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Smith Sawmill Service Offers Top Quality Blades – Relies Heavily on Wood-Mizer as a Blade Stock Supplier
: Smith Sawmill Service entered the narrow thin-kerf bandsaw blade market in 1996. Since then it has grown to become one of the largest, possibly the largest, welders of narrow bandsaw blades in the country. It is the biggest purchaser of Wood-Mizer bandsaw blade stock that serves the sawmill and pallet industries.
Date Posted: 1/1/2013
Smith Sawmill Service, owned and operated by Paul Smith, has been welding narrow bands for the sawmill and pallet industries since 1996. Over the years, the company has used blade coil stock from a number of different suppliers, but it’s primary suppliers have become Wood-Mizer and Lenox. The relationship between Wood-Mizer and Smith Sawmill Service has grown over the years to where most of Smith’s blade stock is made by Wood-Mizer. Some industry people say that Smith Sawmill Service is the largest welder of narrow-band blades in the country, a statement that the company cannot actually verify. As the highest volume user of Wood-Mizer blade stock, Smith has developed a strong relationship with and appreciation of the Wood-Mizer people and their products.
Smith Sawmill Service – A Family Run Company
Just like the sawmill and pallet industry, Smith Sawmill Service (SSS) is a family owned and managed company. As the interview with the company owner/president Paul Smith developed, his love for the family run businesses kept rising to the surface. Between his father, his son Michael, and himself, all three have spent their lives working in or around sawmills. Like many of their customers, the Smith’s are heavily involved in their community. Paul’s wife Debra handles office management at the company and is a two term mayor in their small home town, Timpson, Texas, where Paul is the president of the Chamber of Commerce. Both are very involved in their community’s economic development.
The Smith family’s roots are in the sawmill business. In the early 70s, while in high school, Paul worked with three sawmills, hammering, tensioning and leveling their round saw blades. So, as a teenager he was making pretty good money by working with saw blades. By the time he was 21, Smith owned his own sawmill, but the serious recession of the early 80s made him shut down the mill. He kept it for a long time, thinking he might want to reopen it someday. But his experience in blades beckoned him in a different direction. Blessed with the art he learned from his father, Bobby Smith, Phil started benching and repairing large diameter circle saws. Although the company briefly did repair on wide bands, Paul’s strength in the round saw market eventually led him to drop wide band repairs altogether.
SSS Enters the Narrow Band Market
Like any successful business, Smith Sawmill Service had to keep its eyes open to changes in the market. In it’s early years SSS didn’t offer narrow bands; Smith thought narrow bands were kind of like a hobby and didn’t seriously consider them as a sawmill product. He said, “If you really look at a narrow band blade, it shouldn’t run as well as it does. I did not think it would work efficiently.” But eventually Paul says he had to admit he was wrong. He said, “They work very well when properly made and maintained.”
In the early days of narrow band blades when not many people were involved, Lenox was attracted to the concept. When Smith asked the industry about their needs and who they would like to have as a supplier, he indicated that about 95% of those contacted said they wanted to do business with SSS, and Lenox wanted him to make the blades as well. In 1996 Lenox welded thin bands for Smith for two or three months. His customers liked them, so Smith bought a welder and grinder and started cutting and welding them himself. Today SSS manufactures about 1,200 thin-kerf narrow bandsaw blades a day using four or five welders and automatic sheers.
In addition to becoming a major manufacturer of thin-kerf narrow bandsaw blades, it might be said that Smith Sawmill Services helped put narrow thin-kerf bandsaws and the needed blades on the map. Smith applied his knowledge of wide bands to narrow bands and improved some of the manufacturing characteristics to make blade stock that cut better and lasted longer. About that time Smith said that Lenox developed the best band coil stock available. For several years, Smith Sawmill Service sold nothing but Lenox blades. As other brands came into the market, Smith tried just about all of them but stuck with Lenox.
The Davis family owned Lenox at the time. Smith always said he would sell nothing but Lenox.
But when the Davises sold to Rubbermaid, Smith missed the personal touch that had come from their relationship; he appreciates family run entrepreneurial businesses. Smith had known Randy Panko of Wood-Mizer and many of his colleagues and enjoyed their relationship. Since Wood-Mizer manufactured both coil stock and narrow thin-kerf blades, they were competitors, but had maintained a friendly relationship, which is somewhat unusual in a competitive situation.
The Smiths often ran into Panko at forest products trade shows. Paul’s son Michael suggested that they talk at a show about the potential of doing business together. By the end of the show, a deal had been worked out for Smith to buy some Wood-Mizer coil stock. Michael, who is 31 and has a business degree, is very “hands on” when it comes to the plant’s manufacturing and general operations.
The relationship between Wood-Mizer and Smith Sawmill Service has grown to the point that Smith Sawmill Supply now sells more Wood-Mizer blade stock than any other kind, and they are now Wood-Mizer’s biggest blade stock customer. Most of their blades are 1”, 1-1/4”, and 2" but they can make just about any custom blade that a customer might want. SSS keeps its door open to people who want to introduce virtually any product and style of blade.
Smith said, “We really enjoy working with the Wood-Mizer people. They are extremely good people to work with. We first knew Randy Panko as a competitor, but he and his staff have grown to become very good friends. They are very user friendly. There is no better band stock on the market. Wood-Mizer is one of the best examples of a Christian company that I know. I like the way they live and do business.”
Smith Sawmill Service has about 25 employees working two ten hour shifts. They were able to streamline the staff a little during the recession in 2009 but kept two ten hour shifts. The plant works some Saturday mornings to keep up with production needs. Employees sometimes trade off days on Fridays, keeping production moving but giving them an opportunity to make some extra money and have a little time off. Panko suggested we ask Smith about his work habits because he loves to work. Instead of having a hobby, Smith enjoys working. Smith said, “Like many entrepreneurs, I do like to work. I have been accused of starting a night shift so I don’t have to be working by myself.”
Smith Sawmill Service places a major emphasis on product quality. Smith said, “Our narrow band department starts the morning off with weld and destruction. We test our welds twice a day. Of course, we have visual inspections continually throughout the day.
Additional Products at Smith Sawmill Service
In addition to thin-kerf narrow bandsaw blades, Smith Sawmill Service is a full service saw blade company. SSS welds blades for pallet recyclers as well as for new wood sawing. As the pallet dismantling blade market grew, it was natural for SSS to become involved; the steps to manufacture and supply dismantling blades are essentially the same as those for wood cutting narrow bands. This growing market is getting bigger and bigger and represented a natural extension for Smith Sawmill Service. Every couple of weeks SSS makes a trip to the Dallas market with truck loads of dismantling blades.
Before narrow bands came on the scene while a very young man, Paul Smith cut his teeth on circle saws. He continues to service this important market and is one of the South’s largest circle saw blade manufacturers and service centers. Smith buys all of his saw plates from Peerless, another U.S. company. Smith tries to deal with U.S. based companies, another one of the many things that attracted him to Wood-Mizer. He encourages everybody in the forest products business to try and do business with U.S. suppliers when possible.
Smith Sawmill Service makes metal cutting blades as well as wood cutting blades. While it works with metal cutting blades, it tries to stick close to the products and customers that brought it to the dance. Smith has never gone aggressively after metal cutting customers.
Like many blade companies, SSS runs blade routes. Four service men travel to customers in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi and sometimes Alabama and Georgia. They run about the same basic routes most days to service blades for customers. Smith said, “Our service reaches out much further. We have a delivery system of literally thousands of brown trucks (UPS) that service every corner of the country.”
In its circle saw division, SSS uses both Vollmer and Armstrong equipment. It is one of the only circle saw shops in the U.S. that does carbide tipping and both plasma weld and resistance weld stellite.
In addition to blades, Smith serves its customers with a complete machine shop, including CNC equipment, lathes, a Cincinnati milling machine and drill presses. SSS also rebuilds and works on large chippers and equipment and build a lot of machinery for mill customers. Smith builds machinery without outsourcing. He likes to control things when possible without having to rely on outside resources. Smith likes running two shifts to provide quick, complete customer service.
Smith said, “If a mill calls and needs quick repairs, there is not much we cannot get done by the next morning. We can usually make things happen without having to rely upon outside resources.”
Smith Sawmill Service is an authorized Vollmer and Armstrong repair center.
While nobody knows what the future might offer, SSS does not currently sell Wood-Mizer mills, but the potential of expanding into machinery sales is definitely there. While Smith doesn’t have an agreement with Wood-Mizer at this time, he has already quoted a couple of Wood-Mizer’s new line of grinders. Smith said, “We already have one of the best service technicians who travels widely to mills.”
Smith has developed his company to be involved in just about every phase of cutting wood. SSS has two patents; the first one is related to knives. Smith said, “Key Knife was a great product. Key Knife’s customers said they wanted to deal with Smith Sawmill Service. After building a network of distributors, Key Knife started eliminating them and went to direct sales, eventually cutting us off. We were doing good sales with Key Knife. Within a year we came up with our own knife system and patented it. It is doing well, selling all over the U.S. and as far as Australia. Our second patent involves a way
to eliminate babbit (a metal you melt and use for a spacer) on any chipper knife.”
When he started his company, Smith never thought it would grow to be what it is today. He started in a two car
garage with an entrepreneurial spirit. In keeping with his family interest, he put his family name on his business. With his son taking a larger role in management, Smith felt the need to put a different face on what they are doing. The result is Accurate Cutting Technology (ACT)®, a registered trade mark. It will be easier to market than a family name would be.
Narrow Bandsaw Blade Tips
By Phil Smith, Smith Sawmill Service
It has been said that you need to tighten a blade till it breaks and then back off a little bit.
Obviously you cannot do this, but the idea is to get a bandsaw blade as tight as you can without breaking it.
Bands actually stretch. If bands start running a little wavy, you can use a ratchet torque wrench to bring them back up in torque.
Very few people successfully sharpen narrow thin-kerf band blades. A hobbyist or homeowner might be able to do it, but narrow band blades cannot usually be sharpened successfully for high volume sawing needs like that of a pallet manufacturing plant or sawmill. If you run a blade until it starts cutting poorly or making wavy lumber, the body of the blade is probably losing its integrity. If a blade gets loose on the back and is not tight enough on the front edge, sharpening it is not the solution.
As a blade manufacturer, we look carefully at incoming coil stock. We have applied our knowledge of wide bands to tighten our specs on coil stock. As you run a band blade, its clearance starts to collapse. We changed our clearance specification for kerf from .018" on each side to .021". A blade loses camber as it stretches. The front edge has to be tighter than the back to get more camber. Our tighter specifications on coil stock encouraged suppliers to recognize the changes they needed to make. These changes have impacted the quality of stock available in the market.