Left to Right: Juan Gonzalez, Diane Johnston and Larry Mether in front of Midwest Walnutʼs inventory in Fontana, California at Golden State Reload.
MIDWEST WALNUT—The Walnut Solution For Appearance Grade Applications
By Terry Miller
Council Bluffs, Iowa—Operating two sawmill facilities, one which is located here and another in Willow Springs, Mo., Midwest Walnut continues to forge ahead with steady moderate growth in the global market for their Walnut lumber, furniture squares, dimension, high-end gun blanks, cants, veneer and saw logs.
Midwest Walnut has been exporting their products since the late 1960’s and was among the first U.S. hardwood lumber suppliers to obtain an export license for Walnut. The company has over 50 years of experience exporting.
Despite the slow yet recovering economy, Midwest Walnut continues to make capital improvements in their operations and product offerings.
Vice President of Purchasing and Product Development Shane Cook with different grades and thicknesses of Walnut lumber that is packaged and prepared for shipment.
The company recently expanded their boiler capacity by installing a 400 horsepower gas-fired wood boiler at its Willow Springs operation. “We completely upgraded our wood fired boilers with electronics,” President and Owner Jim Plowman explained. “Wellons, Inc. came in and upgraded our entire system.
“We have a 550 horsepower wood waste boiler and we installed the 400 horsepower boiler. We achieved two things—expansion and a backup if one goes down,” he continued. “The electronic updates were imperative to making the boilers operate as efficiently as possible.”
Midwest Walnut also built two new dry storage facilities, adding an additional 30,000 board feet of dry storage capacity at the Willow Springs location. “Moreover we are planning to install a dimensional gang rip saw so we will be able to rip to size,” Plowman explained.
“In Council Bluffs, we completely refurbished 850,000-feet of dry kiln space and the work was done by A.W. Stiles, who specializes in aftermarket service for dryers, among other things,” he continued.
As for rolling stock, loaders, forklifts, and a complete fleet of company trucks has been refurbished at both locations.
Midwest Walnut is equipped with high-grade Brewco horizontal resaws at its facilities in Willow Springs, Mo. and Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Originally established in Council Bluffs, Midwest Walnut has offered Walnut lumber, gunstocks and logs since 1931. “Our breakdown systems consist of three sawmills, two resaws and four inspection lines,” Plowman said. “We have two kiln-dried lines and two green inspection lines. In Council Bluffs we have a 7-foot band mill. In Willow Springs, Mo., we have a circle mill followed by a horizontal resaw. We also have a circle mill that is designed to catch smaller logs to feed the horizontal resaw.Our combined drying capacity at both locations is 1.3 million board feet and of course we also have steaming capacity at each facility with a 1.1 million-foot steaming capacity combined.
“Our business is based on relationships,” Plowman continued. “I’ve been in this business since the 1960’s and some of those relationships are third-generation now. “Listening to our customers’ needs and requests, the reload facility was the answer to help them manage their inventories in a down market. The goal is to make our products available to our customers in less than truckload quantities. On the ground we have 4/4 to 20/4, No. 2 Common to Face and Better along with some 4/4 and 6/4 cedar on a consistent basis. We’re committed to helping our customers remain successful. Our reload center is there for them to manage their inventories, so they don’t tie up a lot of cash in a difficult economy.”
Midwest Walnut inventories 8/4, 10-foot flitches for their overseas customers.
Vice President of Purchasing and Product Development Shane Cook explained some of the many measures Midwest Walnut takes to ensure its quality products. “All of our lumber inspectors are NHLA certified. Our longevity speaks for itself with the years of experience within this company. From the very beginning our focus has always been Walnut,” he said.
“From a quality standpoint once our lumber comes out of the kiln on sticks, it is separated by length, bundled, imprinted and painted,” he continued. “Our product is consistently one length per pack. If we say its six-foot lengths, it’s six-foot lengths throughout the pack.”
Midwest Walnut end waxes all No. 2 Common and Better lumber, squares and gun blanks with U•C Coatings Corporation’s wax to prevent end splits and checking. They also use U•C Coatings paint to paint the ends of the lumber packs. “We have a large dip tank where we dip all of our lumber and squares,” Cook said. Midwest offers squares in 2x2, 3x3, 4x4. “We offer Clear squares that are ready to use. We have the ability to mould, joint and/or plane them,” Cook continued.
Along with their Walnut veneer logs, the company offers cants and White Oak veneer logs. “Our cants are available in 4x4, 8x8 and 10x10. Our customers use them in many different applications,” he said.
Midwest Walnut offers dimension squares that are ready to use and they also have the ability to mould, joint and/or plane them.
Cook also noted a specialty product the company provides is 4/4 Fancy hardwood lumber. “This is a higher- end product that is burl figured, feathered lumber used in applications such as flooring, cabinet doors and high- end table slabs. We’re also taking 36-inch logs and live sawing them, steaming them and then moving them to the kilns. They’re being used for countertops and tables because they are so unique. All of our No. 2 Common and Better lumber, squares, blanks and the array of Walnut products we produce are used in high-end appearance grade applications. Our primary customers are the distribution yards from coast to coast.”
As for logistics, the firm utilizes contract carriers to deliver their products. All trucks are tarped to ensure the lumber arrives clean and protected from the elements.
The company markets its products domestically and internationally. Cook handles domestic sales along with sales to Europe and Mexico. Larry Mether handles exports to China and all other countries, and Bob Moody handles orders at the firm’s reload facility. Scott Wood handles North America sales.
Cook noted that Midwest Walnut has also adjusted their product offerings to fit the needs of their customers abroad. “Flat economies are being felt around the world. We are extending our services and offering our international customers mixed container loads in full or half packs.”
A grader for Midwest Walnut grades Walnut lumber.
Plowman added, “We travel abroad about three to five times per year to make sure our customers’ needs are being fulfilled. We visit during the trade shows so that we can support our agents, or we may go to visit the end user with our agent to find out how we can be a better supplier to completely satisfy the client. We want to be our customers’ solution when it comes to Walnut.”
The people at Midwest Walnut are familiar and experienced in “weathering the storm” in challenging economies, both domestically and internationally. Plowman explained, “We had a downturn in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s. It’s about planning and recognizing what the market needs and responding to those global demands.
Midwest Walnut is a member of the National Hardwood Lumber Association, Indiana Hardwood Lumbermen’s Association, American HardwoodExport Council, and American Walnut Manufacturers Association.