Neosho, Missouri—Missouri Walnut LLC, founded in 2002 by Hong Hong Chen, is a family-owned hardwood lumber supplier. The firm processes over 12 million board feet annually of Black Walnut exclusively.
The Chen family includes over three generations of experience in the manufacturing and processing of hardwood lumber. The company has developed a tradition of excellence in the Black Walnut lumber business. The lumber produced is going into high-end appearance grade applications such as furniture, millwork and moulding, flooring manufacturers, kitchen and cabinet plants, and other end uses. Missouri Walnut markets all their products through distribution yards, with the exception of flooring plants that buy in full truckloads.
Marketing products into 37 different countries, Chen said, “We have sales offices in Germany, Italy, England, China and Japan. There are also 14 international sales representatives that we have in place across the world.”
Missouri Walnut’s sales team includes: (L to R): Stan Smith, Steve Arnold, William Qian, and Jason Boman.
Missouri Walnut began their operations with 20 employees and 16,000 square feet of manufacturing space. The facility has grown to more than 400,000 square feet of manufacturing space and includes 130 employees, who pride themselves on consistently supplying their domestic and international customers with the best Walnut lumber.
Today the company has operations in the United States and China. Chen explained the reason Missouri Walnut was established: “We decided to become a lumber producer instead of a buyer because we couldn’t find the quantity or especially the quality we needed for our customers. With 14 warehouses in China alone, we needed a lot of Walnut to fulfill our customer’s needs. We were only able to obtain 10 to 20 percent of our overall requirement. So we decided to produce our own.”
Located in a region which is known for its quality Black Walnut, Chen said, “We chose Missouri as our target location because Missouri grows more than 60 percent of the Walnut that originates from the U.S. First we settled in Norwood, Mo., and after two years we moved the operation to Neosho, Mo., to be closer to our log yards.”
Todd Anderson is sales manager for Missouri Walnut’s West Coast operation.
Situated on 60 acres, Missouri Walnut’s Neosho facilities currently encompass 40 acres with room for future expansions. With log yards strategically placed, the company procures logs from about a 300-mile radius. The Walnut trees are harvested in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas.
Key employees include Vice President Stan Smith who is responsible for domestic sales on the East Coast; Steve Arnold who handles sales for the Western region; William Qian handles international sales and Todd Anderson, who is responsible for sales on the West Coast.
Missouri Walnut recently invested in a new location on the West Coast, which primarily houses 150 to 200,000 board feet of No. 1 Common and Face & Better Walnut in 4/4 through 10/4 thicknesses. “We also inventory width sorted material at that facility,” Smith explained. “Todd Anderson is our representative at that location. With 15 years of experience he is very familiar with the West Coast market.”
Corley Manufacturing based in Chattanooga, Tenn., built Missouri Walnut’s Neosho sawmill from the ground up. “Corley installed a 7-foot headrig with a 17-degree slant and a 7-foot vertical resaw,” Chen said. “The mill has 3D log scanning and computerized setworks. We really like this system, which provides our sawyer the information needed to get optimization recovery out of each log being processed. “
The company produces 4/4-10/4 lumber in their exclusive superior grade, which is offered in wider widths on average of 8.5 inches and Clear.
Stan Smith explained the manufacturing process. “Once the log is broken down into cants it goes to the resaw where there are two people in place to make certain the cant is turned properly to get the best face every pass it makes at the resaw,” he said. “We want to bring the best grade to market that we can because it is such an expensive resource.
“From the resaw it goes into one of our two edgers that are also manufactured by Corley,” Smith continued. “Next it goes into sorting on the green chain and then onto our covered air drying yard. After it leaves the yard, it goes to our Walnut steamers. Southeastern Installation Inc. (SII) just completed the installation of the largest Walnut steamer built in North America, bringing our steaming capacity to 450,000 board feet per charge.The lumber then moves onto the stacker and from there we use aluminum sticks and put the lumber in our covered air-drying yard. Depending on the thickness, we keep the lumber on the yard anywhere from four to six weeks before it goes to the kilns.” SII also recently completed installation of five new dry kilns at 100,000 board foot capacity per charge each.
“We have 1.53 million feet of dry kiln capacity per charge,” Chen added. “We offer proprietary grading with customer specific sorts and widths. We produce 4/4-10/4 lumber in our superior grade, which is offered in wider widths and Clear.” While many sawmills consider widths of 8-inches or wider a specialty item, for Missouri Walnut, those widths are ‘Just run of the mill.’ “We are able to offer widths on average of 8.5 inches due to the diameters of the logs we procure on a consistent basis,” Chen explained. “In addition to the lumber we produce, we also make all Clear Walnut dimension. The blanks we offer are as small as 1”x3”x1’ and as large as 1”x8”x81 on a consistent basis.”
Walnut being processed on the 7-foot 17-degree slant Corley headrig.
Both Chen and Smith pointed out that Missouri Walnut’s location on the West Coast is marketing solely to distributors. “We are selling only to the distributor,” Chen said. “We made a capital investment on the coast where we have nothing but Walnut stored in this facility, which is strictly a warehouse.”
Missouri Walnut carries an average inventory of approximately 5 million board feet available for prompt shipment. As to what sets his company apart from others, Chen indicated a primary attribute of Missouri Walnut’s is volume. “We have a very stable supply and our quality is unbeatable. We steam one color year around, which helps us provide a rich and beautiful color consistently.”
Smith added, “We can provide any sorts for width and grade that the customer requires, a one-stop shop if you will. Some of the extra measures that we take to produce the quality that we have include waxing the ends of our lumber, which prevents surface checking and end splits. We use Anchorseal products from U.C. Coatings Corporation located in Buffalo, N.Y.
“We love being in the forest products industry,” Chen said. “Even when it’s bad, we love it, because we know that everybody involved loves what they are doing and that the products we produce are from a renewable resource.
Stan Smith standing in front of Missouri Walnut’s SII dry-kilns. The company has 1.53 million feet of dry-kiln capacity per charge.
“At Missouri Walnut, we strive to do more than just sell a product; we are committed to quality and value,” Chen said. “Our team makes every effort to meet the individual needs of our customers by choosing to be flexible and accommodating. With every sale, the staff at Missouri Walnut hopes to establish a long-term relationship through communication and solid dedication after the sale. Our goal is to have a family of customers who are satisfied and looking forward to their next opportunity to do business with Missouri Walnut.”
Missouri Walnut is a member of the National Hardwood Lumber Association, and the American Walnut Manufacturer’s Association. For more information visit www.missouriwalnut.com.
5/4 through 10/4 lumber being air-dried under Missouri Walnut’s 550’x60’ building.
A 7-foot vertical resaw further processing a cant for grade lumber.