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Freeman Wood Products Building, Innovating, Growing
New Brewer Inc. Gang Saw with Adjustable Arbor Offers Thin Kerf, Versatility
By Tim Cox
Date Posted: 9/1/2001
CENTERVILLE, Tenn. — If innovation breeds success, Freeman Wood Products has a solid future in the pallet industry.
Freeman already is a well established company in the pallet industry, thanks to the considerable efforts of its founder, Joe. A. Freeman, now deceased. His son, Teryl, is building on that foundation, making considerable investments in the business to take it to new heights.
One of the company’s recent investments was a new Brewer Inc. double-arbor gang saw that was exhibited at the Atlanta Expo. The new Brewer machine, named the Millennium, is unique because the top arbor is adjustable. The adjustability of the arbor allows running different size blades, including thin-kerf blades.
Freeman Wood Products operates both a pallet plant and a hardwood sawmill. About 80% of the company’s revenues come from sales of pallets and pallet lumber. The remaining 20% is sawmill products. Its operations are based in Centerville near the heart of Tennessee, about 65 miles southwest of Nashville. The pallet operations employ between 50-60 workers while the sawmill employs about 10 people.
The company has a long history in the forest products industry. Teryl’s great-great-grandfather started a sawmill business in the region in the early 1900s. His great-grandfather and grandfather continued sawmilling although each man moved its location. The sawmill businesses they operated produced cross ties, framing lumber for barns and homes, and other products. Teryl’s father bought the company in 1962, moved it the same year to its current site, and continued its focus as a sawmill and planing mill.
Freeman Wood Products entered the pallet industry in 1978 when it invested in some additional machinery — principally a Newman KM-16 multiple trimmer and some custom equipment — and began manufacturing pallet cut stock and pallet components.
In 1980 the company began supplying cut stock for a pallet manufacturer in Jackson, Tenn., almost 100 miles further west. The new account necessitated expansion. It was then that Freeman Wood Products began what has become a long association with Brewer, investing in a Brewer single-arbor gang saw. In 1982 Freeman Wood Products entered the pallet manufacturing business by purchasing the company in Jackson that it had been supplying with cut stock.
Teryl began working for his father after graduating from high school. His first job was stacking material coming from a bevel machine, he recalled. His father died in 1992, and Teryl bought the business from his mother, Shirley, in 1995.
Teryl, 36, has embarked on ambitious plans to grow and expand the company. Freeman Wood Products is in the gradual process of building and moving into new facilities on a 384-acre site. The company’s administrative staff already has moved into new offices, and the pallet assembly operations also are now housed in a new building. The pallet lumber and sawmill operations are expected to be moved into new buildings on the same site within the next five years.
At the same time, Teryl is moving to aggressively pursue new business. The company hired its first full-time salesman, Shane Willis, at the end of last year.
In addition, Teryl has expanded Freeman Wood Products into pallet recycling with operations that began this summer. The company previously partnered with another business, Fabrication Specialists, for pallet recycling services. In July, however, Teryl and a partner, Mike Goodpasture, launched a separate pallet recycling business, Team Pallet, in separate facilities about two miles from Freeman’s new site. The company already is recycling about 4,000 pallets per week.
Freeman Wood Products makes 400 to 500 different pallet types, Teryl estimated. One customer alone requires about 300 different sizes. The company does a large volume of GMA pallets. A typical order for Freeman Wood Products is 500-1,000 pallets.
The company has customers in the appliance industry, heating and cooling equipment, electrodes, and others. Most are located in Tennessee, Kentucky and Indiana, with others in Missouri and Arkansas. Customers for pallet lumber and components are located mainly in Missouri and Indiana.
For the pallet operations, hardwood cants are the main form of raw material — about 75%, Teryl estimated. The company also buys frame stock lumber, kiln-dried pine to be remanufactured into pallet parts, and oriented strand board for pallet tops.
Freeman’s pallet lumber operations rely heavily on Brewer machinery. One line consists of a Brewer cut-off saw followed by a Brewer single-arbor gang saw and a Pendu stacker. It is used mainly for resawing cants into heavy-duty components, such as 4x4 and 3x6 for large custom skids.
Another line, used a lot for manufacturing frame stock into 1/2-inch deck boards or 1 1/8-inch stringers, consists of all Brewer machines. It begins with a Brewer seven-head multi-trim saw that was custom built to accommodate 24-inch material. The pieces cut by the multi-trim feed to a Brewer single-arbor gang saw; the gang saw, also custom made for 24-inch material, is equipped with a planer-sizer for sizing the material to uniform height before going through the gang blades. Boards are finally cut on a Brewer two-head Silver Eagle band saw system.
Another board line is similarly equipped for cutting the same type of material. It uses a seven-head Newman KM-16 multi-trim for sawing the material to length. The resulting pieces feed to a shop-built rip saw and another Brewer Silver Eagle two-head band saw system.
Freeman also is equipped with a Brewer double-head notcher and some ancillary equipment, mainly custom-built bevel machines, routers, and others.
For years Freeman has operated another line dedicated to producing deck boards, but it is being modified with the addition of the new Brewer Millennium gang saw. This line consists of a Pendu cut-off saw in front of a Brewer cant sizer that processes the pieces to uniform height. Then the material goes through a Brewer four-head band saw system. The band saw system is being replaced by the new Brewer Millennium gang saw, which was scheduled to be operational in September.
The idea for a gang saw that can run different size blades originated with Freeman. "We went to Brewer with the concept, and they came up with the design," said Teryl. "We liked it," he said. "We felt like it would work." The adjustability of the top arbor will allow Freeman to run at the thinnest kerf possible, he said.
"With this saw, we can lower the top arbor, make the saw smaller — use an 8-inch blade — and drop the kerf almost 70 thousandths," said Teryl. "It gives us more flexibility to cut more material than we currently can."
Gang saw arbors are fixed, which only permits them to run blades of a certain diameter, typically 12 inches. Reliance on the 12-inch blade has been an obstacle to reducing saw kerf.
The top arbor of the Brewer Millennium may be raised or lowered to one of three settings. Lowering the arbor permits the use of smaller blades with less kerf. The use of different size blades provides added flexibility for sawing a wider range of material.
On the Millennium gang saw, the three arbor positions permit the use of 8-inch, 10-inch or 12-inch diameter blades for sawing 4-inch, 6-inch or 8-inch cants, respectively. The adjustment and blade change can be accomplished in about 5-10 minutes.
Running 4-inch cants will require 8-inch diameter blades with a kerf range of .100 to .115 while 6-inch cants will use a 10-inch diameter blade with a kerf range of .125 to .135. The machine is designed for a third position to cut 8-inch tall cants that will require a 12-inch diameter blade with a kerf of about .160. The third position can also transform the machine into a single-arbor design for 4-inch runners by using 12-inch diameter saws on the bottom arbor only, according to Brewer sales representative Brad Ginsburg. The adjustable nature of the gang saw makes it a very versatile machine, he noted.
"I’m expecting this machine to be very well received within our industry," said Brad. "These kerf ranges are conservative, and with any tooling advancements, they could be even better." The thinner kerf is accomplished mostly because of the machine’s ability to run smaller diameter blades. "A .115 kerf, 8-inch diameter blade is as strong or stronger as a traditional 12-inch, .150 kerf blade," Brad added.
Teryl and the Freeman management team analyzed the projected kerf savings. "Compared to the current gang saw, the savings will be enough to pay for the new saw over a five-year period," said Teryl.
Compared to the thin-kerf band saw system, "It’s almost a wash," Teryl said. The kerf of the gang saw blades is not as narrow as the band saw blades, but the company expects to roughly double production. In an 8-hour shift, two men on the band saw line produce about 15,000-16,000 board feet of material; two men running the new gang saw line are expected to produce 30,000-35,000.
Another benefit of the new gang saw will be the elimination of fine saw dust left on pallet lumber by the band saw system. Some customers have complained about dusty deck boards, Teryl noted.
For pallet assembly, Freeman Wood Products relies mainly on a Viking Turbo 505 for automated nailing. The machine was purchased new in 1998, replacing a Viking Champion system that was only a year old. The company previously had an FMC nailing machine. About two-thirds of the company’s pallets are assembled on the Viking Turbo 505. The company’s nail supplier is Mid-Continent Nail Corp.
The company also builds a considerable number of pallets by hand, using Stanley-Bostitch nailing tools.
The sawmill operation is relatively small, Teryl noted, but he plans to expand it in the near future. A fire destroyed the sawmill in 1997, and Freeman replaced its two Cleereman mills with a new Hurdle Machinery head rig. The Hurdle equipment is viewed as a temporary solution until all the pallet operations are consolidated in new facilities at the company’s new location. The sawmill also is equipped with a Minor edger and a green chain. "The sawmill is an area where we need to do a lot of upgrading," said Teryl, "and we plan to do that in the next two to four years."
The mill buys gate wood. About 50% of the sawmill’s production is cross ties and another 20%, grade lumber. The remainder is mainly cants, frame stock and flooring material.
The company uses a Cresswood horizontal grinder — purchased in 1997 — for processing waste material into boiler fuel. "We try to reclaim as much waste as possible," Teryl added.
The management team includes other family members. Teryl’s brother, Todd, is the manager of the sawmill and also oversees timber procurement. Teryl’s brother-in-law, Robert Rogers, is the manager of the pallet plant. David Grimes manages the pallet lumber operations.
"We’ve got a good group of employees," said Teryl. "Our management team is just great."
The company’s relationship with Brewer, the Kentucky-based pallet and sawmill machinery supplier, has been a close and profitable one. "We’ve been very satisfied with their machines and service," Teryl said. "They’re good people to work with. (Brewer founder) Mike Gillis is one of the best people I know. His whole family, Paul (Gilles, Brewer president), Brad Ginsburg — they’re all good people to work with."
Brewer had other customers that were interested in possibly pursuing a gang saw like the Millennium. "We were ready to do something," said Teryl, "and they were willing to go ahead and try it."
According to Teryl, Freeman’s management team essentially told Brewer: "We’d like our machine to do this. Can you do that? And they did it."
In his spare time Teryl enjoys going to some of the NASCAR races, such as the race track in Bristol. However, he appears strongly focused on developing the business further, and taking Freeman Wood Products to new levels. "There’s always room for growth," he said.