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Scragg Mills Provide Low-Grade Versatility Over Raw Material
Scragg mill machinery review

Date Posted: 8/31/2001

Scragg mills have been around the pallet industry as long as I can recall. Opinions have varied widely concerning the wisdom of using a scragg mill to manufacture pallet material. Stories about the demise of small scragg operations are common, but successful scragg mills are a cornerstone of pallet lumber production in a number of well known pallet companies. Edwards Wood Products in Marshville, N.C., comes to mind as a company that for years has run four Evans mills. The Evans mill sold well at one time, and many were mothballed when some owners could not run them profitably. Both scragg success and failure stories have been common.

In simple terms, a scragg mill is a sawmill, often fairly simple in concept, that converts small logs into pallet cants. Many just cut slabs off either two or four sides to make either two-sided or four-sided cants. The slabs are either ground into wood fiber or further processed into pallet stock. The idea is to use a less expensive sawmill to manufacture pallet cants or rail ties from relatively inexpensive low-grade logs, including hardwood pulp logs. More sophisticated scragg mills use computerized controls for added versatility and control, but the typical scragg design produces pallet stock and other products, such as rail ties, in significant volumes using a limited number of people.

In the early 1990s, when hardwood raw material was in very tight supply and prices were high, scragg mills gained some popularity in the pallet and sawmill industries. With the circumstances currently facing the sawmill industry, particularly the hardwood industry, pallet manufacturers may find themselves returning again to scraggs as a source for more hardwood pallet stock if low-grade hardwood production from grade hardwood mills stays lower (see article on p. 18). One of the most important products from U.S. hardwood sawmills has been grade lumber for furniture manufacturing. The recent flight of the hardwood furniture industry from the U.S., particularly to the Orient, has led the charge toward smaller industry production. With the Asian furniture industry turning more toward local, native woods, often covered with American veneers, the demand for higher grade hardwoods has taken a serious downward turn. If this continues it could reflect a basic change in the hardwood industry, which may cause more pallet stock to come from different sources in the future, including scragg mill output.

Scragg mills are designed for sawing smaller, low-grade logs. The presence of a scragg mill in a pallet plant or sawmill that manufactures cut stock gives these businesses a greater degree of control over raw material. Many pallet plants will cut part of their own material on a scragg mill and continue to buy from outside sources; this gives more control over both the supply and price of pallet stock.

Many hardwood pallet companies rely on cants that they buy from sawmills manufacturing grade lumber. Depending on markets, however, hardwood sawmills may saw products other than cants after removing grade material from a log. Low-grade hardwood products include crossties, flooring, frame stock, mine timbers, board roads, dunnage, and other industrial products. Alternative industrial markets can have a significant influence on how much low-grade wood is available to the pallet industry in the form of cants. Of course, they influence the price of cants as well.

In addition, machinery manufacturers have made new advances in scragg mill technology. Pallet and sawmill businesses have more options available to them. The newer, more modern scragg mills are available in both circular saw and band saw models and offer thin-kerf sawing and increased production. They may feature overhead end-dogging systems to hold the log for precision sawing. Modern scragg mills, designed for sawing logs of relatively long lengths down to short scragg blocks, may be equipped with a number of other advancements as standard or optional equipment, including computerized setworks, log centering systems, log infeed decks, material handling conveyors, and much more. Depending on the manufacturer and model, scragg mills can process logs into cants or two- or three-sided cants. Some manufacturers also offer smaller, portable scragg mills.

A move toward less high-grade hardwood demand would change the markets available for U.S. hardwoods. It could lead to hardwood sawmills leaving more of the grade material in industrial products such as cants and raising prices for them. Higher prices for higher-valued industrial hardwood could prompt pallet companies to invest in scragg mill technology to mill low-grade logs.

On the following pages we present information about some of the scragg mill manufacturers. Pallet and sawmill businesses should carefully analyze the cost and anticipated benefits of new machinery and also compare various options. I offer a special thanks to the manufacturers who supported this special coverage of scragg mills.

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