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Ohio Sawmill Supplies Hardwood Cut Stock For Pallet Manufacturers
Dash Sawmill started out of growing tree service business.

By Alan Froome
Date Posted: 4/1/2003

NEWBURY, Ohio – When a tree service ends up with a yard full of logs to dispose of, most likely the company would sell them to a sawmill just to get rid of them. The owner of Dash Tree Service realized he had an opportunity staring him in the face, and he set about building a sawmill to convert the logs to something more valuable.

Dash Sawmills is owned by Dave Pitz, who started the original Dash Tree Service company in eastern Ohio in 1981. Today the tree service is still part of his business, but the sawmill has become much more important. Dave looked at the growing log pile in the early 1990s and saw an opportunity. He decided to go into the sawmill business to turn the logs into more profitable products. At first he purchased an existing mill equipped with old Morgan machinery, but soon he realized it was not adequate for his plans. He wanted to keep some of the machines and replace others, but when somebody offered to buy all of them, he sold them as a package and decided to start fresh and build a new mill.

Dave hired John Weaver in 1994 to head up the new Dash Sawmills division, and the two men set about locating and buying good used machines to equip the sawmill. John later became manager of the completed sawmill and has run Dash Sawmills since. Newbury is situated about 20 miles east of Cleveland, close to the Alpine Valley ski area. Cleveland is a good market for pallets, so sawing the logs into pallet stock was the first decision on what to produce in the new sawmill. Other lumber products were to be added later.

Nowadays, Dave concentrates mostly on the tree service activities and clearing land for development. The logs he obtains through the tree service and land-clearing operations are hauled to the mill yard for processing by Dash Sawmills. The mill handles a mix of hardwoods from the surrounding region, including poplar, basswood, oak, ash and maple. In addition to the supply of logs generated from the tree service business, Dash Sawmills occasionally buys hardwood cants.

Dash Tree Service has a variety of logging equipment, including a Timbco model 425 feller-buncher. The Timbco, powered by a Cummins engine, works in conjunction with a John Deere 648 skidder at logging sites. In the mill yard, the company has two John Deere track loaders — a model 444 and a model 555 — to move logs into the sawmill.

Dave and John built the sawmill mostly with used machinery. A Morbark Rosser head debarker — the log is passed over a rotating bottom head — strips the bark from the logs. The logs are then transferred on a chain conveyor to a Meadows circular head saw. The saw runs a 56-inch diameter, 1/4-inch kerf blade. It is fed by a Meadows three-knee log carriage with hydraulic setworks that can accept logs up to 36 inches diameter and 16 feet long.

Dash Sawmills relies on Country Saw and Knife, another Ohio company, for bench and file service on its blades. Country Saw and Knife uses all CNC machines in its shop and takes pride in providing fast, efficient service to the sawmills in the region. Besides maintaining the circular blades for the head saw, Country Saw and Knife also supplies and services other circular blades and band saw blades for Dash Sawmills.

From the primary breakdown at the head saw, the two-sided flitches are conveyed to a Vance bottom arbor bull edger that removes the two remaining slabs to finish processing the log into a cant. The Vance bull edger has a 7x36 opening and runs 20-inch saws. After passing through the bull edger, cants destined for pallet stock material are sent to the pre-cut shop.

"Our mill is different from the way most sawmills work," John acknowledged, "but it works well for us. It’s different in the way the mill is laid out and the fact that we use two separate edgers. The bull edger only edges cants, and the other machine splits them into boards."

The pre-cut shop has a Wagner double-arbor gang saw with a 6x10 opening and a fixed fence on one side. The gang saw can be operated with a variety of saw spacings, typically with up to 14 saws when cutting 5/8-inch and other thin boards. The pre-cut shop also has a Morgan chop saw with a 22-inch blade to cut the pallet lumber to length; the Morgan chop saw features an automatic feed table run by pneumatics, providing high-speed, hands-off operation. Most machines in the mill are belt driven by lineshafts from a common electric motor.

Deck boards and stringers are produced for a full range of pallet sizes, including standard GMA pallets and pallet lumber manufactured to special custom sizes, although the mill is not equipped to manufacture notched stringers for four-way pallets. Dash Sawmills pallet stock is sold in two categories: mixed dense hardwoods and select poplar and basswood.

After operating the sawmill for a year, it became clear that the saw and other machines were sitting idle part of the time, so in 1995 Dash Sawmills seized on another opportunity. It began to sort out species like maple and oak for sawing into grade lumber for the furniture industry and also into material for flooring and other applications where grain and color are important. "We started grade sawing partly as a way to keep the machines running through the shift," said John. "Making pallet stock only wasn’t enough to keep them busy."

Logs separated for grade sawing are broken down at the same head saw, but the sawyer keeps a closer eye on the timber grain. Like the flitches destined for pallet cants, the pieces are sent through the bull edger to finish he job of processing the log into a cant. In the pre-cut shop, the cants may be split into boards or thicker pieces at a Frick edger, then trimmed to length on the Morgan chop saw if required.

The high value grade-sawn products are supplied in lengths from 7 to 16 feet. They are shipped green to Industrial Timber and Lumber Corp. in nearby Beachwood. Industrial Timber and Lumber consolidates the selected lumber with that from other mills, dries the lumber in its kilns, and sells it to furniture and flooring manufacturers around the world.

Industrial Timber and Lumber, which has its corporate head quarters in Beachwood, is one of the largest producers of Northern and Appalachian hardwoods in the U. S. It has depots in several states in addition to 12 sawmills and lumber drying operations.

"Our relationship with Industrial Timber and Lumber has worked really well for us for several years now," said John.

Mill residuals are also put to good use. Waste slabs are processed by a Morbark chipper, and the chips produced are sold to a paper mill in the area. Other wood waste material, including bark, is processed in a tub grinder and sold for mulch.

The mill produces 75% pallet cut stock and 25% grade lumber in an average shift. Current production is around 50,000 board feet per week with about 40,000 of this volume in pallet cut stock. Pallet components are sold to about four or five steady customers. "But others call when things get tough," John added.

Dash Sawmills normally delivers within a radius of 150 to 200 miles of Newbury but occasionally ships as far away as New York and Chicago. The company is currently shipping about three or four truck-loads per week.

Dash Sawmills and Dash Tree Service employ a total of 16 people besides Dave and John. The office is run by Julie Walsh with help from secretary Karen Ikeler; they work together to respond to the day-to-day phone calls and sales inquiries and handle the company’s paperwork. The tree service employs two people on logging jobs — one worker who runs the Timbco and another who operates the John Deere skidder; two more workers normally are in the mill yard, operating John Deere loaders.

Recently the company bought a Brewco E-Z Cut horizontal band saw that runs a 10-foot blade. It is being used for remanufacturing operations, such as resawing some cants to remove wane. "We are real happy with the Brewco," said John. "It does a good job for us."

Nothing stands still for very long in the pallet and lumber business, John observed. He is considering adding his own drying operations in the future. He also is interested in investing in equipment to produce colored mulch. No doubt there will be even more opportunities down the road for Dash Sawmills.

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