Rough & Ready Lumber: Trading on a Solid Reputation
The Krauss family started up a new sawmill operation in Southern Oregon in 1922. “My grandparents started the company,” explained Jennifer Krauss Phillippi, the President of Rough & Ready Lumber. “My brother Joe and my husband and I operate it now.”
There have been a number of changes at the mill over the years. “We used to do our own trucking out of here with eight trucks in the 1970s and 1980s, but we don’t do that anymore,” Ed Cunningham, the Sales Manager, explained. “Presently, we have the mill, the planing mill, twelve 68′ double-track dry kilns and a 1.5-megawatt co-gen [co-generator]. When we put the co-gen in 2008, we went from 8 kilns to 12 kilns, so we got a 50% increase in drying capacity. We get a double payoff from the co-gen plant because we get power but we also get steam out of it and we were able to double our drying production with the steam.”
“The co-gen also uses a lot of wood waste productively. What we used to sell wood waste for was basically paying someone to haul it away,” Cunningham confirmed.
“We trade on our reputation for high-quality products, consistent deliveries, and good relationships,” Phillippi stated. “That’s what makes us successful. Our product sells itself.”
“A lot of our lumber goes to door and window manufacturers,” Phillippi said. “Some of our biggest customers are Bright Wood in Madras, Oregon; Pella Windows in Iowa; and we have a whole bunch of Doug fir customers in the Bay Area.”
“The pine that we cut is more of an industrial kind that goes into door and window work,” said Cunningham. “We also do quite a bit for the specialty cabinet shops in the Midwest and Southwest.”
“In the Midwest, there are some products that go into pattern and foundry work, which requires high-quality lumber where drying is critical. We deal with a lot of the big door manufacturers either directly or indirectly – we may supply the people who do the cut stock for them.”
In 2009, Rough & Ready received a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) green certification, which has some benefits in its segment of the market. “That’s opened a small but consistent market with Pella, and Bright Wood has also shown an interest,” said Philippi. “When the economy turned upside down we couldn’t get a premium for our certified products. Anybody who was building wasn’t going to pay extra just for the wood.”
“But when the economy comes back, our FSC certification is going to be valuable because people will want to be ‘green’ again,” Cunningham added.
Moisture Measurement is Key
Moisture measurement at Rough & Ready is critical. “We’re good at drying lumber; that’s an important value-added part of our product,” Phillippi stated. “We have moisture meters at our wood planer and we have handheld meters on the outfeed of the dry kiln.”
“We couldn’t live without moisture meters,” Cunningham affirmed. “We’ve had people come into us who have rejected other mill’s products because there was too much moisture variance.”
“So when we talk about being known for our quality product, consistently dry lumber is really important to our customers,” Phillippi added. “There are a number of things they measure from different mills and we always rank really high, which is why I think we maintain market share for our premium product, so those moisture meters are terribly important.”
“Wagner’s always produced a good moisture meter and we’ve relied on them to take care of us,” Cunningham observed. “If we have an issue with Wagner’s meters, they can usually have a tech on-site that day. When we put the Apex product in here, we didn’t have a hiccup for many years. A power supply went out and the next day they had a new unit in here and it was good to go. Their equipment is easy to use as far as understandability, and they are able to diagnose what you need out of the data collection from the software. You can input and break kiln charges into different zones to track exactly what’s going on with our kilns by using the data collected.”
He praised the handheld’s ability to find isolated wet spots saying, “We use the handhelds for doing spot-checking and to check against other meters. One of the worst products to check is white pine. You’ll have one little 6”x8” wet spot in it. The Apex meter will kick a piece out, you’ll check it with the handheld where you’ll see 9%, 9%, 9%, and then you’ll find that one spot that’s 28% moisture content.”
As Rough & Ready transitions to new facilities, so too will its moisture meters. “We’re moving our meters from the old planing mill to the new one, and Wagner Meters came out to give us advice, told us what we needed, and brought us some new sensor pads.”
“We use stack probes that fit onto the Wagner meters to check the outfeed from the kilns to make sure we don’t have any wet pockets or bad zones in the kiln,” he pointed out.
“Insofar as calibration, they don’t really seem to require it,” Cunningham confirmed. “We very, very rarely have calibration problems, but like [the incident where the white pine kicked out], we found the wet spots after going through calibration as part of the troubleshooting process. Once they’re set, they’re set forever.”
However, Rough & Ready also does its part in supporting Wagner Meters. “It’s a two-way street – we help them with moisture samples too; we give them real-world samples.”
Rough & Ready Lumber has found that Wagner Meters gives it an edge in the competitive lumber business. Give us a call to find out how we can do the same in your mill!
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