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Mills closing

Started by Bruno of NH, June 13, 2024, 06:46:07 AM

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Bruno of NH

Colby in NH at the end of the month and Mill River in Southern VT are closing.
Kennabec just built a new mill down the road from me.
It's taken 3 years to build.
One of the most state of the art mills in New England I'm told.
I got invited to the open house but couldn't make it.
Lt 40 wide with 38hp gas and command controls , F350 4x4 dump and lot of contracting tools

nativewolf

@AndyVT Seems that the new mill by Kennabec might just be too efficient for the older mills to compete with?
Liking Walnut

rusticretreater

I watched a youtube video of a modern mill.  Incredibly huge, totally automated and run by computers.  Debarking, grading, analysis, routing, cutting and stacking all directed by computers.  All by-products easily collected and processed-flitches-bark-bad logs.  There is no way anybody can compete against it with a lesser operation.
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WhitePineJunky

Quote from: rusticretreater on June 13, 2024, 10:25:34 AMI watched a youtube video of a modern mill.  Incredibly huge, totally automated and run by computers.  Debarking, grading, analysis, routing, cutting and stacking all directed by computers.  All by-products easily collected and processed-flitches-bark-bad logs.  There is no way anybody can compete against it with a lesser operation.
Seems as time goes on the big fish will continue eating what's left of little fish, very concentrated wealth etc
It's almost every industry maybe except lobster fishing around here perhaps 
Don't know many computers that can pull lobster traps up yet 

rusticretreater

QuoteIt's almost every industry maybe except lobster fishing around here perhaps
Don't know many computers that can pull lobster traps up yet.

SHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!  :lipsrsealed2:
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Peter Drouin

Older mills closing might be good news for small mills like mine. The super big mills coming online are not going to sell lumber to Joe Farmer. or timber framers.
A&P saw Mill LLC.
45' of Wood Mizer, cutting since 1987.
License NH softwood grader.

NewYankeeSawmill

If you guys are tired of me relating experiences from my years in the printing and publishing business to what I see going on in sawmill and lumber industries, just say so....  :uhoh:  But man I tell ya, the similarities are uncanny!

When I got out of college at the end of last century, the 'digital revolution' was taking over the print-biz. No longer did you need legions of strippers at light tables and dark rooms and giant Misomex plate exposure machines... It was all replaced with a geek sitting at a computer and a couch-sized platesetter. I went into companies with ooh, maybe 1+ million dollars worth of gear, and replaced a 27 person 3-shift operation with about 5 or 6 operators, trained the pressman to re-make their own plates and eliminated the overnight shift. Owners loved me....

Thousands of sq. feet of plant floor space was opened up, I just needed air conditioning... Totally revolutionized the way printing was done. I made bank. Generational printers went out of business because they missed the opportunity when it knocked, they knew it wouldn't happen to them, THEIR customer's would never.... Pure arrogance, as if time and technology don't apply to them. They all suffered.

In the intervening years while that was going on, Xerox got their stuff together (another Rochester, NY based company by the by...), and slapped a big old computer on the front of their copy machine and called it a "Digital Press". All the big printers just KNEW it wasn't going to impact THEIR business. The quality just isn't there, the craftsmanship doesn't exist in a toner world, you NEED ink on paper!

I actually fell into that camp. I used to be a judge for the Printing House Craftsman Association. Quit when they put toner-based work into the same category as press-based. I resisted toner forever, because, it sucks! Quality isn't even close, nevermind all the other problems with it.

But, the market taught me I was wrong. The lesson I learned over that experience, is that what I think doesn't matter. It's what the customer thinks, and what the customer is willing to pay for. Nobody ever disputed ink on paper was 'better' than toner. However the customer, allmighty, determined digital print was GOOD ENOUGH. So that's what they buy! Sure quarter sawn lumber is better for a bajillion reasons, but that's irrelevant (same as ink vs. toner is). What are the customer's buying, and are you responding to that?

Quality shops failed left and right, it was a massacre (the internet didn't help, but I'd digress). If they tried to buy the digital gear too late, they died in bankruptcy unable to make the payments because they already lost all their customers to the fast movers who were doing it cheaper. This is the history of the iGen from the printer's perspective. Think fully automated woodmizer vs. manual norwood. The woodmizer shops ate everyone for lunch.

I don't know jack about commercial sawmilling, but I know enough about business to know the folks at Colby and Mill River saw the writing on the wall and made the smart move. This dovetails into what I'm talking about in some of the other threads. What you think doesn't matter. It's not up to you, you don't matter, grok that. It's up to the customer who is paying for it. Our job as suppliers is to meet our customer's needs. I finished out my print career in an all digital shop. We didn't even have a conventional press, and half our work we sent to service providers. I don't like it, I don't think that's how it's supposed to be, but I also had bills to pay. I am seeing the exact same scenario today in sawmilling. Times are changing, the market is changing (could be a whole thread by itself), it's up to businesses to respond to it. @YellowHammer has a thriving business because he responds to what his customer's needs are. @Magicman works harder in retirement because customer's want what he produces. Despite this success, neither one could sell to the other's customers. That has nothing to do with either persons ability to sell, saw lumber, or what type of mill they own and use.

If you're in a business selling ice to eskimo's, you need to be a good salesperson. Give your customers what they want and need, and they'll be beating your door down to give you their money. All the local portable sawyers I spoke to have months long backlogs. They do nothing but take off the sides and slab-saw logs all day long. That doesn't mean I shouldn't try to quarter-saw the cherry logs I looked at last night,  it's my job to educate the customer about their options and let them choose. The customer doesn't want to pay the extra time it takes to quarter saw for the grain, he said just whack it into 1.5" slabs and he'll plane the cup out of it. Yessir Mr. Customer, Sir. Is it a waste of good wood? Not my job to care...

I offered conventional-press printing to everyone, but they chose digital because it was faster and cheaper. My print-customer's didn't want (to pay for and wait for) the quality, nor do my sawmill customers. If I don't offer to slab-cut that wood, they don't hire me. Same experience as in the print-biz. Just turn the business cards around in 24 hours please, I don't care about emboss and deboss and foil stamping.

A part of our job as business owners and service providers, is to help the customer figure out what they want, and how we can help them get there (while making money). My print customer's had an idea in their head, and needed help making it happen - Grandma's cookbook. Nobody knew to even ask what kind of binding (which affects your page layout), they just knew they wanted a book! My sawmill customer's have an idea in their head, and need help making it happen. This guy last night (w/ the Cherry logs I'll be asking questions about in a week or two!) knew he wanted to make a table w/ the tree they paid to have cut down in their yard. That's it. That was all he knew. I understand that it's a part of my job to fill in the blanks and get him there:

How Big of a table (long/wide)? Didn't know.
How thick do you want the top? Didn't know.
Are you going to cut and glue skinny boards together with bisquit joints to make the top? Didn't know.
So how would you like me to cut these logs for you? Didn't know.

The ONLY thing he knew, was the log was cherry, and he wanted to make a table with it.

After walking him through a few things the shape and size of the logs were telling me, drawing rings of grain on the end with a crayon like I learned here, he decided he would like to glue 1" thick boards together to make the table-top. AHAH! NOW I can make a cut-list. Took me 30 minutes of meet-n-greet on the way home from the grocery store, booked about an 8-hour day (maybe 2 days if I'm slow or there's problems, dunno, charge by the hour for that very reason). I could have dodged the opportunity when it was still on facebook messenger, but I really like the rolls at Publix, and he was right around the corner anyways!

I _get_ that folks running larger scale successful businesses kind of look down on this kind of work, it's not their thing (insert me looking at digital presses here, been there done that). Slab sawing a Cherry? SACRILIDGE! However there is still a market out there, that is severely un-tapped, and capable of expanding IMHO. That log was never going to end up at a place like YH's, it would have been ground into chips or bucked into firewood by the tree crew that dropped it, MAYBE sold to a smoker. Now it's going to make me about 400 bucks, and hopefully a bunch of referral business within Knox County Sherriff's office!

You HAVE to find and embrace your customers, you're not the one creating the work, you're responding to it. I never printed anything that someone else didn't need and ask me to produce. Running the saw is secondary to running the business, or do you look at that the other way 'round? Are you running the saw hoping to find a market, or are you running the saw in response to the market you've found? The horse goes in front of the cart.
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Bruno of NH

A friend of mine stopped in yesterday day .
He used to help manage Durgin and Crowell pine mill in Springfield NH. 
He know works for a lumber broker and is very well connected in the industry.  
He told me a mill in Maine that just saws hemlock is also closing or just closed.
Lt 40 wide with 38hp gas and command controls , F350 4x4 dump and lot of contracting tools

Cedarman

Solve customers problems and you will make money.
Customer calls up wanting grape stakes.  I have no idea what a grape stake is.  After a bunch of questions, I find out what he really wants is an edged piece of wood with a split face on one side and a flat place on the other.
He wants a lot of them.
So I said I need to see if we can make them.
Split some 4" straight grained cedar logs. Sawed a flitch out of them and ran that through the edged.
Worked, but slow.  So priced it high.
Customer says "You are a life saver".
So to do it more efficiently, I built a log splitter capable of splitting 11' long poles.
Realized running through the resaw worked so much faster than using the LT30, then through the edger.
customer loved them.  Hauled them in two trips to Florida and they became a ceiling in a big theme park.
Have used the splitter many times since to make split rails.
Take the time to understand what the customer wants, find an efficient way to do that, and charge accordingly, customer will be happy to give you his money.
NYS, I loved your printing analogy.
My SIL works for a printing company.  I hear how they had to change to stay in business.
I am in the pink when sawing cedar.

nativewolf

Slightly different take on things.  I'm thrilled that a forest industry company made a dramatic new investment in a state of the art mill in NE.  Awesome!  It's a capital investment any of the other players could have made, debt is heavily subsidized for forests investment today.  Efficiency is critical because the southern pine mills are the competition and they are state of the art and huge.  The implication for NE landowners is that there is a market today and TOMORROW for their softwood lumber.  That is fantastic.  The alternative was far worse..that the small mills closed without alternative markets.  

I bet this is great for Peter and others like him.  Mostly it should be great for New England.  
Liking Walnut

Frickman

Help me out. Are you talking about saw mills or paper mills?
If you're not broke down once in a while, you're not working hard enough

I'm not a hillbilly. I'm an "Appalachian American"

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newoodguy78

I believe in this case they're talking lumbar mills. 

peakbagger

Good article on a big investment in Maine to replace paper mills with a new industry and a new market for low grade wood. 
Old Mill, New Market: TimberHP Brings a... | Summer 2024 | Articles | Features (northernwoodlands.org)

beenthere

No one can, or has been, able to identify what is referred to as "low grade" wood. 

Maybe that wood which no one wants to process or buy? 
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SwampDonkey

Low grade wood can be pidgeon holed into biomass and pellet material and no value or market and such. Some is about free. The cost is in handling it and transport. Pulp mills don't want it. Firewood material is even better and can often be pulped, no home owner will willingly buy junk for firewood.
"No amount of belief makes something a fact." James Randi

1 Thessalonians 5:21

2020 Polaris Ranger 570 to forward firewood, Husqvarna 555 XT Pro, Stihl FS560 clearing saw and continuously thinning my ground, on the side. Grow them trees. (((o)))

Freedy201

That's a great point! Low-grade wood can be a challenge to find a market for, and the cost of handling and transportation can be a major hurdle. It's interesting that pulp mills aren't interested in it, and that firewood material is often a better option. You're right, homeowners typically want high-quality firewood, so it's not like they'd be willing to pay for low-grade wood. Do

peakbagger

Low grade wood is usually the scrap left over from foresty operations or sawmills. A lot of the low grade wood generated by forestry operation will be left in the woods unless there is market for it. 

Pulpmills need to end up with clean chips of uniform size to turn into pulp. Bark is a waste of chemicals and big source of dirt in the pulp that needs to be removed. Most mills buy logs that are over a minimum diameter, debark them and then chip them on site. They usually have a chip screening system that consists of various "screens" to reject and rechip oversized chips and reject undersized chips. Even with godo chip screening there is lot of dirt that gets in the pulp. I installed a screening system for the pulp in Berlin not long before the place closed it for good. It ate up a lot of horsepower but for the time it ran it was making a very clean pulp.  

The biomass power plants in region used to buy the low grade wood from the forestry operations. A lot of it was crown wood, loaded with leaves and needles. It was a PITA sometimes to burn clean with the old style grate boilers. Most of these plants are now closed or on the edge of closing. The new biomass boiler in Berlin that sits on the site of the old pulp mill is state of the art with bubbling bed instead of grate. The were being subsidized by the NH ratepayers for nearly 10 years since opening but the state cut them off last year and they went bankrupt soon after and just this week proposed a plan for reorganization. No one knows if they can run and make a profit without a subsidy. 

Ianab

Quote from: beenthere on June 28, 2024, 03:22:13 PMNo one can, or has been, able to identify what is referred to as "low grade" wood.

Maybe that wood which no one wants to process or buy?
Every tree produces at least one "less desirable" log. Sometimes that's even the only log(s). Here forestry is ~98% pine or Douglas fir, LOTS of it, and even with good management there will be some small top logs, or rejects (sweep / defects etc). 

Logging companies over on the East Coast have been getting some heat, because of the "slash", ie larger limbs / tops / rejects that  they left on remote landings. Logs are graded and sorted on the landing, and if it's not worth hauling to the mill (because they were going to reject it anyway), then it was left in a "slash" pile to rot. Unfortunately a cyclone comes along, dumps a couple of feet of rain on the area, and all that crap got washed away, and ended up left in farmers paddocks, the local beach, or jammed under some back road bridge that then washed out. 

I believe they are currently trying to figure out the practicality / economics of hauling out that "waste", to avoid big fines in the future. A couple of the big mills in the area have co-gen plants where they already burn their waste wood, so hauling it there for the cost of trucking probably makes sense. 

Also, I can certainly relate to NewYankee's printing analogy, having worked IT over a similar time span. Doing work for both printing and wood processing. Seeing companies go from one computer (with less compute power than a new watch), up to assorted CNC / wood optimisers / industrial control systems, and 20 PCs around the operation.  

You adapt to the market / technology. 
Weekend warrior, Peterson JP test pilot, Dolmar 7900 and Stihl MS310 saws and  the usual collection of power tools :)

SwampDonkey

The central heating plant in Fredericton, not power gen, has been in operation for 54 years. Heats with steam 2 university campuses, provincial archives, Research and Productivity Council building, and the DEC regional hospital. 24 hr operation. Burns a mix, biomas is 35-60% of the mix, natural gas and stove oil. I think biomass alone is a tough approach, seems near impossible  by the data, considering that mix fuel model has been around a long time and still chugging. I think too much is expected from biomass alone. Lots of pipe dreams.

They are actually in the design stage for a cogen with biomass to generate power for some of the buildings.

https://www.unb.ca/capitalplanning/energy/central-heating.html
"No amount of belief makes something a fact." James Randi

1 Thessalonians 5:21

2020 Polaris Ranger 570 to forward firewood, Husqvarna 555 XT Pro, Stihl FS560 clearing saw and continuously thinning my ground, on the side. Grow them trees. (((o)))

peakbagger

The state capital of Vermont in Montpelier has a 100% biomass fired district heating system that supplies heat to the capital building and several state buildings along with private building along one of the main streets and the city hall. Vermont put in a lot of biomass heating systems for school complex 15 or 2 years ago. The only major trick with the smaller systems is go with better quality more uniform wood chip. The small school systems also have issues with PM 2.5 emissions, as the smaller systems had little or no downstream emmission equipment. 

Nexterra make biomass Combined Heat and Power plants  Projects | Nexterra - The Next Generation of Industrial Gasification Systems that run large reciprocating engines off of wood gas. 

Its comes down to economics, unless there is value placed on carbon, fossil fueled boilers are cheaper to run. 

SwampDonkey

A Canadian company ran a biomass plant in fort fairfield, Maine off cheap NB feed stock. Most was hulled in there by Tobique Chipping off crown license 8 or 9. Ran for 30 years, sold off assets to some NY outfit who couldn't make the numbers work in then political climate and shut the operation down in no time at all it seemed. Like you say is right, and if you have no one buying in, say bye bye. A mix of options in fuel is much less risk. A proven fact.
"No amount of belief makes something a fact." James Randi

1 Thessalonians 5:21

2020 Polaris Ranger 570 to forward firewood, Husqvarna 555 XT Pro, Stihl FS560 clearing saw and continuously thinning my ground, on the side. Grow them trees. (((o)))

peakbagger

It always interesting how the details disappear over the years. Fort Fairfield and several other plants on the northern Maine grid were originally built with guaranteed generous subsidies for every MW they produced for 20 to 30 year periods. It was money in the bank for the investors and they built a lot of them back in the 1980s. These were independent power producers and back when the utilities owned their own power plants, the biomass plants were competitors, and the utilities did not want the competition. The power companies convinced the state PUC to buy out the subsidy contracts. Effectively, the investors got a one time payout of a big chunk of those future payments to walk away and they did. The plants were break even at best without the subsidies, so the original owners sold the plants to other firms for real cheap, effectively scrap value.

Boralex a paper company at the time from Quebec that liked to buy distressed assets bought several and tried to run them. They are now a renewable energy company. Not sure if Fort Fairfield was one of them but I think they bought three of them in Northern Maine. They were cheapskates and tight with a buck. They did buy Sherman Mills and ran it for a couple of years until a rate contract was up and then shut it down. It was built next to a former very large sawmill that had huge piles of waste wood from decades of sawmill operation, the plant ran for most of its life by reclaiming the waste wood from the piles. They had one of the best reclaim systems in the Northeast. In general about the best equipped plant I have every seen.

Wheelabrator, the original owner had included a clause in the contract that the employees had to get paid for three years after the sale and Brascan paid them several months to show up to work and not run the pant and put it in mothballs. It has been that way ever since. I looked at moving it to two other locations for different clients, one of them was a troubled pulp mill in Nova Scotia that is in the news frequently and another location in NH. Boralex would send folks from the other two operating plants to grab parts when they needed them from Sherman instead of buying new ones.

At the same time, the northern Maine utility was an orphan utility always in financial trouble. Eventually the utility in New Brunswick bought them and they had no use for high-cost biomass power plants as they had cheaper power so they cut the rate contracts as soon as they could. In general, the investors usually made out fine but the local workers and economies got screwed.

These plants went through a couple of owners ending up with a company called Stored Solar, they were in the news a lot begging for subsidies from the state of Maine and then not paying their suppliers. Along the way they bought some plants in NH included the one Bruno mentioned in the original post. They went bankrupt a year or two ago and some investment group now owns what are left. I think they are running some of the plants but unless they can get subsides or sell carbon credit's they are money losers. 


SwampDonkey

Again, biomass alone doesn't pencil out, no matter how one wants it to. But my understanding the subsidy was as much the feed stock as anything. In fact, with a number of sawmill closures the pulpmills couldn't use all the wood allocation per license, good logs were being ground up and surplus shipped across the line. Had a lot of people making noise. Government decided jobs was more important, thus harvest levels never wained. What you now do with over supply? Make a market. Never heard tell of power generation not getting subsidies, hidden ones or transparent, no matter how politics wants to present it.
"No amount of belief makes something a fact." James Randi

1 Thessalonians 5:21

2020 Polaris Ranger 570 to forward firewood, Husqvarna 555 XT Pro, Stihl FS560 clearing saw and continuously thinning my ground, on the side. Grow them trees. (((o)))

peakbagger

Not sure what those plants had for contracts but was aware of some contracts that were getting $250 a MW when grid power was down in the $20 per MW range. My guess is their cost to sell biomass power was in the $50 A MW range.Run the numbers and that is 20 million a year profit on the subsidy. 

BTW, here is a sales ad for the Sherman Plant with pictures. 
2 Saw Mill Lane, Stacyville / Sherman Maine - 24MW Biomass Plant — Spirtas Worldwide

Magicman

Probably the same circle that we are chasing now with government subsidized wind and solar generated power.  ??
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