Friday, July 10, 2015
In less than three months after taking ownership of the
family sawmill business, 3rd generation owner Mike Junk and brother-in-law Shawn
Fowler made the changes necessary to compete and thrive in the lumber industry.
By installing a Wood-Mizer WM4000 thin-kerf industrial headrig to replace their
old circular sawmill, Mike and Shawn positioned Honey Grove Hardwoods, LLC on the
cutting edge of technology to increase efficiency, yield and profits for their
Honey Grove Hardwoods began as JM Junk Lumber Company and
Sawmill by Mike’s grandfather in 1941. The family business was continued
for several decades by Mike’s father before Mike and Shawn created a
partnership and changed the company name to Honey Grove Hardwoods, LLC in July of
Cutting hardwoods to produce grade lumber for moulding, caskets, veneer, stair
treads, flooring, ties and pallet cants, the U.S. based company used a circular
sawmill as the center of their operation for more than 70 years. By using old
technology and inefficient production methods, Honey Grove Hardwoods was
struggling to keep up with competitive timber prices and increasing industry
Circular Sawmill Operation
With more than two decades in the lumber business, Mike recently noticed a
drastic change in the competitive industry. “For many years, the lumber
business has been based solely on production. This is no longer the case,”
he said. “The industry is changing from ‘how much you produce’
to ‘how much profit you can make’.”
To keep up with the evolving lumber industry, Mike and Shawn came to the
conclusion that their circular saw with conventional wide-kerf blades had reached
the end of the line. “We realized we were running outdated equipment when
we weren’t getting the footage and grade yields that we thought we could
get with thin-kerf technology,” Shawn said.
Fitted with a circular headrig and a log carriage, Honey Grove Hardwoods’
operation was not only losing yield, but their production set up was inefficient,
forcing the sawyer to do multiple jobs at once. “A vertical edger was
positioned in front of the sawyer booth on our circular headrig, which meant the
sawyer was also the one doing the edging,” Shawn said. He explained that
this process helped with saving costs on labor, but since the sawyer was rushed
to saw as well as edge the lumber, it sacrificed quality and production. From
outdated equipment to inefficiencies, Mike and Shawn decided to take a closer
look at upgrading their entire operation.
Thin-kerf technology is a forward thinking approach to an industry that tends to
think bigger is better. Not only do thin-kerf blades produce up to 30% more
product from logs, but businesses who have adopted thin-kerf technology have
reported lower costs for labor, blades and blade maintenance, electric bills and
transportation when comparing to their circular or wide-kerf blade sawmills.
Reducing waste and increasing yield is exactly what Mike and Shawn wanted to
accomplish in improving their business.
Looking to learn more about thin-kerf technology, Mike and Shawn travelled to
Wood-Mizer headquarters located in the United States where they witnessed the
WM4000 industrial headrig in action. “After seeing the WM4000, we realized
the potential production and yield increase advantage over the circular mill we
were currently using,” Mike said. Seeing proof that a narrow band, thin-
kerf blade sawmill could produce less waste, more product and use less energy to
saw, Mike and Shawn decided to move forward with their operation and add a WM4000
headrig to their production line. “We felt the WM4000 was a very cost
effective way to update our whole operation to thin-kerf without the huge
investment that a large band mill would cost to purchase and maintain,”
Shortly after this decision, Mike and Shawn welcomed a few Wood-Mizer industrial
specialists to their location to help put into perspective how they could update
their operation and incorporate Wood-Mizer technology and equipment into their
current business model. After receiving recommendations, Honey Grove Hardwoods
installed a complete Wood-Mizer system.
Transitioning to Thin-Kerf
The transition from a circular sawmill operation to thin-kerf was a three week
process where Honey Grove Hardwoods basically tore out all of their existing
equipment from the debarker through to the wood chipper. After pouring concrete
and adding the proper electrical connections, Honey Grove Hardwoods was back in
business and ready to start sawing again.
Since installing Wood-Mizer equipment in their operation,
Honey Grove Hardwoods has been satisfied with their investment. “Thin-kerf
technology with the WM4000 has been working extremely well, even in very cold
weather and dealing with frozen logs during the winter months,” Mike said.
“The WM4000 has allowed us to focus on every aspect of the mill from logs
to lumber without having to purchase as much raw material in this competitive
After the installation of their new Wood-Mizer equipment,
Shawn describes the everyday operations of turning logs into lumber. “The
Log Deck helps ease the process of loading logs onto the WM4000. From there, logs
are cut on the headrig and then moved from the sawmill’s built-in conveyor
to the Three-Way Conveyor,” Shawn said. “Material is transferred from
the conveyor to the Green Chain and then to the EG400 edger for a very smooth
transition from logs to accurate lumber.” With this system, the sawyer no
longer has to be the edger, which improves efficiency and quality of
Mike and Shawn admitted to working through a learning curve with the new
equipment. “We were used to operating with a log carriage instead of the
log placed directly on the bed of the headrig, so we had to learn how to use the
controls and setworks of the WM4000,” Shawn said. “We also had to
learn the correct adjustments and mill alignments in order to keep the band
finely tuned in order to produce accurate lumber. I’d like to give Wood-
Mizer a special thanks for their customer support and helping to educate us on
these issues,” he said.
Although Honey Grove Hardwoods basically produces the
same products as with the old circular sawmill, Mike says that they have
reevaluated what is cut out of each log with the huge savings coming from thin-
kerf blades. “The larger kerf of the circle mill was causing us to purchase
so much more raw material,” he said. “We were just turning more
dollars and sawing logs faster, but not getting the yield returns we wanted on
the lumber. Although our system looked productive, it wasn’t
Compared to their old circular sawmill operation, Mike
said their yield has improved greatly with Wood-Mizer equipment. “The yield
factor is amazing with thin-kerf producing only one-third the waste of our circle
sawmill, plus you can slab smaller and lighter which increases usable
lumber,” he said. Being able to produce more product from fewer logs also
cuts down on transportation costs and increases the profit per log. “We are
getting the same amount of lumber while using 25% less timber and raw materials,
which in turn, reduces transportation costs across the board,” Mike said.
He also noted that the WM4000’s ability to saw the log and return the
lumber right off the dragback was a great feature and helped speed up their
Honey Grove Hardwoods is also saving on blade
maintenance. Thin-kerf blades are less costly to maintain and easy to replace if
they are damaged. “The nice thing about thin-kerf blades is that you can
change a blade and be sawing again in two minutes,” Shawn said. Minimizing
downtime and repair costs has helped Honey Grove Hardwoods stay productive
without having to wait on blade repairs or replacements.
When it comes to advice, Mike encouraged others to talk
to those who have transitioned from a circular to thin-kerf sawmill. “Do
your research and visit someone to talk about their experience of making a
change,” he said. By visiting Wood-Mizer and taking advantage of thin-kerf
technology, Mike and Shawn have positioned Honey Grove Hardwoods, LLC for success
in the lumber industry for generations to come. “The WM4000 put us right
back up to the competitive edge on utilizing and maximizing yields for our
business,” Mike said.
Watch the WM4000 in operation in
Romania, in the video below.
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