timberline lumber drying ... kiln-direct in order to increase drying ca-pacity. ashley river lumber

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  • 8 July 2019

    RIDGEVILLE, South Carolina - Ashley River Lumber Company has gone through a number of permutations over the years. Now the company has shifted away from operating as a production-oriented hard- wood sawmill and focused on manufactur- ing specialty lumber products, a change in strategy that also is putting more emphasis on lumber drying. The company recently began operating a new dry kiln supplied by Kiln-Direct in order to increase drying ca- pacity.

    Ashley River Lumber is located in Ridgeville, S.C., which is about 35 miles northwest of Charleston. The company has good access to 1-95, which is only about 20 miles further northwest.

    Andrew Branton, 37, is vice president of the company and the third generation helping lead the family business. His father, Joe, is the majority owner and still works full-time in the business but is phasing out his role as he approaches retirement.

    Ashley River Lumber is located in the same place where Andrew 's grandfather started the sawmi ll in 1962. It is a collec- tion of 12 buildings, including open air- drying sheds, with about I 00,000 square feet under roof. The company has 11 em- ployees, including a small logging crew.

    In recent years Ashley River Lumber's focus was high-volume production of grade lumber that was supplied to large flooring plants. In addition, it had contracts to sup- ply large quantities of low-grade material for dunnage, shoring and blocking to a ma-

    -- - - ---~------- -------- -- LUMBER DRYING SHOWCASE

    TIMBERLINE www.timbcrlincmag.com

    South Carolina Hardwood Mill Shifts Strategy, Adds Dry Kiln

    Ashley River Lumber Begins Operation

    of New Lumber Kiln Supplied by Kiln-Direct

    By Tim Cox

    ·--.,. '"-.:.. .

    . -- -. ' -·\. Material is prepared for drying in the Ki/11-Direc·t lumber 1

  • 1-800-805-0263

    jor steel company and other businesses. The mill cut about 60,000 board feet per week and generated a little over $1 million in annual revenues.

    However, now Andrew and his father . are taking the company in a new direction. "We're kind of changing over," said An- drew. "It got to the point where it was hard to compete with production mills that are larger," he explained.

    "We decided to cut back and do more high-end products," said Andrew, who be- gan leading the company in the new direc- tion last fall. "It was kind of a big step for us .. .lt was a little nerve-wracking to do it, but it seems to be working out pretty well." Years ago Ashley River Lumber harvested hardwoods in swamps, including a lot of cypress, which is known for its durability and resistance to moisture. "It was big back then," noted Andrew, before the advent of treating pine lumber with chemicals. The company sold mostly at retail to customers in the region building barns, stables, as well as material for fencing, siding, and floor- ing.

    The development of pressure-treated pine in the 1970s sank the cypress market; as that market declined, the company turned more to manufacturing flooring and other products, such as grooved paneling, ship-lap, before the 'big box' home im- provement stores came on the scene. "That became a niche," said Andrew.

    The company also supplied hardwood lumber furniture makers in Virginia and

    TIMBERLINE

    _._!'l&i=i3;••j;fil:Gi--J:Mf.ll;tM~ July 2019 9

    Ashley River Lumber added a Kil rt-Direct lu increase dryi11g capacity a,idfor g!!(Jler 'l!fficJ;n~.,,.;is drying OpRatiO

    _ ,,,,_ . ¾~- _ ; Thj.f,~n, _i1,-qs;J;:c• ily of~:00_0 ~oard feet of 414 lum~ . ·"-'- =o.:......,=---=m~-..·.:·~",;l::•.,,;:.:.,·:w,.., .. ' ,;.. ·::::;.(;"or ··,E: ·s, 4 '7::~~.L:..~-...~ -" .. ~-'-'·-'•'"'·ec-- ..... · _ __ L-_ _. __ North Carolina, but that business dried up when the manufacturers moved their opera- tions overseas.

    Ashley River Lumber had a few in- stances of flooring that customers consid- ered defective and threatened to sue. Joe decided to avoid liability issues, halting production of flooring and instead selling green lumber to flooring companies.

    When the Great Recession hit , the flooring market slowed down. Small ac- counts and specialty products kept the company going - decking for trailers, contractors looking for special beams, cus- tom material to accent a wall in a home, dunnage for ship builders. "Wedges for chocking tires," added Andrew. "Pretty much anything we could get." The business

    has constantly been evolving over the years, he noted, as markets have changed.

    Andrew graduated from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte with a degree in mechanical engineering in 2006, then worked for a government contractor de- signing blast resistant trucks for the war in Afghanistan. After being laid off in 2009, he decided to join his father in the family

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  • ' I'

    10 July 2019

    business. Joe ' s duties include trouble-shooting

    machinery, buying timber and overseeing the logging crew, and responsibility for most major financial decisions.

    Andrew described his role in the com- pany as "Jack of all trades." He is involved in sales and marketing as well as schedul- ing what orders need to be cut any given day or week. He designed the company 's website and social media presence and has been advertising online and through social media. He also keeps up with maintenance and ordering replacement parts and does the company payroll. " I'm trying to do too much, honestly."

    The focus now is more on specialty lumber products. The company 's primary products are items like long oak boards for trailer decking or hardwood beams as well as 4x4 material for dunnage. Trailer deck- ing is supplied for low-boy and other semi- tractor trailers that haul heavy equipment. "We can cut a 2x 12 by 20 or 30 feet," said Andrew. Other popular items include hard- wood or pine lumber for planter boxes and fencing. These type of products, which are sold green, account for about 75 percent of revenues.

    Slabs are the company 's second-big- gest product - live edge slabs of hard- wood, cypress and pine. They account for 15-20 percent of revenues. Andrew is also marketing old, excess lumber the company produced and stored over the years.

    The company put in its own dry kiln in the past, converting an existing building,

    TIMBERLINE www.timberlinemag.com

    -

    LUMBER DRYING SHOWCASE

    but since it was not originally designed as a kiln it was not very efficient, and without the need to dry lumber to make flooring, they discontinued using it.

    As drying slabs became more impor- tant, the company purchased a small , used dry kiln five years ago. However, it out- grew the kiln, which has a capacity of only 500 board feet , as it began drying more lumber and the material it has in inventory. Andrew invested in a new kiln from Kiln- Direct in order to have more drying capac- ity and greater efficiency in drying opera- tions . In addition , he wants to be able to have an inventory of kiln -dried lumber products in various species, ready for sale. "We wanted to build a shed of inventory full of this material ," in order to be able to sell more products like a home improve- ment store.

    The Kiln-Direct unit, which began op- erating in April, has 9,000 board feet ca- pacity of 4/4 lumber. Features include 14 hp of main fans , direct gas heating at 600,000 btu per hour, heat recovery on the venting, I 00 percent aluminum construc- tion, and integrated wood moisture content meter.

    The unit is a conventional , direct-fired package dry kiln. Ashley River installed the kiln on a concrete pad, and a Kiln-Direct technician made an on-site vis it to ensure the unit was ready to run.

    The Kiln-Direct unit is more versatile and effic ient , noted Andrew. It can dry larger loads and also can dry a very wide range of lumber products, from old heart

    i'j a" t i {

    Material from sunken logs may be discolored like this lumber above. It may have shades of green, brown, purple, red, and orange.

    WWW.\NOODBEAVER.NET Find Machinery Suppliers at: www.TimberEquipment .com

  • 12 July 2019 TIMBERLINE -

    www.timberlinemag.corn -- pine 4 inches thick and 70 inches wide to 4/4 maple.

    His father did the initial research into dry kiln suppliers and then handed off the information and his recommendation to Andrew. Joe liked the tum-key delivery of the Kiln-Direct kiln , which is constructed by Kiln-Direct and shipped completed on a truck, ready to be put in place. Kiln-Direct also got favorable rec- ommendations from existing customers. Another factor was that Kiln-Direct is lo- cated in North Carolina, only about 4-5 hours away.

    Andrew took the information and Joe's recommendation and considered sev- eral kiln suppliers. One thing that certainly impressed him was the commitment to ser- vice from Kiln-Direct.

    "I don't think anyone else would have had the level of customer service we have with Niels," said Andrew, referring to Niels Jorgensen, president of Kiln-Direct. "He's the owner, he knows everything, and I was able to talk to him after hours."

    As he began interacting with Niels and have contact with him via phone calls, An- drew thought, " Wow. I can 't believe this guy answers our phone call s."

    "Niels takes conference calls," added Aaron Lucas, general manager and direc- tor of kiln operations for Ashley River Lumber. "He can log into our computer a

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