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Texas Pallet Maker Starts New Sawmill, Cut-Up Line
Baker Products Supplies Complete New Scragg System to Arrington Lumber
By Tim Cox
Date Posted: 5/3/2002
JACKSONVILLE, Tex. – Some 18 months ago, Arrington Lumber began considering machinery options in order to increase production of pallet lumber and reduce over-time. It wanted to augment its Cooper scragg mill and two circle sawmills, which supply components for the pallet manufacturing company. The company found the solution in a new scragg mill and cut-up line supplied by Baker Products.
Owner Eddie Arrington was pleased with the Cooper scragg mill he put in three years ago, but sawing small logs on the Cooper was not efficient, he found, particularly if the log was bowed or had some other defect.
Eddie began researching other companies that made scragg mills and their machines. He obtained their videos and gathered information. In the end, the company he chose was already a well-known supplier to Arrington Lumber: Baker Products.
Arrington Lumber’s mills already were equipped with a host of Baker horizontal band resaws for manufacturing stringers and deck boards. The company ordered a Baker circular tri-scragg mill and peripheral equipment last fall. The new Baker line, which replaced one of the company’s circle mills, began operating earlier this year. "I don’t think we could run without it," said Eddie.
Arrington Lumber was started by Eddie’s father, Ernest, in 1963. With one employee, his father cut lumber and assembled pallets by hand; the two men produced about one load of pallets per week. His father initially expanded the business by financing some used pallet machinery. The company grew to three facilities before consolidating its operations in one location in 1975. Eddie joined his father in the business in 1972. His father was diagnosed with leukemia a year ago and has been undergoing treatment for the disease, and now is cancer-free.
Today Arrington Lumber has about 185 employees. The company’s operations are housed mainly in four buildings. Each of the three pallet lumber lines is situated in its own building, and a fourth building -- constructed 18 months ago -- contains the company’s pallet assembly operations, which are equipped with six Viking nailing machines.
The company recently has been producing about 15 loads of pallets per day. The most it has ever built in a single day was 22 loads. In terms of weekly production, it once peaked at about 92 loads over a five-day period.
From Jacksonville, which is located about 110 miles southeast of Dallas, Arrington Lumber is a one day drive from five of the largest metropolitan areas in the country: Houston, San Antonio, Dallas/Ft Worth, New Orleans, and Oklahoma City. Generally the company ships truck-load quantities of the same pallet, but, depending on the customer, also ships mixed loads. The company serves customers in the chemical, petroleum, soft drink, medical equipment, communications, grocery and paint industries. It does business in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, as well as Texas.
Arrington Lumber manufactures about 100 different size pallets, Eddie estimated. The company used to be heavily into the GMA market – before CHEP launched its pallet rental business in the U.S. At one point the company manufactured about 75 loads of pallets per week – including some 50 loads of GMA pallets. "We realized when CHEP came in, that business was going to go away," Eddie said. Sure enough, within about two years of CHEP’s entry, the company’s GMA business had trailed off to about 15 loads per week. "You’ve got to find something else to do," said Eddie. The company still manufactures a revised GMA pallet made with ½-inch deck boards.
Arrington Lumber manufactures a small volume of custom No. 2 pallets to make use of lower grade material and also a small volume of block-style pallets. Custom pallets are assembled by hand with power nailing tools. Only about eight workers make pallets by hand.
Eddie is not interested in expanding into pallet recycling. "There are too many doing it right now," he said. He provides pallet recycling services on a limited basis for customers that request them. "If one of my customers needs me to do something like that, I will."
Arrington Lumber buys mixed hardwood pulp-type logs; many are tree tops as small as 6 inches in diameter. The company also buys some standing timber and has it harvested by contract loggers. In addition, it buys about 35 loads of cants per week. Occasionally the company purchases one to three loads of stringers or other components per week.
Arrington Lumber previously used gang saws to resaw sized cant material, but it changed all its lumber lines to band saws several years ago. The reason: saw kerf. "It didn’t take me long," Eddie said, to figure out how many additional boards he could get out of his log supply.
The company’s pallet lumber lines are equipped with a slew of Baker Products horizontal band resaws. In all, the company has nearly 40 Baker band saws in various configurations – single-head machines, and two-, three-, four-, five- and six-head Baker resaw lines. Baker also supplied a corner clip saw.
Band resaws gained in popularity in the pallet industry in the 1990s because of the thinner kerf they offer. Eddie is convinced that band resaws have an edge in kerf, and he wants that edge. "I don’t want to give up anything out of the log," he said. "That’s why I put the Baker scragg mill in. I want to get everything out of the log that I can."
Recovering as much material from small logs is a challenge, he noted. "That’s the problem working with small logs," he added. The Baker tri-scragg mill, however, is up to the challenge, he said. The best log to process on the machine is one that is 11 inches in diameter, Eddie has found. "There’s hardly any waste."
Eddie is enthusiastic about his two principal pallet machinery suppliers, Baker and Viking. "I like Viking, and I like Baker," he said.
Arrington Lumber has three Viking Turbo 505 machines, two Turbo 504 machines, and a five-stringer Turbo 504. The six Viking nailing machines can produce 76 loads of pallets in eight hours, according to Eddie.
The company’s other pallet equipment includes a Baker corner clip saw and three Bob Hanna notching machines equipped with Econotool cutting heads.
Arrington Lumber has had its Cooper scragg mill for three years. "It’s a great mill," said Eddie, who considered investing in a second Cooper mill. The Cooper scragg mill makes cants, and Baker band saw lines resaw the cants and recover boards from the slabs. However, sawing small logs on the Cooper was not efficient, the company found.
Eddie began considering machinery options 18 months ago for processing small logs. He evaluated mills from numerous suppliers. "I looked at all of them," he said., before selecting Baker Products to supply a scragg mill.
Eddie has been partnering with Baker Products for 10 years or more and has been impressed with the durability of the company’s machines. "I have never replaced a Baker saw," he said. "Not one has ever worn out. We’ve added more, but we haven’t replaced any."
The Baker staff has been very service-oriented, Eddie observed. "They do what they tell us." For example, Arrington Lumber personnel made some suggestions for modifying the new Baker line, and the Baker staff made the changes accordingly.
The company replaced one of its circle mills with the Baker circular tri-scragg mill system complete with sharp chain feed. Baker also supplied all peripheral equipment for the line, starting at the infeed log deck and including a circular slasher saw cut-up system and handling equipment. Arrington added onto one building and modified another to make a place for the new equipment, adding about 3,750 square feet of space under roof.
Now, larger logs are sawn on the Cooper and the other Fox circle sawmill, which mainly is used to saw logs that contain defects. The new Baker line is being used to process small logs -- 12 inches or less. "It’s doing exactly what we thought it would do," said Eddie. "We’re getting more lumber out of that small log."
"It’s probably going to do better than we thought it would," he added. "But that doesn’t surprise me, given that it’s Baker equipment."
Arrington Lumber debarks logs processed on the Cooper mill and its circle mill, but does not have the equipment to debark logs that are sawn on the Baker circular tri-scragg. The Baker line eventually will be equipped with a debarker though, according to Eddie.
Small logs to be processed on the Baker tri-scragg first are cut into blocks about 3 inches longer than the finished product that will come out of it. If the company is set up to run 45-inch boards, for example, the logs will be cut to 48-inch blocks.
The Baker tri-scragg has two circular blades that removes slabs from each side of the block, which then is fed through a horizontal band blade to be split into two three-sided cants. The cants go through a merchandising system to a Baker trim saw, and the trimmed cants are resawn on a Baker three-head and five-head band resaw system. "We make all the deck boards we can on it," said Eddie, mainly ½-inch and 5/8-inch boards. The finished deck boards are swept clean by a Baker de-duster.
The company’s original goal with the new line was to produce about 35,000 boards a day, according to Eddie, who prefers to measure production in actual boards instead of board feet. "We’ve already hit 45,000 in nine hours," he said.
Using the Baker line to process small logs has had a secondary benefit of increasing production on the Cooper scragg mill, Eddie noted. By a conservative estimate, he said, production on the Cooper line has increased as much as 15-20%, he said.
Arrington equips its Baker tri-scragg mill and band resaws with Lenox blades supplied by Smith Sawmill Service. Blades are used for eight hours before being replaced. Arrington Lumber sharpens some blades in-house; others are sent out for re-sharpening or replaced.
"We try to get everything out of the log," said Eddie. "We try to give the customers a good product at a good price, and service. Sometimes it’s hard to make all three of those work, but I think we do a good job of it."
If a company asks for 5/8-inch deck boards, "That’s what we’re going to cut."
Business has been slow in the recession, Eddie conceded. However, some economists say the recession already is behind us, and Eddie has noticed an improvement. "We’ve been pretty busy since the first of the year," he said. "We could be busier, but it’s not bad."
The pallet industry is undergoing major changes, he observed. "It’s headed to something totally different."
Arrington Lumber is making plans to begin heat treating pallets that would be used to ship products to export markets. Eddie, who has talked to three suppliers about installing kilns that would have the capacity to dry two or three truckloads of pallets at a time, was waiting for final decisions from several customers.
Eddie used to spend most of his time in sales but added a sales representative, E.C. Blount, in recent years. Now he spends his time "fighting fires."
"I just take care of whatever I need to take care of," he said. "In a company this big, you’re going to be doing a lot of things."
Arrington Lumber employs a plant manager and foremen who supervise each sawmill and pallet assembly operations. Nathan Dyess is the company’s plant manager, Eugene Gibson oversees the new Baker sawmill, and Johnny Barton supervises pallet assembly. "I have some good people, and they help me take care of it...Sometimes I’ve got too many things going on, but I have good people who help me. We work together as a team."