Last week, I went to one of my favorite places; Mueller Brothers Timber in Old Monroe, MO. The sawmill can produce over 20,000 Bd. Ft. of grade sawn hardwood lumber per day. That equals about six tractor-trailer loads or about 200 average size logs. I get tired just thinking about it. I went to buy some lumber to replace a small batch that was burned in my fire. Randy was probably even more helpful than normal because it wasn’t that long ago that his sawmill caught on fire too. It seems like every sawmill has a fire in its history.
While I was there, I wanted to take a photo of their walnut steamer for an earlier posting. Since I had my camera out, and it was lunchtime, I ran around and got some photos of the place. You can’t fully appreciate the operation unless you see it in person, but I thought I would give it a shot. The main thing that you need to see in person is the headsaw, which is the first saw that the log meets. When I tell people about this bad-ass saw it involves crazy hand motions and sound effects by me, but the bottom line is that it turns, grabs, positions and makes a full pass on a log up to 40″ in diameter in about 10 seconds. To reset and make the second cut takes even less. The saw has a lot of power and a lot of blade. I used to have a Corley circle saw with a 48″ bottom saw and 30″ top saw that I thought was very capable. I didn’t measure theirs, but my best guess is that the bottom saw is 60″ and the top saw is 48″. They cut at the same time and allow the mill to process some extra-large logs. They need this capacity because the mill is right next to the Mississippi river and they get some huge sycamores and cottonwoods.
The entire process starts at the debarker, where logs are spun around and processed with a cutterhead that works like a big planer. The object here is to get the bark off, which contains dirt and grit that damages saw blades and to shape the log, so that it sits nicely on the carriage at the headsaw. The debarker at Mueller Brothers is especially good at removing humps and reducing the butt end of logs. After the logs are cleaned up they go to the infeed deck where they wait to be loaded on the carriage of the headsaw. The headsaw is used to quickly get logs squared up into four-sided cants (logs with square sides) for further processing. On bigger logs the sawyer might cut a few boards off at this point to make the cants smaller for the following saws, but they don’t like to cut too many boards here because the kerf (width of the saw cut) is large and wastes material.
After being squared up the cants go to a transfer that leads them through a metal detector and to the twin-band runaround resaw. This machine is also on steroids, but doesn’t have the superfast feed speeds. It is designed for consistent, steady and accurate sawing. This is the point where the highest grade of lumber is produced and it is important for the sawyer’s to get a good look at what they are doing so they can make good decisions. The cants go in a merry-go-round fashion through the twin bandsaws after being flipped to the best face before each cut. The twin bands are big at 8″ wide and let’s just say super long (they use an overhead crane to change them). The twin bandsaws can be positioned to take two boards off of the same side or one board off of each side, allowing for a lot of flexibility and making up for slower feed speeds by cutting two boards in one pass.
Boards that are produced without square edges go to the edger and then to the end trimmer, while boards with square edges follow another path directly to the trimmer. After the boards are edged and end trimmed they go to the green chain, which is a system of chain conveyors that separate the lumber by length and feed it slowly to the stackers at the end of the mill. At this point the sawing is done and then the lumber is either sold “green,” or it is stacked on sticks to air dry and then put in kilns to be kiln dried.
The best part for me is hanging out along the green chain and watching the lumber come out. I will sometimes buy lumber green from Mueller Brothers, and there are times that I can’t get up and down the chain fast enough to get to the boards that catch my eye before they are buried. This mill can bust up logs fast!