Weaber Lumber is a Thriving Leader in Hardwood Industry
Company Has Been Leader in Growing Market for S4S Poplar
By Rich Jefferson
Date Posted: 7/1/2004
LEBANON, Penn. -- Visitors to Hershey, Penn. are fascinated by the quirky street lights shaped like Hershey candy kisses and the scrupulously maintained Hershey properties that make the city one of the most park-like municipalities in the country. Beyond the city is the south-central
Weaber Lumber is such a company, located on 120 acres in the wooded hills of
For Weaber Lumber, with its modern production facilities, carefully monitored quality control at each stage of the manufacturing process, and flexible manufacturing, the location has been just right for hardwood processing.
The company’s most recent investments from 1995-2003 in state-of-the-art wood processing and handling equipment have resulted in “one of the most modern hardwood lumber mills in the country,” said Matt Weaber, executive vice president. The company’s sawmill, cutting mainly oak and poplar, produces about 1 million board feet weekly, and Weaber Lumber’s combined operations employ 500 workers.
Weaber Lumber manufactures a wide range of lumber products, including kiln-dried random width lumber, Surfaced Four Sides (S4S) boards, mouldings, flooring, fingerjointed products (blanks, boards, mouldings), and edge-glued products. The company’s products are sold to wholesale markets for eventual purchase by contractors and consumers at building supply businesses and home improvement stores.
A Family Business
Weaber Lumber was a small family business for its first three decades. The company was started in 1941 by Walter Weaber (1907-1993). A fire destroyed the sawmill in 1948, but Walter rebuilt it. In 1952 he added a lumber products retail business with a full line of building materials, including paint and hardware. Walter made major improvements to the mill in 1965, and regular investments in new equipment and technology have been the norm since then.
One of Walter’s sons, Galen, became the sole owner of the business when he bought the interests of other family members in 1971. With the company hitched to Galen’s vision for the future, Weaber Lumber began an ambitious expansion. Throughout the 1970s and the early 1980s, the objective of mill improvements was to increase grade recovery, enable kiln drying, and establish S4S production in oak and poplar.
Weaber Lumber’s hardwood sawmill operations, running one shift, will produce a projected 50 million board feet of lumber this year, up from 40 million in 2003.
“Our firm is recognized as one of the largest and most modern hardwood manufacturing facilities in the continental
Weaber Lumber is in the midst of yet another expansion project: it will soon be producing hardwood flooring. The company entered the flooring market just recently, diverting more of its low-grade material from low-priced industrial products – like railties – to a value-added and more valuable product line. The company used to produce a significant volume or railties until it began processing the low-grade material for flooring. Weinig Manufacturing is currently installing new machinery as Weaber Lumber expands production capacity in its flooring mill.
The sawmill, remanufacturing plant and flooring mill are on the same site, but they are organized as three different companies owned by the Weaber family. The sawmill sells lumber to the remanufacturing plant and will also supply the expanded flooring mill.
Weaber Lumber has been a leader in growing the market for Surface Four Sides (S4S) poplar lumber. “We really developed the Surface Four Sides poplar market,” Matt said. “Others claim they were first, and it may never be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, but we feel we were the first in S4S hardwood manufacturing.”
The company turned to poplar out of necessity, he said. “Dad thought, ‘That’s what grows around here, so we should use it.’ We think we’re one of the first to see the advantages of poplar, if not the first.” Poplar grows abundantly in the south-central region of
Weaber Lumber buys standing timber and ‘gate wood’ brought to the yard by independent loggers – the mix is about 50-50. The company employs its own foresters and loggers.
Weaber Lumber foresters can provide consulting services and forestry management planning for landowners to help them ensure healthy forest lands and growing timber value.
The company usually buys standing timber within a 70-mile radius of the sawmill, but some logs may come from as far away as 250 miles.
Logs are debarked to remove dirt, gravel and other contaminants in order to improve saw life. Weaber Lumber is equipped with a Nicholson A4 ring debarker with removable ring modules that are driven by a simple but long-lasting belt drive. The rings can be rebuilt on-site.
“This particular debarker is good for our plant,” said Matt. “It cleans up enough logs to keep the mill supplied and running. The Nicholson is well-suited for the needs of our hardwood mill.”
The sawmill contains two head rigs, a Coe end-dogging mill and a McDonough 7-foot band mill. Logs to be sawn on the Coe end-dogging mill are scanned by laser lights, and the head saw is optimized with Coe scanner technology. The McDonough mill, used for ‘punky’ logs, runs custom hardened steel blades. Blades on the head saws are changed every seven hours, and saw blade service is performed on site in the mill’s file room.
Squared-up logs go to one of several resaws. The mill has a
After grading at the bin sorter, lumber is sorted up to 104 different combinations – by species, dimensions, length and grade -- on a T&S bin sorting system.
Weaber Lumber has six dry kilns with combined capacity of 750,000 board feet. Kilns have been supplied by Hildebrand. Lumber is dried to the industry standard of 6%-8% moisture content.
Weaber’s remanufacturing plant produces mouldings and other products destined for contractors and the do-it-yourself market. It is equipped with a Weinig Opticut 450 and Luxembourg-made LuxScan, an optimized chop saw system. The system scans the lumber and automatically cuts out knots and other defects. “One of our goals is to gain yield, and the Opticut 450 helps us do that,” said Matt. Lumber is then cut and ripped to specific size blanks prior to moulding.
Moulding has long been an economic mainstay of Weaber Lumber. The company manufactures and stocks a large variety of profiles and also offers custom mouldings.
The remanufacturing plant also is equipped for producing fingerjointed material, ‘dressing’ finished lumber, and making edge-glued products.
The Weabers know the flooring industry is highly competitive, but they have what it takes to become profitable: cost-effective supply of raw materials, a good workforce, excellent sales contacts, and the machinery to do the job.
Weaber Lumber does not have a sophisticated, chart-driven marketing plan. Galen and Matt know trees, and their salesmen know the needs of the market. It’s been an effective method of market analysis for more than 30 years. The hardwood flooring market is hot, and they are seeking to make inroads.
In the flooring mill, kiln-dried lumber will be ripped and cut to blanks, then remanufactured on Weinig and Hasko equipment to form the tongue and groove and match by side and end.
Weaber Lumber is very committed to plant and personnel safety. The company’s approach to safety reflects its treatment of employees: take care of your people, and they will take care of you. Weaber Lumber has a safety department staffed by three full-time employees, including a person who is bi-lingual in order to communicate with Spanish-speaking Hispanic workers.
Weaber Lumber has automated an increasing number of high-risk jobs that have substantial turnover. While improving safety, increased automation also has made the company’s operations more efficient.
Weaber Lumber sells chiefly to contractor yards in
As part of Weaber Lumber’s commitment to the local community and its quality of life, the majority of the company’s operations are kept to one shift. “It’s better for worker productivity, not to mention the community, for the work to be done in one shift,” explained Matt.
Matt, the third generation of Weabers, takes his broader business mission as seriously as his father does. “Considering the number of employees and the jobs provided to the community, my dad had to consider whether I had it in me to run this operation. We have a responsibility to the families who depend on these jobs. I will have to make the same decision later about my son.”
Forests Need More Management, Not Less
What forests need is more management, not less.
“I believe in using the resource wisely, not in keeping it off limits,” said Matt Weaber, executive vice president of Weaber Lumber. “In case you haven’t noticed, trees grow in areas that are open to new growth – logged areas. When we manage a stand of trees, they thrive.”
However, when forests are left alone – left to nature, environmentalists might say – instead of managed, they will not flourish. The reason is simple: forests need management, not abandonment.
Another problem is deer: there are too many of them and not enough hunters. “I remember they used to have to close school on opening day of deer season,” said Matt. “We used to even close the mill, but not now.”
The result is a proliferation of hungry animals that feed on developing vegetation and have no predators besides a dwindling number of hunters. Good forest management doesn’t just mean logging; it means wildlife management as well. “We need to do a better job with these deer,” said Matt.
Milestones in History of Weaber Lumber
1971--Mill converted from diesel energy to electricity.
1975--Business expands, sorting lines added to provide more sorting capability than any other
1979--First pre-dryers and dry kilns installed to enable production of kiln-dried lumber.
1982--Twin band mill installed.
1989-1990--Opening of new distribution center and manufacturing facility in $11 million capital improvement projects to expand and allow entry into hardwood moulding and dimension lumber markets.
1995--Beginning of additional plant improvements that continued through 2003. According to Matt Weaber, the company invested in the “best state-of-the-art processing and handling equipment then available,” which made Weaber Lumber “the most modern hardwood lumber mill in the country.”
Weaber Lumber Products
Surfaced Four Sides (S4S) Lumber
Offering board programs in S4S traditional oak and S4S C & Better Poplar.
Surfaced Four Sides (S4S) Short Boards
Widths from 2-12 inches of poplar and oak in lengths from 1-8 feet.
Large inventory and variety of stock profiles and custom production of profiles in oak, poplar, and fingerjointed poplar.
Stock and custom programs available in moulding blanks, S4S boards, and mouldings.
Versatile offerings in oak and poplar.
Random Width Hardwoods
7x9 hardwood railties, primarily white oak.
3-1/2-inch cants in random widths, green and kiln-dried 4/4 random width boards.
Saw grade to veneer quality. Shipped to domestic slicers or loaded into containers for export worldwide.
Single and double shredded hardwood mulch.
Wood Fiber Products
Hardwood chips, dry planer shavings, sawdust, wood grindings.
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