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Indiana Company Relies on Helle Mills; Cornell Cut-Up Line Makes Pallet Stock
Baird Sawmill: Indiana company turns to its long-term supplier, Sawmill Hydraulics, when it upgrades; Baird Sawmill replaces older Helle sawmill with a new, automated Helle sawmill with computerized setworks.
By April Terreri
Date Posted: 7/1/2007
ROCKVILLE, Indiana — Winters in Indiana can seem endless, especially if you are a farmer. In the mid-1970s, Mike Baird was a high school teenager when he and his father, a farmer, decided to occupy themselves during the winter months with a productive enterprise. They bought a grove of locust trees and planned to process the wood into fence posts.
“We had a lot of slack time during the winter, and we decided that was the time to cut,” recalled Mike, 48. “For the first year or so we took the logs to a local sawmill and had them sawn. Then, as the business started to make money, we invested in a small mill. For the first five years all we did was saw locust fence posts.”
The company has grown and expanded. Today, Baird Sawmill Inc. employs 20 workers, and the company has 11 buildings on 20 acres. The company produces between 6-7 million board feet of lumber and about 300,000 pallets annually. Baird Sawmill manufactures quality hardwood lumber for the furniture industry, veneer for export, lumber for the construction industry, fencing, pre-cut pallet components and dunnage and blocking, flooring for trailers, and new pallets.
Baird Sawmill has upgraded equipment steadily through the years but has come to rely particularly on Helle sawmill machinery, which is manufactured by Sawmill Hydraulics in Farmington, Illinois. The original sawmill was replaced in 1977, and Mike and his father produced mainly lumber until 1985. Mike got married that year, and his wife, Jamie, has been performing all office operations since then. They bought out his father’s share of the business the same year.
In 1989 Mike upgraded the sawmill again. He invested in a Helle automated mill and ran it until 1992, when he
Earlier this year Mike turned to Sawmill Hydraulics again, replacing his oldest Helle mill with a new one. “The new mill has computerized setworks,” said Mike, who also upgraded the other Helle mill with computerized setworks. The new head rig includes a 42-inch carriage, which is wider, and it runs on plastic wheels.
Baird Sawmill has two sawmill buildings, another mill where cants are resawn into pallet lumber, a cut-up building, a green chain building, a ripsaw building where oversize logs are quartered, a pallet assembly plant, warehouse, maintenance building, office, and a shed for equipment. The company also has a pallet heat-treating system.
Mike buys all native hardwood species, including red oak, white oak, hickory, ash, poplar, sycamore, cottonwood, beech, gum, cherry, and walnut. “We buy about 90 percent of what goes through the mill.” He buys standing timber from individual landowners. Baird Sawmill employs two logging crews that harvest the timber and deliver it to the yard, and the logs are graded and scaled with computerized equipment. Baird Sawmill uses logs 12 inches in diameter and larger in lengths ranging from 8-16 feet.
Both sawmills run the same type of logs at the same time. If the company is sawing grade lumber, it will feed grade logs to both mills; if it is cutting low-grade lumber products, it will send low-grade logs to both mills.
“Both mills are identical in the way they operate,” said Mike, “so when we trade sawyers around, they know the machines.”
When logs are ready to be sawn, the bark is removed first on a Fulghum 636 debarker, and the logs continue to a Morbark log trough. Two sets of kickers enable the debarker operator to kick the log off to either sawmill. The logs are conveyed to a Morbark log deck to the Helle sawmills.
Each Helle sawmill has a Helle three-saw vertical edger. The Helle head rigs are used to square up the logs and then remove boards. Grade boards are edged on the three-saw edgers and then conveyed to the green chain. In the green chain building, six men work along the 100-foot-long green chain, pulling and stacking lumber into roll-out carts.
Slabs go through the vertical edger to produce a three-sided slab; then they are routed to a Newman KM-16 multi-trim to be cut to length. The cut-to-length material then goes through a Baxter double-arbor gangsaw to be resawn into pallet parts. Low-grade boards coming off the mill are routed to a Cornell multi-trim saw to be cut to length, and the cut-to-length material goes through a Brewco bandsaw to be sized for pallet lumber.
Cants from the sawmills are stacked on lumber carts in the green chain building and later rolled out to be picked up by a loader and stacked. “We always have a big inventory of them,” said Mike. “When we need them to go to the gangsaw building, the loader picks them up and puts them on a breakdown deck at the head of the Cornell line.”
“We are cutting various sizes, and many times we will cut three sizes out of one length of cant just to utilize the length,” Mike continued. “This is all done on an automated Cornell cut-up system. As it comes out of the Cornell cut-off saw, it runs directly into a Cornell 550S double-arbor, double-bay sizer-resaw. Once the lumber comes out of the sizer-resaw, it goes right to the GBN board stacker. We never have to touch the boards because it’s all automated.” When the GBN machine has produced a full stack, the system automatically discharges it, and workers apply bands to the bundle.
The pallet shop is located about a mile from the company’s main facilities, and pre-cut pallet components are trucked to the shop. (Baird Sawmill uses about 90% of the cut stock it produces for its pallet manufacturing operations, and the remainder is sold to other pallet manufacturing companies.) Baird Sawmill manufactures pallets ranging from 24x24 to 70x110. The company occasionally uses a broker for pallet design services.
The pallet shop is equipped with a GAP 960 nailing machine for automated pallet assembly. The GAP machine uses pneumatic nailing tools and collated nails.
“To me, it’s the most efficient and easy-to-operate machine because one man can operate it,” said Mike. Other nailing machines may require at least two or more workers to operate, he noted.
The company also assembles some pallets by hand with Stanley-Bostitch pneumatic nailing tools and collated nails.
Mike has increased prices for pallets and pallet cut stock over the years to offset rising prices for logs. Like other companies, he also offsets high fuel costs by adding a fuel surcharge to deliveries. “I have not had anyone complain about the surcharge, so it’s just a fact of life now that everyone accepts.”
About 50% of the company’s pallet production is heat-treated because the pallets are supplied to customers who ship products to export markets overseas.
“We looked at several heat-treating chambers on the market, but all of them were expensive and they didn’t look to be as efficient as we wanted to suit our needs,” said Mike. “Our maintenance man, Bill, looked at the heat-treating systems that were available on the market and read their literature, and then he built one for the company. He used a 53-foot trailer van for the chamber, and it burns propane for fuel.” The custom pallet heat-treating system has a fast cycle time and is efficient to operate, Mike reported.
All grade lumber is sold and shipped green. “One of our biggest customers is Cole Hardwoods in Logansport, which produces high quality kiln-dried lumber, mostly for export,” said Mike.
All waste wood material is put into a Morbark 48-inch chipper, and the chips are supplied to the International Paper mill in Terre Haute. Bark is conveyed from the debarker directly to an EMC bark processor and made into high quality mulch. The company supplies about 4-1/2 loads of chips to International Paper per week and produces about 10,000 cubic yards of mulch annually. “We have absolutely no waste here,” said Mike. “Even all the sawdust is sold for animal bedding.”
The company buys B.H. Payne headsaw blades from Grover Forest Products in Spencer, and Coleman Sawmill Supply in Orleans provides re-tipping services for carbide saws. “Both of these have always been very good to us,” said Mike.
Baird Sawmill is a member of the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association and the Indiana Hardwood Lumbermen’s Association. When he is not working, Mike enjoys fishing and playing with his three children. He also has served two terms on the local school board.
Mike attributes the success of Baird Sawmill to the company’s highly dedicated long-term employees. “We pay a very competitive hourly wage, and we offer benefits that include health insurance, paid holidays, vacation time, sick and personal days, and profit sharing.”
Employees work 45 hours a week. They can earn extra pay if they want to work on Saturdays, when much of the equipment maintenance is done. New hires receive safety training and are teamed with supervisors for a period of time until they are ready to work independently.
It’s clear that Mike built his company into a successful enterprise doing a wide variety of operations. “We try to have a market for everything we buy no matter if it’s high quality or low quality timber,” he said. “We have always tried to be agile and versatile. When the grade lumber market is in a slump, we will produce more pallets. On the other hand, if pallets are in a slump and the grade lumber market is high, we will lean more toward the high-grade lumber production.”
It goes without saying that Mike has been pleased with Sawmill Hydraulics and the Helle line of sawmill equipment over the years. “They are just a nice bunch of guys who work there,” he said. “They’re a local company within a few hundred miles. They carry a lot of parts we need for our equipment, and if I
Mike and his employees installed the most recent Helle sawmill that was added, and they brought it on line. “Helle sent one of their technicians over to install all the computerized equipment, and he stayed with us a day to show the sawyers how to operate it,” Mike added. “If we had wanted him to stay another day, he would have with no problem.”
There is a strong emphasis in the pallet operations on customer service. “We never miss a deadline,” said Mike. “If pallets have to be delivered on a certain day and time, we will get it done even if it means working all weekend. We do whatever it takes to please our customers, which has paid off because we get most of our work just from word-of-mouth advertising. There are people who start up a pallet business and go out of business soon after. Companies around here have gotten wary of that. They want to work with someone for the long term, and that’s us.
“Our quality employees and management all work together to accomplish our common goal, and that is customer satisfaction.”