Weber Brothers Sawmill Relies on Simonds Intl. to Keep Its Bandsaw Operation Running Strong
Weber Brothers: Michigan hardwood sawmill finds success by focusing on the little things. The company shares how proper blade maintenance and filing operations makes all the difference. Weber relies on the Simonds 980 model automated bench to make blade maintenance a snap.
By Chaille Brindley
Date Posted: 9/1/2014
Doing the little things right has helped Weber Brothers Sawmill Inc. of Mount Pleasant, Michigan weather a lot of ups and downs in the hardwood lumber industry. This starts with the parts that keep its saw lines running well. The company cuts mainly Michigan hardwoods, especially maple, oak and ash for the grade lumber market. It also sells cants to pallet manufacturers.
“Our operation is a very family oriented business. I am one of the old guys here, and we have three generations of Webers working at the sawmill,” said Ed Weber, the president of Weber Brothers.
One of the things that Ed Weber likes to do is fix and sharpen the bandsaw blades for the company’s McDonough linebar system. “I take care of the bands myself,” said Weber. “Keeping the blades in proper shape is sort of a challenge. I wouldn’t want to try to do it manually without the Simonds model 980 automated bench.”
A Simple Sawmill Layout
The operation at Weber Brothers starts with an HMC debarker processing logs from two decks. In the 1990s,
the company installed two Cleereman circular sawmill lines. One processes smaller logs. The other processes a
variety of sizes. Infeed down rollers move material from the Cleereman saws down the line.
When the four-sided cant hits the lift station, it lifts up and goes to a surge deck on the large mill or directly to the McDonough bandsaw on the short mill. Lumber is cut on the bandsaw and drops down to travel to the grading area. Lumber grading is done in line and is then sent out to be stacked and prepared for transport on a truck.
No optimization or scanning system is used by either saw line. Making the right cut is up to the sawyer. In 2002, Weber Brothers put in the McDonough linebar and all the support equipment including a Simonds Intl. model 980 automated bench.
Bandsaw Blade Maintenance Secrets
The Simonds model 980 automated bench has been a key piece of equipment in making the McDonough system run efficiently. If the blade is not working right, the saw line will not operate smoothly.
Weber said, “One thing I do is always run the blade one cycle through on the auto bench even if I am just going to sharpen it or if the blade is running fine.”
This process helps keep the blade in good working condition and prevents major problems from developing. Weber Brothers usually runs the bands for six, maybe eight hours at a time if they are really wearing well. Weber explained, “We usually try to change over the blades at a break, lunch or end of shift period. It normally takes two workers about ten minutes to changeover a blade.”
Another secret is that Weber goes the extra mile by swaging every time. He explained, “I swage every time not every other time. You get a longer run time out of the blades and they run more consistent if you do this.” Swaging is a method of shaping a tooth to provide side clearance or kerf on both sides of the saw blade with each tooth. The narrow kerf bands do not typically use “Swaged” saws, they are set tooth saws
Weber added, “I think this really helps the blades stay in good shape and keeps them from getting way out of whack, which requires you to hand bench the blades to fix the problem.”
Ed Weber loves his Simonds Intl. model 980 auto bench. Weber commented, “The Simonds auto bench is very precise, and it just doesn’t miss anything. We have had it for 12 years. We run it every day. It takes care of the things that you would miss and overlook if you are hand benching the blades.”
The model 980 automated bench will level, tension, adjust the back and set tire length on blades. Simple, intuitive controls allow the operator to do the leveling and complete bench work automatically on a mill run bandsaw with a single set-up. When desired, the operator can separate the leveling and benching functions and operate either independently. Leveling is the process where the machine “bends” the steel to remove small bumps that are put in the bands during the operating time. Bumps cause the bands to deviate in the cut (vibrate) and can lead to cracking and will increase the amount of kerf you cut. Eliminating the bumps is a good thing.
“Back” in a saw is the amount a saw blade deviates from being completely straight on the back edge. The back on all bandsaws must be longer on the back than the front. If the front was longer the saw would not cut. Take a piece of paper in your hand and hold it by the corners, when you pull the corners the edge gets tight and you can cut yourself with that tight edge. If you grab the paper in the middle and rub the edge against your skin it will not cut you.
The tire line is the point that the band rides on the wheels, it is where the tension starts and stops in a wide band. The tire line is typically 1" or so from the back edge and below the gullet.
Tension is the amount of drop the saw sees across the width of the saw. The picture to the left shows the gullet of the saw on the left hand side and the back of the saw on the right hand side. A wide bandsaw has to have “tension” to operate properly. The amount of tension in a saw determines how fast you can cut.
The automated bench can be used in a manual mode if a filer wishes to make additional rolls at the end of a working cycle – without having to move the saw to his manual stretcher roll. And interchangeable tension templates allow the mill to customize desired tension or accommodate different saw sizes.
While the machine is being set up (or while it’s working) the operator can readily see the condition of the saw and what work is required. Tire lines are set from 3/8" to 1-1/4" with the turn of a single knob. Simonds Intl has developed a new model called the 090. For more information on it, see the sidebar on page 18.
More Blade Insights
One of the big advantages of the auto bench is its ability to reduce the learning curve required for new workers in the saw shop. Weber stated, “For a new person coming into the saw filing room, the auto bench really helps them, it takes some of the tensioning and leveling guess work out of the equation.”
He explained, “Working on a hand bench takes longer to master than the auto bench. If the band is not torn up, this machine will do everything you need to level, put the right amount of tension and sharpen the blade and get it back in production.”
Usually Weber only hand benches a saw if it has developed cracks or serious problems. He repairs the bandsaw blade and then puts it on the auto bench to finish the process.
Some seasonal changes help improve blade performance. Weber said, “The tension and the back stays about the same, all year around. I don’t change that very much. What does change is the kerf of the blade.”
Weber described, “I like to run between 135-138 kerf during the summer months. As it gets colder, the lumber starts freezing up, I will back off to 120-125 kerf. The biggest thing I change throughout the year is the kerf tolerance between winter and summer.”
Cutting frozen lumber can be a challenge, but Weber has found that getting the kerf tolerance right makes all the difference. He added that frozen timber cuts a lot cleaner, you don’t have the extra fuzziness, which you need the extra band to clean up the cut.
Also, he sometimes adds a bit more tension than what others might put on the blade. He uses 40-45 tension. Weber stated, “The blades seem to work a little better if you put a little more strain on your tooth edge.”
Even though Weber is 71 years old, he likes working in the saw shop and has been active in the family business for 60 years. He said, “Nobody has kicked me out of the saw shop yet. It is something that I enjoy doing and keeps me active.”
Positive Attitude and Forward Momentum Makes the Difference
Weber Brothers started in 1950 when Ed’s father bought a small sawmill and started cutting lumber for nearby farmers. Over the years the company has grown and added new equipment as times change. Weber said, “Family involvement and progressing with the times are two of the major reasons for the company’s success and longevity. “
Currently, the operation is considering adding an end trim saw and acquiring another log truck. Weber said, “There is always room for improvement in the mill building. But that is up to the next generation. You can’t steer from the back, you have to let them go.”
The company added a small wood-fired dry kiln manufactured by Nova a few years ago and has been supplying some dried lumber to clients. Weber believes this part of the business will continue to pick up because of the close proximity of cabinet makers and others seeking kiln dried lumber.
Keeping a positive attitude has been a key working in the sometimes turbulent lumber industry. Weber remembered, “I have seen quite a lot. We have been through the ups and downs. In the bad times, you have to tighten your belt and see what you can do to cut costs. Just hold on and you will come out of it.”
Weber Brothers survived the downfall in the hardwood market after the recent recession in 2008. And the market has come back strong over the last year although it has started to level out a bit of late.
Fortune has also helped out the company through the years when it really needed it. Weber recalled when the company experienced a fire in 1971 that totally devoured the operation. Right after the fire, the Asian market started getting into bowling, and Weber Brothers was located near a large Brunswick factory that had ramped up production to meet the surging demand.
Weber recounted, “They started buying all the five quarter hard maple they could get their hands on. And they were paying $600 per thousand for the #1 hard maple. It was an unheard of price, but it didn’t last very long. It was just long enough to get us over the hump after the fire.”
The company sells its wood waste to different sources. It chips its waste using a Morbark grinder. Weber said, “Morbark is located ten miles from us, and the Morbark chippers are excellent.” Users of the wood waste include a nearby wood pellet factory, a co-generation plant and local farmers as well as landscape companies that like to take the bark.
Currently, Weber has 23 employees working at the facility including 10Weber family members. Weber said, “Titles are just a name here. We all talk everything over as a management team.”
Besides Ed, family members at the company include Rick Weber, vice president; Greg Weber, secretary/treasurer and band saw operator; Dan Weber, Steve Weber and Amy Weber Salisbury, all timber buyers; Matt Weber, senior lumber inspector; Jason Weber, log yard manager; Ryan Weber, band saw operator; and Paul Weber, log truck driver.
Lumber Market Challenges
The company used to manage its own logging crews. Today, it relies on independent contractors, which has worked out well. Weber said, “The good news is that we have adequate timber bought up and a good amount of logs in the yard.”
The challenge is managing the fluctuations in the market. Weber stated, “The grade lumber market has gone down just a tad and leveled out a bit. We don’t want to price ourselves out of the market. It was headed that way in the spring.”
Looking toward the future, Weber suggested, “We don’t want to see the lumber market going up or down too much. We want it to level out.”
The company’s annual production rate is six million board feet.
Simonds Model 090 Automated Bench Improves Sawmill Productivity and Filing Room Performance
Simonds International Corp offers the model 090 automated bench designed to improve filing room productivity for bandsaw mills.
The model 090 Automated Bench incorporates a touch screen control panel that allows all of the filing room personnel to consistently produce better performing saws. The 090 has a unique “Learn” mode feature that enables the filer to load a “Best Practice” saw and when instructed, the machine will scan the saw and record all the measurements in memory. Using the memory function, the filer can recall a stored saw and duplicate the specifications from the stored saw on all saws in the future. The machine also has the capacity to store up to 999 different saws.
The machine performs all scanning via a contact sensor that has been proven to be more accurate than a tested optical laser measurement device. The measurements made via the sensor are fed into the computer, the machine performs all calculations, adds the appropriate back, tension and tire line to the band.
Following on the groundbreaking success of the original Simonds automated bench (model 980) the 090 model simultaneously levels and tensions the saw while measuring to .0004" across the entire area of the saw – length and width. The touch screen is large and can be operated even while wearing gloves.
Both the 090 and 980 measure tension the same way a filer measures tension. It lifts the band ahead of the sensor and measures the amount of “drop” in the same fashion as a filer does with his tension gauge.
Both machines get you to the same place and the Model 980 can process saws up to 16" wide. One big advantage on the 090 is you are able to change the tension profile by simply entering a new value on the touch screen, the 980 requires you to have additional template bars available.
For more information on the product, visit http://www.simondsint.com or call 978-424-0100.
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Blade Maintenance Made Easy