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Thin-Kerf Mills Keep Illinois Sawmill Cutting Pallet Stock
Mieure Sawmill Equipped with Wood-Mizer Mill, Edger, Resaws
By Nikki Nichols
Date Posted: 10/1/2003
The fire forced Doug Mieure, his wife, Julie, and Doug’s parents to brainstorm about how to continue the family sawmill business. They also had to choose new equipment to replace the machinery that had been destroyed. Until then, Mieure Sawmill had used either circle mills or wide bandmills for primary lumber processing. Ultimately, the Mieures looked to thin-kerf, narrow-band technology from Wood-Mizer Products to resurrect the sawmill.
in Post-War Boom
World War II had just barely ended in 1946 when Doug’s grandfather, Robert Kelly, took full advantage of the ensuing railroad boom. Robert set up a sawmill in
Martin continued working for his father-in-law until he became full owner in 1969. One of his lasting contributions was addition of a wide bandmill to replace the circle mill. Martin invested in a 6-foot bandmill -- one of the first bandmills in
Doug Mieure graduated from
Doug’s initial duties were in the file room -- to resharpen the wide band blades, a skill he learned with the help of Ken Bartlett, whose father was the head saw filer at Scott Lumber Co. in
“I would spend on the average an hour and a half filing those blades,” Doug recalled. “The biggest challenge was keeping the proper amount of tension and keeping the blade flat and level.”
Mieure Sawmill hit a successful stride cutting pallet stock and dimension lumber for use on farms and oil fields. For breaking down the cants and lumber that came off his sawmill, Doug chose a Wood-Mizer Multi-Head horizontal band resaw. Wood-Mizer began manufacturing the Multi-Head in 1991, and Doug bought the second one the company made. The resaw was available with up to six heads, although Doug decided a three-head model would best suit the needs of Mieure Sawmill. The Wood-Mizer Multi-Head was installed in another building near the main mill building. The company operated a Precision debarker in another pole shed.
Fire Destroys Mill
The main sawmill building, heavy with sawdust, had been in use nearly 50 years when disaster struck in 1994. Doug attended the Indiana Lumberman’s Association meeting in
Doug remembers making a hasty trip to the mill. “It was devastating,” he recalled. “It was flaming for a couple of hours.” The firefighters knew they could not save the mill and head rig, but they feverishly watered the closest building, the debarker shed, to prevent the fire from spreading. Their efforts worked, and the debarker shed was saved.
When dawn arrived, Doug surveyed the damage. The business had suffered a $300,000 loss, and it was not insured. (Doug had looked into insuring the mill property previously, but no company would write a policy to cover the aging wooden shed that housed the bandmill.)
With a wife and three young children, and 10 employees, Doug felt a tremendous burden. “It was difficult for my wife and me,” he said. “We had just signed papers for our new house, and all of the sudden, I’m out of a job.”
The cause of the fire was never determined, but Doug suspects some kind of electrical cause touched off the fire, which he compared to simply “taking a match to it.”
Two weeks passed before the shock had worn off to the point that Doug and his family could sit down and plan a strategy of survival. He and his wife, Julie, and his parents huddled to consider the options.
It seemed like a remarkable coincidence that on the day of the fire, Doug was touring Wood-Mizer, a leading manufacturer of bandmills that the Mieures favored. Instead of wide bandmills, however, Wood-Mizer manufactures portable sawmills that use narrow band blades.
While he was considering options for a replacement mill, Doug bought 4x6 cants so the company could continue making dimension lumber on the Wood-Mizer Multi-Head resaw. Running the Wood-Mizer resaw enabled Doug to get the business back on its feet while keeping almost everyone on the payroll.
Eventually Doug decided it was time to stop buying cants and begin sawing logs again. He weighed a number of options and decided to invest in a circle mill that was installed in a new metal building. The new head saw was a good match for the extremely large cottonwood logs that Mieure Sawmill sawed into pallet stock.
Once the business was fully on its feet again, Doug added a Wood-Mizer four-head Multi-Head resaw with a merry-go-round for automated material handling. (The company continued to run the Wood-Mizer three-head Multi-Head resaw.) For resawing, Doug was convinced of the speed and accuracy of the Wood-Mizer Multi-Head.
Wood-Mizer’s research and development process had resulted in improvements to the resaw from its original design, and Doug was involved in the company’s efforts. “Wood-Mizer was always trying to improve the resaw,” he said, and company officials visited Mieure Sawmill occasionally as part of their research and development efforts. “They would come out in the evenings so as not to interrupt my production and try different things,” said Doug.
On one trip, Scott Laskowski, Wood-Mizer’s coordinator of research and development, accompanied the usual Wood-Mizer personnel, and Doug and Scott began a mutual exchange of ideas. “Scott asked about the wide bands, and I asked about thin, narrow bands,” said Doug. “That is the beginning of how I got involved with Wood-Mizer. I was very appreciative of the fact that they would go out of their way to come out in the evenings with no downtime for me.”
Those conversations about saw kerf later became critical as Doug faced a changing marketplace that wanted an alternative to cottonwood, which was not as strong as other, more dense hardwoods. “It just became more difficult to sell cottonwood,” said Doug, so the company turned to cutting the tougher hardwoods.
Mieure Sawmill began sawing other hardwoods, such as sweet gum, oak, sycamore and ash. The company typically bought logs from 8-11 feet with an average diameter of 14 inches. Although the circle mill performed well for big cottonwood logs, it was not as efficient for sawing smaller logs.
Doug remembered the conversations he had with Scott about saw kerf. He decided to invest in a new mill for the tough hardwoods and chose a Wood-Mizer LT40 Hydraulic portable bandmill with a 15 hp electric motor, a ‘professional’ level sawmill. Although the LT40 is a portable sawmill, Doug bought it to operate it as a stationary mill.
Doug has continued to cooperate in Wood-Mizer’s research and development efforts. His cooperation helped Wood-Mizer in 2002 to introduce its LT60/70 series bandmills, the top of the line in its professional level machines. Doug runs the first LT60/70 series prototype mill, a 25 hp model with setworks, remote operator’s station and automatic board return system.
‘Hang in There’ Mode
Mieure Sawmill now saws nearly all of its logs on the Wood-Mizer LT60/70 bandmill with thin kerf blades. Boards coming off the sawmill go through a Wood-Mizer twin-blade edger, which comes equipped with a fixed blade and a movable blade. For producing pallet stock, Doug modified the edger to add a third blade; all three run at a fixed setting.
Mieure Sawmill has scaled back production because of a combination of reasons. However, at full production the LT60/70 will produce about 5,000 board feet of cut stock per day, according to Doug.
Doug is considering diversifying his operations by sawing railroad ties, too. Another industrial market could help sustain the sawmill business during the pallet industry’s low business cycles.
Doug remembers when his parents hit hard times, then bounced back. “The last few years have been difficult,” he conceded. “We’re in the ‘hang in there’ mode.” However, he remains optimistic that the pallet industry will rebound as the economy strengthens. “Some people think it’s already going up.”
One lesson Doug has learned is that choosing the right equipment is the first step in survival. “If it wasn’t for thin-kerf technology, I would have already closed my doors.”
(Editor’s Note: To contact Doug Mieure, call (618) 943-4111.)