored mulch. Also, scrap pallets and waste from the flooring plant are reduced by a Bandit Industries Beast series grinder.

           Christiansburg, the home to Blackberry Dimensions and Turman Lumber, has 15,000 residents. The town, which was established in 1792, is the seat of Montgomery County. It is located in southwest Virginia about 30 miles southwest of Roanoke.

            Truman grew up in the sawmill business. Both his grandfather and father operated sawmills. Truman has come to appreciate the many ways in which the sawmill industry contributes to the economy. For example, lumber produced by Turman Lumber Co. ends up being used in furniture, pallets, flooring, cabinets, log cabins, and other ways. Like Michael and Coy, Truman enjoys his work immensely.



Other Wood Products Companies of the Turman Group

Turman Sawmill Inc. -- Hillsville, Va.

            Produces kiln-dried white pine and poplar lumber

Turman-Mercer Sawmills -- Hillsville, Va.

            Produces kiln-dried, high-grade hardwood lumber

Rocky Mount Hardwood -- Willis, Va.

            Hardwood sawmill

Wilderness Stuart – Stuart, Va.

            Transitional sawmill

Walker Mountain Sawmill Inc. -- Bland, Va.

            Produces hardwood lumber (especially oak) and a small amount of pine

Turman Hardwood Flooring -- Galax, Va.

            Manufactures pre-finished and unfinished flooring from red and white oak

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