Hardwood lumber and hardwood veneer have been produced at Timber Products Company’s Munising, Mich. location since we acquired the facility in 1988. Today, the sawmill services the Great Lakes region, with some lumber reaching the southeast and West Coast where it is utilized in cabinets and flooring (including basketball courts), cases, packaging, pallets and railroad ties. The veneer is used on decorative walls, doors, cabinets, desktops and other furniture around the country.
Before distribution, these products start as premier hardwood logs harvested from within a 200-mile radius of our Munising manufacturing site. The vast majority is hard maple, with smaller percentages of soft maple, beech, and other species. The logs are bought specifically for either lumber or veneer and are accumulated accordingly in the facility’s log yard. Operating on one shift, five days a week, the sawmill consumes more than 12 million board feet of logs each year, while the veneer operation has the capacity to produce more than 160 million square feet per year.
Walking through the sawmill, manufacturing begins with a 36-inch machine that removes the bark and feeds the hardwood log into 8-foot bandsaws. Computers aid the production process as boards are sawn from the logs, edged and trimmed to length, then graded by a visual inspection. Next, lumber enters a computerized sling sorting system that separates the lumber by grade. The graded lumber can be packaged and sold green, or transferred to the steam heated kilns for drying. Dry lumber can be sold rough or sent through the planer and sold surfaced.
Veneer is manufactured in a completely separate process; logs are conditioned using high-pressure steam for three or more days prior to being peeled. Once properly conditioned the logs are trimmed, debarked and sent into a unique computerized log centering charger that feeds the logs into a lathe that peels the veneer at a specific thickness. The veneer is then conveyed through a jet steam dryer to achieve a final uniform moisture. From there, it is cut into panels that are graded and sorted for shipment. Veneer with defects is marked and clipped to size then spliced back into whole panels, or customer requested dimensions, to meet unique customer requirements.
Given the vast amount of hard maple coming into the facility, it is no surprise that maple is the largest volume of veneer manufactured at the mill. However, product managers, operators, and Timber Products leadership are collaborating to explore the viability of adding alternative species to the product mix. A number of factors play into the decision, including log availability, transportation costs, and the production challenges of running different species. Each species has its own unique characteristics. As a result, the manufacturing process must be adapted for each species.
At Timber Products Company, we have invested in state-of-the-art equipment to optimize any manufacturing challenge, but it is still a labor-intensive process. The roughly 130 hourly workers on-site do a great deal of manual handling, including piling, stacking and sorting the grades. The lumber and veneers are handled up to five times before being approved for delivery. Although the facility has made significant upgrades in automation, the human touch is still important to the process.