Marysville, Calif.—When leaders of the Soper Wheeler Co., headquartered in Strawberry Valley, California, began researching new opportunities for its organization, their attention was drawn to a 15-year-old sawmill here.
The main attraction of this sawmill was the customized manner in which it was constructed and equipped. The original mill owner built the facility to primarily address the manufacture of small diameter Incense Cedar logs, which were under utilized on the West Coast, for the production of fencing.
Intent on becoming more vertically integrated, Soper Wheeler acquired the Marysville sawmill last year, and gave it a new name—Sierra Cedar Products LLC.
According to Jim Haas, Sierra Cedar’s president and chief executive officer, “The mill had been expanded and upgraded through the years, and was perfect for what we intended, as a company, to become specialized in a refined range of products.”
Ready to depart Sierra Cedar is a load of pre-bar coded 1x6x6 No. 1 dog-ear fencing on its way to The Home Depot.
Indeed, Sierra Cedar has rapidly gained customers, both internationally and domestically. The company is heavily involved in import/export service with its primary export product consisting of Incense Cedar and White Fir stock for the manufacture of pencils globally. The size of the product is 3-1/8 x 3-1/8 x 6’ and 8’, which is currently marketed into Asia.
Sierra Cedar specializes in four import products: • China Fir fencing; • Chilean Radiata Pine; • A product line from China consisting of finger jointed materials, Moulding and Millwork, Exterior Door Frames; and, • Specifically to the West Coast, Brazilian hardwood— ipe—for decking.
At the Marysville site, Sierra Cedar takes in logs at its sawmill, which is located on a 12-acre parcel of land dedicated to its manufacturing activities and warehousing. At this site, the company also air dries the lumber, and has a 10-acre log merchandising yard with an integral rail spur, as well as a 6-acre byproduct yard.
“We have several unique attributes,” said Haas. “We operate two log lines, for example. On
Mill manager Wayne Baisdon stands beside pencil stock (3-1/8 x 3-1/8) after the product was stored 14 days in the dry kiln. The pencil stock was due for shipment to customers in China.
e is purposely built as a small diameter log line that consumes logs that will not exceed 20-inches in diameter. Our other line handles the large logs that generate various domestic and export, industrial grades. We can handle logs that range in diameter from 6-inches up to 50-inches.”
However, Sierra Cedar is not the typical sawmill. It specializes in handling two primary fencing species: Incense Cedar and White Wood (White Fir and Pine). The latter two species were added to the mill’s production when the Soper Wheeler Co. acquired the facility in 2005.
“We are a very competent mill in regard to converting fiber into fencing,” Haas stated.
By concentrating fully on the fencing aspect of the wood products industry, Sierra Cedar “is getting better and better at what we do everyday,” added Haas. “We decided that to become the very best at what we do, we simply need to focus all our energy at mastering the task at hand. One reason this sawmill suits our overall mission so well is that it is custom built for the type of specialized work we do. We manufacture high-end fencing.”
The sawmill has been constructed utilizing a thin kerf, high speed band saw concept, and i
A fresh unit of 1x6x6 No. 1 dog-ear fencing packaged at Sierra Cedar.
ts rolling stock is primarily Caterpillar machinery.
Due to the high cost of Incense Cedar, Sierra Cedar is diligent daily in seeking new ways to recover all merchantable lumber and byproducts from its sawing operations. The byproduct is stored and merchandised on additional acreage at the operation.
Sierra Cedar maintains in excess of one million board feet of finished inventory while continuously booking into future production, and simultaneously manages inventories for just-in-time (last minute) orders the market needs. About 100,000 square feet of inventory/warehouse space consists of finished product contained within three warehouses. The company’s air-dried inventory is held on six acres.
The company sets itself apart from most mills in regard to the air-drying aspect of the business. Haas noted, “Many mills sell fencing green, not air-dried.”
Sierra Cedar, however, not only air-dries its fence product, but also precision end trims (PET) each board at both ends, while simultaneously finishing one end to a dog-ear or straight top finish. The next step is final grading, then onto packaging and shipping the finished order.
“We want to provide our customers the best, most stable fence board possible,” Haas said. “By air-drying the boards ourselves, we attempt to alleviate any surprises on the customer’s end.”
A close view of pre-bar coded 1x6x6 No. 1 dog-ear fencing.
Haas explained that green lumber, when shipped, can twist and assume certain attributes, as well as certain defects as it dries. “We avoid these scenarios because we do not ship any fence board until the air-drying process is completed and we determine when the product is ready for shipment.”
Distributors across the western states comprise the bulk of Sierra Cedar’s customers. “These customers buy full loads of fencing from us and redistribute the loads, along with mixed loads, to their customers,” Haas said.
All domestic orders are sent from Sierra Cedar via rail service and trucks. International orders are shipped out of the Port of Oakland (Calif.) in containers.
Sierra Cedar produces 40 million board feet per year, which Haas described as “a reasonable commercial volume.”
In addition to its ever-growing import/export fencing business, Sierra Cedar is developing new services for its Softwood products that should be completely available by end of 2006. First, the company currently has two stains for application on its fencing. One stain resembles a Cedar tone while the other stain is named Sierra Cinnamon, and its color resembles Redwood.
The purpose for the two stains is two-fold. First, they are intended to enhance the marketability of S
Dean Walker, head of engineering and construction for the firm and Wayne Baisdon, mill manager at Sierra Cedar represent more than 80 years of combined experience in the lumber industry.
ierra Cedar’s White Wood fencing to a range of customers in retail lumber stores, which the company now markets to on a developing basis. Also, the stains underscore Sierra Cedar’s commitment to producing a high-end, quality product.
Additionally, “Our stained Incense Cedar is becoming increasingly popular among customers who want fencing that looks very similar to Redwood,” Haas said.
Sierra Cedar is also developing relations with stain manufacturers who have Fence Stain containing properties that help protect the wood from the sun’s UV rays, particularly White Wood products. This stain will ensure longer color retention and adds some weather resistance.
All of Sierra Cedar’s timber is grown in California. Fence boards are cut specifically for the end user application. Sizes include: 1”x8”x6’, 1”x6”x6’ and 1”x4”x6’, all with developing lengths down to five feet, four feet or 42-inches as required by the customer.
Sierra Cedar employs 70 people who man two shifts, five days per week. Since summer’s onset, the facility has been operating on Saturdays to keep pace with incoming orders.
Haas credits the staff for the rapid success of Sierra Cedar’s products. Key personnel include: H. James (Jim) Holmes, vice president (and president of Soper Wheeler); Wayne Baisdon, mill manager; and Dean Walker, head of engineering.
“These are outstanding leaders who know and understand every aspect of the industry,” Haas said.
No stranger to the lumber industry, Haas began his career as a logger in the mid 1970s. Prior to assuming his current position with Sierra Cedar, he spent nearly 20 years in a position that placed him on the front lines in international marketing, production and trading of forest products.
“Our future looks quite interesting. We are now exploring joint ventures in strategic international areas of long-term supply,” Haas said. “With these types of activities developing internationally, coupled with our expanding North American production operations, we’ll maintain consistent supply of a range of products. Additionally, our customers are becoming more widespread all the time, we are becoming more and more active in Asia as well as South America and Europe.”
Sierra Cedar Products LLC is a member of the International Wood Products Assoc.; Western Wood Products Assoc.; the California Forest Products Commission; The Forest Foundation; the American Fencing Assoc. and the Forest Stewardship Council.