Sims Forest Products: Southern sawmill shifts focus from low-grade hardwoods to sawing pine, installs new equipment. Operates equipment from some of the biggest names in sawmill and resawing sector, including Cooper Machine.

By Tim Cox
Date Posted: 4/2/2018

Sims Forest Products
Southern sawmill shifts focus from low-grade hardwoods to sawing pine, installs new equipment. Operates equipment from some of the biggest names in sawmill and resawing sector, including Cooper Machine.

TUSCUMBIA, Alabama — When Sims Forest Products started up a new sawmill in 2015, it was all set up to cut low-grade hardwood logs into pallet components and other industrial lumber products. About a year later, however, the company transitioned to sawing pine for the same markets and also added some new products for other markets.

A key partner in launching this mill has been Cooper Machine, which manufactures a wide range of sawmill machinery. Cooper supplied the Tuscumbia mill with two new machine centers, including a Cooper log merchandising and sorting system in the log yard and a Cooper auto edger.

Sims Forest Products operates several manufacturing facilities and has two sawmills operating in Alabama. The company specializes in cutting industrial lumber products.

The company’s pine sawmill is located in Tuscumbia in northwest Alabama, adjacent to Muscle Shoals, where Sims Forest Products has its corporate headquarters.



Changing the Mill Focus

Last year, Sims management transitioned the facility to pine as low-grade hardwood logs became increasingly difficult to obtain. Pine is much more abundant and has made it easier to keep the mill supplied with logs, and many pallet manufacturers have been moving their customers to pallets made of softwood lumber.

During this plant evolution, Sims added some new equipment, including a second scragg mill — a Baker Products system — to increase production. The company’s operations are equipped with other well-known names of pallet and sawmill machinery manufacturers.

The Tuscumbia plant is comprised of four buildings with a combined 30,000 square feet. Forty employees produce 1.4 million board feet of finished lumber products per month. Cutting all low-grade pine logs, the mill manufactures pallet parts, fence pickets, and it also has operations to produce fence posts, a new product line. About 50% of the mill’s production is pallet components, 25% fence pickets, and 25% fence posts.

The mill can cut “whatever a customer wants” for pallet stock, said assistant mill manager Jeff Lindsey, from 7/16-inch deck boards to 3-inch stringers with lengths ranging from 36 to 72 inches. Most stringers coming out of the plant already are notched for four-way pallets.

The mill, which began operating in 2014, transitioned to pine as low-grade hardwood logs became increasingly difficult to obtain. Sims Forest Products has pallet manufacturing customers in such states as Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, and Kentucky.



Exploring the Mill Process

The mill buys tree-length pine logs down to a 4-8-inch top. The company gets most of its logs locally, but it buys from contractors up to 200 miles away, which includes southern Tennessee and Mississippi. In the log yard, a knuckleboom loader unloads and stacks incoming logs. A front-end loader is used to feed logs to either scragg mill.

For fence post production, the logs are fed first to a Cooper merchandising system that was added last year. It bucks the logs to lengths of 6, 7, or 8 feet. Logs continue along a trough and are automatically kicked out into bins according to length and diameter and then can be picked up and staged at the pole operations.

The Baker Products scragg mill, acquired used and added in early 2017, is a sharp chain system and runs two 48-inch circle saws to remove two sides of the log. The two-sided cant then is turned on its side 90 degrees.

The two-sided cant then goes to another Cooper addition, a 6-inch, two-saw auto edger. The Cooper machine, with automated infeed, replaced an older edger that required a worker to manually feed it material. The Cooper auto edger centers the cant, and two saws are adjusted automatically and remove the remaining sides to produce a four-sided cant.

The Cooper auto edger has been a good addition to the mill, noted Jeff. “It has worked out well,” he said.

The other production line, in place when the mill first began operating, starts with a Big Jake scragg system originally built by Timberland Machinery, which later was acquired by Brewco. It is a four-saw system with sharp chain infeed that processes the log into a four-sided cant. After twin circular saw blades remove the first two sides, the log continues along to a set of rollers and is turned on its side 90 degrees. The two-sided cant is clamped, measured and centered for the next two saws and exits the machine as a four-sided cant.

Cants produced by both scragg mills are conveyed the length of the building to a cant dumper, then stacked with a forklift, banded, and put in storage until they will be resawn.

The mill relies entirely on gang saws for resawing the pine cants. They are housed in the other mill building and put on a deck feeding to a Timberland double-end trimmer before being resawn.

The company has three gang saws and is in the process of adding a fourth. It has a Brewer, a Brewco, and a Quality Machine, and it will be adding a second Brewer. All the machines have been purchased used — except for the Brewco — and rebuilt by the Sims maintenance staff. The additional Brewer will be a used machine that is being refurbished.

Each gang saw has a planer head sizer on the front to trim the top of the cant down to the correct height. Of the three gang saws, one normally is set up to cut stringers and one for fence pickets. The third machine usually cuts deck boards or other material.

Material exiting the gang saws is graded by a couple of workers and fed to one of four stackers, two AIT lumber stackers and two Timberland Machinery stackers.

The company has a Timberland Machinery double-head notching machine for notching stringers and is getting ready to add a second machine, a West Plains two-head notcher. Profile Technology cutting tools are used for the notching heads.



Fencing Operations & Other Markets

Sims Forest Products is equipped with a Holtec package saw that is mainly used to cut material to length that is manufactured into fence posts. It also may be used to cut cants to length if needed.

The pole operations, contained in a shed, produce 6- and 8- foot fence posts that are perfectly round, without any taper.

The mill has one customer for whom it makes a small quantity of pallets; they’re assembled by hand with pneumatic nailing tools.

All slabs from the Cooper auto edger and the Big Jake scragg system are routed to a Montgomery hog grinder along with other scrap material. The grindings and sawdust are supplied to the nearby affiliated parent company and is processed into mulch.

Most stringers are 48 inches long by 1-1/4x3-½, and nearly all of them are notched before leaving the plant. The company cuts some custom dunnage, too. It also is equipped to cut banding grooves and supplies some grooved dunnage, but most of it is done for its own shipments of fence pickets.

Fencing is sold to markets in Florida, Georgia, Ohio, and Kentucky, and most of it ends up being treated before eventual sale to building contractors and homeowners.

The mill relies on two suppliers for saw blades and service, a local company, Miner Saw, and also Superior Saw Service in Tennessee.

Sims Forest Products is a family business, and the owners treat their employees like family, according to Jeff. “We try to get as many local people as possible. We try to help our community around here grow.”



Growing with Cooper Equipment

Although the cut-up system and auto edger are the first two Cooper machines at the Tuscumbia mill, Sims Forest Products has been no stranger when it comes to turning to the machinery manufacturer for equipment. Cooper has supplied machine centers to the company’s other Alabama mill, including an overhead scragg, a MIT 4-inch vertical band head rig, and a 3-inch edger.

Cooper Machine, in Wadley, Georgia, manufactures a wide range of machinery and equipment for the sawmill industry and also is a distributor of some lines of sawmill machinery.

For more information, visit www.coopermachine.com or call (478) 252-5885.


”A new generation is taking the lead”, managing director Anssi Westerlund summarizes this autumn’s brand new Hakki Pilke 38 Pro firewood processor and the Hakki Pilke Pro series being announced now.

”The Hakki Pilke Pro series takes firewood processors to a new age and level. We provide professionals with the output and speed of a new processor generation. We bring productivity-enhancing innovations and market-leading performance to firewood manufacturers”, Westerlund promises.

First introduced in the KoneAgria exhibition in Finland on October 12th-14th, the Hakki Pilke 38 Pro is a result of our development work based on close cooperation with customers – careful listening and responding to wishes. Hakki Pilke delivers thousands of processors to more than 30 countries on five continents each year; a lot of information about the requirements of different markets and conditions is accumulated.

”We know professional firewood manufacturers and professionals know us. For example, 38 Pro’s HakkiCut cutting control, where cutting takes place with optimized speed just by pressing a button, and AC10’s automatic chain tensioning are responses to distinct customer needs. This is the direction where we will increasingly steer our operation and R&D”, says Hakki Pilke’s R&D chief Timo Jussila.

Hakki Pilke is the world’s leading firewood processor manufacturer, who has revolutionized the market with several innovations and processor models in three decades. 38 Pro’s cut-enhancing HakkiCut™ and patented AC10 are unique solutions not available from other manufacturers. Furthermore, 38 Pro includes many new functionalities and improved features.

”The splitting power has been increased compared to the previous Easy 38 and it’s easily sufficient for even the hardest wood species in different parts of the world. The cycle time is 3 seconds, making the processor even faster with small and big logs. The enlarged hydraulic oil tank cools temperature and extends the operating life of the parts and oil. The reverse valve of the outfeed conveyor is also one of the new features”, Jussila lists.

Apart from power, speed, and productivity, professionals making a lot of firewood demand ergonomics and ease of use as well as uninterrupted operation from their processors.

”In 38 Pro, cutting and splitting take place by pressing a joystick button. All other essential functions are also at hand, delivering top-class usability. With 38 Pro, you can make firewood faster than with competing processors in the same size class”, Jussila says.


Hakki Pilke 38 Pro in a nutshell
- Max log diameter 380 mm
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- Hydraulic oil tank volume 72 liters
- Reinforced frame
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About Hakki Pilke

Hakki Pilke produces the best firewood processors in the world with more than 30 years of expertise. We know professional firewood manufacturers and professionals know us. We deliver thousands of processors to our customers on five continents in over 30 countries every year. The international operation and local service network of Hakki Pilke offer the world’s best support and after sales service to processor owners. The manufacturer of Hakki Pilke processors, Maaselän Kone Ltd, is part of the Terra Patris group. www.hakkipilke.fi


As it is with most successful lumbermen, Ohio Valley Veneer had humble beginnings. Starting out in 1986 with a two man logging crew and the passion to excel, Ed Robbins was on a mission. That mission, mostly unknown to him at the time, was going to revolutionize the forest products industry in Southern Ohio and beyond. Being a fourth generation lumberman provided Ohio Valley Veneer with a deep appreciation for the people and understanding of the tradition and the lifestyle, but most of all it prepared Ed by instilling what was most important: hard work, honest dealing, quality products and the vision to excel.


Founding Ohio Valley Veneer in 1990 to buy, sell and export logs, Ed soon found himself hiring mills to custom saw where it fit market conditions. In 1992 he was able to purchase the land where his father and grandfather had operated sawmills since 1958 and in ‘94 built his first mill on that hallowed ground. The heart of that mill was an eighteen year old Cleereman Model 36 purchased at auction and they ran it every day until 1998 when it was replaced with a Cleereman 36 Proportional carriage. Now Ohio Valley Veneer mills produce more than a million board feet of lumber monthly as well as exporting lumber and some of the world’s finest hardwood veneer logs from the hills and hollers of rural southern Ohio. Those mills now include five linear positioning carriages, four LP42’s, one LP48, and a HS36 Proportional.


Ed’s original mission to bring passion and professionalism to the lumber business now directly employs over four hundred and shows no sign of slowing down. He credits a portion of his success to making sound decisions when it came to major equipment purchases, and he’s proud to say that Cleereman carriages have been instrumental in that growth because, as he puts it, “they just run”. Now purchasing an average of one million dollars in new machinery annually, Ed shared why he continues to run only Cleereman carriages. “A company’s salesman can sell you the first of anything, be it a sawmill, loader or whatever, but that company’s service and parts departments will sell the second one”. Over the course of his career Ed has purchased sawmills from numerous manufacturers and one thing is constant, if that mills stays in production for Ohio Valley Veneer, it gets upgraded to a new Cleereman. It’s that simple.


According to Ed, choosing Cleereman has been one of the greatest moves of his career and credits Cleereman’s low cost of ownership as instrumental in his ability to continue to grow Ohio Valley Veneer. As he often says, “they just run, they seldom break down and when they do the parts are reasonable AND AVAILABLE WITHIN 24 HOURS”. In addition to a superior sawmill carriage, low cost parts and fast breakdown service, the one thing that most impressed Ed was how Cleereman does business when a Cleereman mill experiences a fire and Fran Cleereman and the entire team do whatever is necessary to get that mill owner back in production. In many cases saving the company and hundreds of jobs with it. That kind of dedication to insure family businesses thrive is one of the many things that separate our industry from so many others. In any other industry, whoever put their deposit down first would be ahead of the burnt mill, but doing what is right – not what is expedient is what separates companies like Ohio Valley Veneer and Cleereman from hundreds who produce similar products.


Growth at Ohio Valley Veneer shows no sign of slowing down as the proven formula of efficiency, superior quality and passion to produce the very best lumber and timber products continues. Aggressive, but patient, acquisition is part of Ohio Valley Veneer’s growth plan and Ed is targeting areas known for quality logs such as East Tennessee, Southern West Virginia and Indiana. Following the efficiency path, Ohio Valley Veneer is scheduled to take delivery of their first Cleereman Lumber Pro. Chosen specifically because of its proven low cost of ownership due to reduced electrical consumption, thin kerf, low maintenance requirements, double cut capacity, modular design and its ability to serve as both headsaw and resaw. The Lumber Pro, with its single operator, is expected to replace three or four thin kerf narrow band sawmills greatly reducing overhead and allowing those employees to move into more productive positions.