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Swift Creek Forest Products Makes Steady Progress, Upgrades: Sharp Tool an Important Supplier for More Than 20 Years
Swift Creek Forest Products: Jerry Long, founder of Swift Creek Forest Products, knows the value of a good saw blade and a good saw blade supplier; he has relied on Sharp Tool for more than 20 years.

By Tim Cox
Date Posted: 8/1/2006


AMELIA, Virginia – Jerry Long knows the value of a good saw blade – one that has been designed for the cutting job it performs.

    And he knows the value of a good saw blade supplier.

    That is why he has relied for more than 20 years on Sharp Tool to keep his company’s saws running and cutting with the right circular saw blades.

    Jerry started Swift Creek Forest Products 30 years ago and now has 40 years of experience in the pallet and sawmill industries. He launched Swift Creek Forest Products as a full-time endeavor after working in industrial sales. He began with three employees, manufacturing custom pallets. It was a very simple operation to start: buying lumber, cutting it to size, and nailing together the components.

    The company has grown steadily since Jerry started it in the mid-1970s. Swift Creek is located on about 50 acres and now has about 50 employees.

    Swift Creek is located in Amelia, Va., in the county of the same name, a rural community about 60 miles west and slightly south of Richmond.

    Although Swift Creek manufactures some 48x40 pallets, it is essentially a specialty pallet and wood packaging manufacturer. The number of footprints and pallet sizes is in the hundreds, according to Jerry. The company also manufactures skids and dunnage and in the past has also manufactured wood containers.

    The company sells to manufacturing companies mainly in Virginia although in the past it has supplied customers as far north as New York City and as far south as South Carolina. Industries represented by customers include printing, chemicals and groceries.

    One of the company’s milestones over the years was investing in automated pallet assembly equipment. The company first purchased a Campbell nailing machine in 1981 and later added a Viking pallet assembly system. It has upgraded its Viking machines regularly since then and currently is running a Viking Turbo 505 that was purchased in the late 1990s. In addition, a few years ago the company invested in a nailing machine supplied by Storti, the Italian pallet and sawmill machinery manufacturer.

    Swift Creek works mainly with hardwoods. The company buys mainly logs and cants. It purchases tree-length logs from logging contractors ‘at the gate’ and buys cants from sawmills in Virginia. It also buys some heat-treated pine and plywood and a small volume of pre-cut stock.

    Jerry has relied on Sharp Tool for circular saw blades for about 20 years. He has continued to do business with the supplier because of the “quality of the blades,” he said.

    As an example of the kind of service and products Swift Creek has received from Sharp Tool, Jerry recalled when he installed a Tipton scragg mill in 1992. Swift Creek was experiencing some difficulty related to the saws of the new scragg mill. Paul Morette, president of Sharp Tool, designed a super strobe saw blade for the scragg mill, and the blade was a success. In fact, Swift Creek continues to run the same blade today.

    The company buys logs up to 15 inches on the butt end and a 7 inch top and 4-inch, 6-inch and 8-inch cants in random lengths. In the log yard, tree-length logs are loaded onto a deck and cut to bolt length by a large circular bucking saw. The bolts feed to the Tipton scragg mill. The scragg mill consists of two pairs of two circular saw blades; the first set of blades removes two slabs, the logs is advanced and turned 90 degrees, and the second set of blades removes two other slabs. The scragg mill feeds inline to a West Plains Resaw Systems end-trim saw. Cants are sized, if necessary, on a Baker Products two-head horizontal band resaw system.

    Wood has been plentiful this year, Jerry noted. “Our cant inventory is real good.”

    The plant has two main resaw lines – a Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle gang saw line and a Pendu Manufacturing gang saw line. The Brewer Inc.-Golden Eagle gang saw is located in the same mill with the scragg saw. Cants are singulated by an unscrambler and feed directly inline to a Brewer cut-off saw and then inline to the gang saw. The Pendu gang saw line is located in the company’s other main building; it operates similarly with an unscrambler and cut-off saw and also feeds inline to a Pendu automatic stacker.

    In addition to an assortment of cut-off saws for cutting material to length, the company also is equipped with a Storti machine to reclaim boards from slabs, a Newman chamfering machine, West Plains notcher, and an L-M Equipment Co. (U.S.) cross-cut package saw.

    The company operates three machines for grinding or chipping residual material: a Cresswood grinder, Morbark chipper and WHO tub grinder. Along with sawdust, the material is sold for boiler fuel.

    Swift Creek is heavily involved in heat-treating pallets for export applications in order to meet global phyto­sanitary standards. The company has two pallet heat-treating systems supplied by Kiln-Direct, and it heat-treats pallets on a daily basis.

    Notching heads and other carbide insert cutters for chamfering and other tasks are supplied by Econotool. Bulk nails for the Storti and Viking nailing machines are supplied by Mid-continent Nail Corp. Stanley-Bostitch collated fasteners are used for pneumatic nailing tools.

    Swift Creek operates its own file room to maintain its saw blades. Blades that require additional maintenance are sent out to a North Carolina company for work.

    Jerry’s first experience with Storti was the slab recovery system he purchased four years ago. Storti is represented exclusively in North America by G. Wine Sales, and it has a Canadian-based technician who services its machinery. “We’ve been very satisfied,” said Jerry.

    Sharp Tool has a business relationship with Storti, too. Storti is using Sharp Tool blades on its sawmill equipment and is recommending Sharp Tool as a saw supplier.

    Swift Creek tries to ship in truck-load quantities. The company has three tractors that pull 53-foot flatbed trailers and trailer vans.

    Swift Creek offers a health insurance program for employees, and the company is active in a number of ways to provide special services to all employees. “In everything you treat them like family,” said Tom Reynolds, who came to the company 10 years ago to help manage operations and employee responsibilities. Tom previously worked for DuPont, where his background included safety and management.

    Over the years, pallet prices have not risen proportionately to offset higher prices for raw material, Jerry observed. However, Swift Creek and other companies have been able to continue to profit by improving efficiency and increasing yield in wood processing operations through investments in machinery.

    Jerry grew up in the sawmill industry and has witnessed a lot of change for the better. His parents and grandparents operated rough-cut sawmills in the early 1900s. Ironically, the sawmills in the region eventually were forced to close because of a lack of timber.

    Jerry remembers the days, before forklifts and other machinery, when mills ran half a day, and then men loaded trucks by hand. “The industry is more of a quality place to work,” he noted, and safety has improved significantly, too.

    Jerry experimented with pallet recycling at various times over the years but has remained focused on manufacturing new pallets. One of the obstacles to pallet recycling was the large volume of waste wood material the operations generated.

    Like other businesses, Swift Creek has been hurt recently by escalating fuel prices. The company has added fuel surcharges to make up the difference, and customers – aware of the rising fuel prices – have by and large accepted them.

    Swift Creek is a family business, and Jerry’s son, Scott, is in line for family succession. Scott, who has worked in the business for 18 years, is responsible for sales, costing, and overseeing manufacturing and production schedules. Jerry, 64, who also is an aviation enthusiast of propeller aircraft who owns and pilots his own plane, is focusing his business efforts at this stage on decisions related to investments in new equipment, installations, and plant maintenance.

    Jerry currently is considering replacing the Pendu gang saw line with a new gang saw line and also is planning to invest in a new sawdust collection system.

    In the long-term, Jerry believes there will be significant change in the pallet industry. It will become more accepting of pine and other substitutes for hardwood, he predicted, for several reasons. One is simply the abundance of pine, particularly in the South, where pine plantations are routinely planted where timber has been harvested.

    Nevertheless, he is optimistic about the future. The industry is better equipped and more able to deal with lumber and pallet quality issues.

    “The industry has a bright future,” said Jerry. “There is so much you can do with wood.”

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