The Traveling Lumberjock #5: South Pittsburg, TN (Near Chattanooga, TN) July 29, 2010

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Blog entry by PflugervilleSteve posted 07-30-2010 05:15 AM 5909 reads 0 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 4: Trenton, GA (Not far from Chattanooga, TN) - July 28, 2010 (w/ pics this time!) Part 5 of The Traveling Lumberjock series Part 6: Georgia again - Sycamore Slabs! »

150,000 BF/day SAWMILL TOUR with pics!

NOTES: A lot of interesting stuff on this trip so I’m breaking it up into separate days. If you want to see the high res picture, click on the embedded picture and it will open a new browser window with the full high res version.

I managed to get over to Cardin Forest Products today. I drove by Wednesday but the office shuts down at four and I wasn’t sure I wanted to just go strolling up into as busy and big a sawmill operation as these guys are running, unexpected and unannounced. Might get squished by one of their loaders…

I don’t know quite what I was expecting but I ended up getting the five dollar tour and I took lots of pictures to share with everyone because it was AWESOME!!! To start with their office is ok looking on the outside, but when you get out back, they have this deck.

The view from the deck is pretty amazing.

Their pond (dare I call it that?) looks like an old quarry to me. The edges go straight down and it looks like it’s pretty deep. And to top it off, my fisherman’s nose was right on. There’s fish in them thar’ waters. They feed them from the deck, so I pitched some feed over the deck and lookie lookie – a school of 20+ big ole catfish came over to visit. Pic isn’t great, and you’ll have to look close to see them, but how’s that for a back yard for your office?!

Like a lot of these type companies, Cardin Forest Products is a family operation. Jerrod Cardin was kind enough to show me around. He’s a third generation sawmill operator. His grandfather started their company back in the thirties. Let’s hear it for American industry! Anyway their facility can process a whopping 150,000 board feet of oak (or other hardwood) lumber a day. It’s pretty high tech since they just moved to this location from their old site about nine years ago.

Let me start this off by showing you some of the blades for their band saw. I’m now feeling seriously inadequate about my 20” Delta with a 137” blade. These suckers are 47 FEET long. And they go through about 6-8 of them a day. Needless to say they have onsite automated sharpening and tooth setting tools.

. Here’s the process of log to lumber.

They load the logs up into a feed conveyor and it goes into the Debarker. This thing can strip the bark from a sixteen+ foot long log in under ten seconds. I wish the picture showed it better but there’s a cutter that spins around inside a ring and it’s self centering so it’s really good about getting all bark and no wood.

From there it moves in to this straight line cutter, where it gets converted to a great big square post. There’s a guy you can’t really see who’s running this but it’s got these great big hydraulic pincers and it grabs the log sets the appropriate angle pretty much automatically based off the initial cut and WHIIRRRRR, back turn, WHIIRRRRR, back, turn, WHIRRRRR, back turn, WHIRRRRRR done. It takes like about another 20 seconds to go from debarked bole to square post.

Once they’ve got a nice straight square post, the post moves along to the ripper where it gets ripped by their Ripper. The interesting thing here is they run it through this big band saw and the cut piece of lumber gets kicked over to the left. The remaining now rectangular post gets rotated on its axis 90 degrees and goes to the right on a big U shaped conveyor that brings it back to the band saw. By doing it this way, they get the most number of wide boards. You can visualize it by thinking the blade cuts parallel to the left side, the bottom, the right side, then the top and repeat. Seeing this process makes me understand why I see so much flatsawn lumber. This cutting sequence produces little to no quartersawn lumber. Depending on the log quality, the vast majority of these pieces are your FAS lumber.

So these guys are REALLY efficient. You know all those little scrappy pieces (mostly sapwood) that get cut off in the process of straightlining to make the post? That wood and some other stuff that gets gang ripped gets sent over to this machine which has a whole bunch of laser beam “eyes”. Most of these pieces are somewhat trinagular because of the taper of the tree trunk. The conveyor stops and the piece gets scanned. In the operators booth it shows a nifty little graphic of wood and bark. The computer program running this thing makes some calculations then it gets moved forward, grabbed, angled just so and the most optimal piece of what will end up as Number 1 Common or Number 2 or 3 whatever (minimum 3” wide, 4’ long – think “pallet wood”) gets cut.

And finally when the various lines are done, all the lumber gets run out of the plant to get stacked and shipped somewhere. It’s sorted by width and grade and even though none of it getting kiln dried at this site, it typically doesn’t get transported more than half an hour to an hour away before it gets kiln dried and sent on to a buyer.

Don’t quote me on this but if my calculations are right, from log with bark to sawed up lumber ready for grading, can take less than a minutes when they’re running well. A big part of that is just moving through the various processing points.

When we were talking about the different grades, drying, and final destinations for the different piles I was bummed to find out that the vast majority of their 12”+ wide pieces get sent to China. I guess furniture manufactured there from American oak can be sent back here and it’s cheaper from a labor standpoint. Sigh.

Because these guys are such high volume, they really didn’t have anything that was airplane transportable at the moment. They do occasionally run walnut and hickory, but their volume is so huge they have to stockpile the non-oak lumber for a month or more before they’ve got enough to change over the operational stuff to saw it. Cherry and other nice logs that get bought or acquired when clearing a parcel get sold on to other mills that have a smaller volume I guess. So I didn’t take anything away but some pictures and a cool experience, but I can’t say that I regret it one bit.

If you need a LOT of lumber, the Cardin family might be able to take care of you. I’ve never had any experience with a larger operation like this. I didn’t even ask about pricing so I can’t say whether they’re a good deal or not, but since the company is something like 70 years old they must be doing something right.

And speaking of old, on my way back to town I stopped to grab a drink. Here’s your random old car pic. This is a sweeeeeeeeet old dodge that looked like it was in great condition.

Thanks for reading this really long post! I hope you enjoyed this blog entry as much as I did. I felt like I was in a “Modern Marvels” or “How It’s Made” TV show. If you ever have the chance to tour a big sawmill like this, do it, but I suggest you take some hearing protection!

5 comments so far

View Mark Shymanski's profile

Mark Shymanski

5623 posts in 3913 days

#1 posted 07-30-2010 07:41 AM

A very interesting post, thank you for taking us along on the tour!

-- "Checking for square? What madness is this! The cabinet is square because I will it to be so!" Jeremy Greiner LJ Topic#20953 2011 Feb 2

View davidpettinger's profile


661 posts in 3400 days

#2 posted 07-30-2010 04:49 PM

Great job. I love sawmills. Gives you an opportunity to see things you would not think possible. The Dodge convertible is a nice addition to the tour.

-- Methods are many,Principles are few.Methods change often,Principles never do.

View Robb's profile


660 posts in 4134 days

#3 posted 07-30-2010 06:20 PM

That was very cool, and maybe the closest I’ll ever get to touring a sawmill, so thanks very much!

-- Robb

View Div's profile


1653 posts in 3140 days

#4 posted 07-30-2010 09:58 PM

Thanks for the tour! Very interesting photos.

-- Div @ the bottom end of Africa. "A woodworker's sharpest tool should be his mind."

View lightweightladylefty's profile


3266 posts in 3913 days

#5 posted 07-31-2010 03:25 AM

We love your post, and we didn’t even have to travel to get this special tour! Thanks for sharing.

-- Jesus is the ONLY reason for ANY season.

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