Paul and Michael Johnson, president and general manager of Johnson Brothers Lumber Co., located in Cazenovia, N.Y.
JOHNSON BROTHERS’ New Mill Provides Flexibility in Products
By Terry Miller
Cazenovia, New York—Established in 1937, Johnson Brothers Lumber Co. (JBL), located in Central New York, took advantage of slower market conditions over the past few years to build a unique sawmill and handling facility that will improve their throughput volume of kiln- dried lumber, as well as increase their production of fresh sawn lumber.
The newly built, one-acre building houses a moveable band headrig made by Wood-Mizer, a fixed Cleereman carriage, Brewco’s B-1600 horizontal resaw system, a vertical resaw from Stenner, a Salem edger, and dual grading stations with an automatic trim saw, all manufactured by T.S. Manufacturing in Lindsay, Ontario.
JBL markets its products to end users, distribution yards and many others.“Exporting is driving today’s market and we sell to China, Vietnam, Korea, Japan, Israel, Italy, and England, among a few others,” President Paul Johnson explained.“We market to wholesalers and direct manufacturers including cabinet, flooring and furniture manufacturers, millwork and moulding processors, as well as low grade buyers. Our goal is to find customers that are a good fit, where the business is beneficial for both parties. We are consistent with our customers and we like to know if we’re doing something unsatisfactory.”
Key personnel at Johnson Brothers includes (L to R): Allan Morgan, 36 years at JBL, Neal Wilcox, 35 years at JBL, and Kevin Howells, 38 years at JBL.
General Manager Michael Johnson added, “What is nice is that we’re a compressed enough company where you can talk directly with the president of the company, at any time, with a direct phone call to sort out issues or get anything ironed out that needs ironing out.”
Paul said he believes the new installation of equipment will provide a payback in many forms with recovery being at the top of the list. “We are going to make more boards and less sawdust. Our material handling and grading systems are certainly more efficient, which enables us to provide even more consistency for our customers. This mill provides maximum recovery out of every log that goes through it.”
He indicated the benefits of the new mill include the ability to be more flexible in their product offerings. “In the past we couldn’t produce railroad ties or switch ties for example,” said Johnson. “We will also be able to do more rift and quartered lumber because the new equipment allows us to do it easier and faster.”
Hard Maple is currently the most popular species for JBL. “Our primary species include: Hickory, Hard and Soft Maple, Ash, Birch, Black Cherry, Walnut, Red and White Oak, and Basswood. We’ve developed a Hickory market that has been good for us,” Paul said. “With the new mill we will probably saw more Red and White Oak. We are increasing our product offerings and diversifying more and more. You have to carry many products today because the days of trailer loads with one or two items are in the past. With numerous species that are native to the area, trucks and containers we load can have a multitude of species and products from 4/4 to 16/4.”
Johnson Brothers Lumberyard and Kiln Manager, Dan Newton, has been employed by JBL for 29 years.
“If somebody calls with a special request, we have the capability to fill it,” third generation owner and General Manager Michael Johnson said. “Our sorting line has increased from a one-side, 40-foot pull chain to a two-sided, 200-foot pull chain, which gives us the ability to specialty sort for width, color, etc.
“We worked with Progress Engineering out of Maine for our automation and controls,” claims Michael.“Our entire plant’s information is driven and shared through a central PLC.We can pinpoint problems and get back online, eliminating costly downtime with this system.It also enables us to gain valuable information regarding each and every board that enters and exits our facility.We then process this information for grade reporting, log overrun analysis, and inventory control.”
Johnson Brothers Lumber can fulfill almost any hardwood lumber order regardless of size or custom requirements. “Our sawmill is large enough with the capacity to produce large quantities of wood under tight time constraints, yet small enough to handle custom orders without interrupting our daily operations,” states the company website.
JBL specializes in custom sawing and can handle almost any request including: quarter and rift sawing, large thickness orders, custom beams and specialty lengths. The company has the capacity to custom sort most species of lumber. “We understand that our customers’ needs today are different than they were just a few years ago. Your order can be configured to meet your needs and ensure a quality product with a maximum yield,” states Paul.
With access to over 500,000 acres of timber within a 25-mile radius, their facility processes wood to meet customer specifications. JBL ships more than 750 truckloads of lumber each year to customers around the globe.
Heather Mitchell is secretary and Kara Connellan is office manager for JBL.
The family-owned and operated company was established as an addition to a farm many years ago. “My father and his brother had a farm right here where we are located today,” Paul explained. “They began dabbling in the sawmill industry in the mid ‘30’s but learned most of what they knew in sawing from the hurricane that hit New England in September of 1938.Paul’s father and uncle went to Rhode Island, post hurricane, to process trees that were blown down. The man they worked for owned an estate where he started a little sawmill to get rid of the trees. That’s where they really learned the business. When they came back here they were still into farming but started committing more of their time in the mill.”
He continued, “They took care of the farm, and then as soon as they got time, they went over to the sawmill. They just kept working at it and decided to diversify into the pallet business. When I came here my father and uncle were dividing the business up.My uncle took the farm across the road and quite a bit of property and my father took the sawmill.After graduating from college from Penn State, getting drafted by the Washington Redskins and a short stint in the NFL and Canadian Football League, I decided to pursue the lumber business with my father.
“I learned everything about this business the hard way.So I developed some new customers that purchased upper grade hardwoods and overtime, slowly stepped away from the low grade and pallet business. With the decision to manufacture high grade hardwoods, I knew I needed to build dry kilns. Today we have 375,000 board feet of dry kiln capacity, all of which we built ourselves,” states Paul.
Sales Manager Joel Struebing, 12 years at JBL.
The staff at JBL has a combined experience in the forest products industry of more than 100 years. Including Michael and Paul, key personnel are: Sales Manager Joel Struebing, Secretary Heather (Johnson) Mitchell, and Office Supervisor Kara (Johnson) Connellan.
Johnson Brothers Lumber is a member of the National Hardwood Lumber Association, Hardwood Manufacturers Association, Indiana Hardwood Lumbermen’s Association and the Empire State Forest Products Association. JBL is certified by Forest Stewardship Council, Sustainable Forestry Initiative and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification.