July through December 1998 - Issue No. 153
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Tolko-Merritt B.C. Sawmill Focused on Future

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"Future-focused" is how Al Thorlakson, President and CEO of Tolko Industries describes their organization. Tolko has five sawmills producing 600 million board feet (1.4 million cu. meters) of lumber a year in western Canada as well as pulp and paper mills.

Thorlakson explains that "future-focused" organizations develop an atmosphere where change is expected and learning is continuous. Their corporate challenge is for their mills to achieve goals that do not reflect "business as usual".

Certainly the Tolko sawmill in Merritt, B.C. kept that goal in mind when they rebuilt and reopened on the existing site just seven months after fire destroyed the entire mill. In June of 1997, a fire started in the basement where sprinklers couldn’t reach. The sawmill burned to the ground; only a trimmer and a J-bar sorter were salvaged.

By March of 1998, they were in full production again. They increased recovery 4% in the new mill while exceeding the plant’s old production target. They did this utilizing new optimizing technology and state-of-the-art equipment to get more recovery from each log. Approximately 400,000 board feet (1000 cubic meters) per day (two shifts) of Spruce, Balsam and Fir are sawn into dimension lumber for U.S.A. and Canadian markets.

Tolko purchased a 7 ft. Letson & Burpee head rig, 6 ft. Optimill twin resaw, 3-saw USNR board edger and Newnes-McGehee single and double arbor curve sawing gang edgers to boost recovery in the mill.

To help meet the higher production and recovery goals, mill management approved all new filing room equipment. A new Armstrong band saw Leveler, three new No. 4 band saw sharpeners, No. 16 trim saw sharpener, No. 17-72 cut-off saw sharpener and two Armstrong No. 54-C post grinders were installed.

Tolko enlarged and modernized their nearby Lavington Planermill Division at the same time that the Merritt sawmill was rebuilt. Lavington head filer Dana Lawrie reviewed the automatic band saw levelers available with Merritt head filer Jim Heard and then recommended that both mills purchase Armstrong Levelers.


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The filing crew at Tolko’s Merritt, B.C. mill are pictured here with one of three new Armstrong band saw sharpeners. From left to right: Dan Yano, Jim Heard, Clint Upfold and Henry Krause. Not pictured are Noel Beaulieu, Tony Narciso and Bhaduar Bangu.
Jim pointed out that starting up a new sawmill is always difficult while getting comfortable with new equipment and new techniques. There was pressure on the filing crew to help make this high recovery sawmill successful. "We needed equipment that was easy to set up, totally reliable and would turn out superior saws," recalled Jim, "without adding extra manpower."

"We still put every band saw across the bench. So, an automatic Leveler hasn’t cut down on the number of saws, but it has allowed us to reduce the benching time for each saw." He added, "we especially needed that time during start up and now the Leveler helps assure every saw is in top condition when put in the mill."

"I’ve done a minimal amount of hammering on the saws since the mill started up again," Jim continues. The Leveler puts out the consistently flat saw that this high recovery mill requires. "We are getting straight and smooth lumber out of our band mills," notes Jim.

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Dan Yano checks the touch screen for information on the saw running on the Armstrong automatic band saw Leveler. Quick set-up and easy operation of the Leveler allows time for other benching duties in the busy filing room.
The seven man filing staff is kept busy with a 7 ft. headrig with 14 gauge saws (2100 mm x 2.1 mm); 6 ft. twin resaw with 15 gauge saws (1500 mm x 1.82 mm); .090" plate x .130" kerf (2.2 mm x 3.3 mm) gang edgers as well as saws for their trimmer and board edger.

Jim Heard has worked at the Tolko/Merritt sawmill since l968. He began as a machine operator in the mill and worked his way into an apprenticeship in the filing room. He has been the head filer there for the past eight years.

The Saw Engineer applauds Tolko Industries commitment to excellence by focusing the efforts of their mills on the future. We commend the management team and filing room crew at the Merritt, B.C. sawmill on their success and extend special thanks to Jim Heard for his help in preparing this article and Norm Jackson of Cal Saw Canada for taking the photographs.


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Head filer Jim Heard grinds a trim saw on his new No. 16 sharpener. Two new Armstrong No. 54-C post grinders and No. 17-72 cut-off saw sharpener were also added to the filing room.
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