This entry should be titled, “They pay me to do this!” or “You Gotta Love this Job.”
I’ve visited a number of lumber mills in my days of furniture building , small mills, medium mills and large mills. And I’ve been to Frank Miller Lumber Co. time and time again.
But this time things were different. This time I traveled for just over two hours to northwest of Cincinnati, Ohio, to Union City, Ind., as a member of the Popular Woodworking magazine staff. Senior Editor Bob Lang and I set out for the small town that spans the line between the two states, home to Frank Miller Lumber (FML), for a chance to get an inside view of the saw milling business , we also bought cherry for an upcoming project.
Outlet store Manager Josh Brennan met us when we arrived. We were given safety glasses, earplugs and vests before being allowed into the business end of the plant.
Once inside, “Amazing!” is all I could say. On that day, the mill was plain sawing white oak. Although FML sets the standard for quartersawn and rift-sawn lumber , especially white oak , sadly, we didn’t see any quarter sawing.
To begin, we were treated to an overall view of the operation. We could see from the head saw, where the process begins, to the workers stacking the boards , all conveniently from one vantage point.
As we walked around, we passed the freshly sawn boards and I realized just how wet this lumber is. At FML, the lumber has about a 60-day period from cutting until ready-to-ship status. That’s about 30 days spent air-drying in the yard before an additional 30 days of kiln time.
The head saw was incredible. The control area for this tool is akin to a helicopter cockpit. The operator sits directly in front of the trunk adjusting the machine with two joystick-like apparatuses all the while watching the progress of each cut. His job is to bring the huge mass into square so it can be sliced into boards.
The head saw uses a gigantic band saw blade to make those cuts. How long does each blade last, you ask? At FML the blade on the head saw is changed twice per shift and they run two shifts per day , a total of four blades per day. Each blade is changed in only 10 minutes (it takes me that longer than that to change my band saw blade, which is quite small by comparison) and is then checked, sharpened and made ready for the next use. All this is completed in a room behind the saw.
The tour continued past stacks of lumber that has been dried and ready for sale and out into the yard. As you can see, the supply of logs looks endless. But, each day FML processes the equivalent of 22 semi-loads of logs. They have over a half-million board feet of lumber in the outlet store section of the plant, three million feet either air-drying or in the kilns and another three million feet in the warehouse waiting to be sent to woodworker like us.
The best news is that this plant that processes over 14 million board feet a year is recycling all that it can. The bark from the trees is sent to become mulch, any unusable trimmings are chipped to be used as mulch or to fire the drying kilns, as is all the sawdust from the plant.
If you need lumber they’re a great resource. If you need quartersawn white oak , they are the source.
Willie Arrons asked for additional pictures of the trip to Frank Miller Lumber. You ask, we will try our best to accomodate. Here are a few more shots from FML.
The squared logs come off of the head saw ready to move down the line to the next saw (we were asked not to take photos of the head saw.)
This is the 4/4 lumber that is ready to stack. From here it will be stickered and stacked to air dry for approximately 30 days, depending on the drying rate.
This is a stack of logs that are too big to get into the building. Imagine that! FML is installing a large log splitter that will be able to handle these monsters and get them inside to process.
Thanks for asking Willie.