Les Schmitz, sales representative, and Larry Mether, vice president of sales, market Widwest Walnut products to more than 20 countries worldwide.
Midwest Walnut Increases Lumber Production For Global Markets By Terry Miller
Council Bluffs, Iowa – Situated in the heart of Walnut country, Midwest Walnut has long been recognized as one of the world’s largest producers of American Black Walnut. With its facility in Willow Springs,Mo. and its home office in Council Bluffs, Iowa, the company’s sawmills produce 10 million board feet of Walnut a year.
During the more than 70 years since it was founded, Midwest Walnut has been known around the world for its unique Walnut gunstocks. The company has been called the largest Walnut gunstock supplier in the United States. Midwest Walnut markets its gunstock blanks to leaders in the industry, such as gun manufacturers, Remington and Browning. Midwest Walnut currently provides gunstocks to more than 20 countries worldwide.
Ted Hiers, vice president of Missouri operations and the plant manager at the Willow Springs location, said the company produces many different grades of gunstocks. Hiers said the gunstocks, which
Midwest Walnut is equipped with Brewco horizontal resaws at its facilities in Willow Springs, Missouri, and Council Bluffs, Iowa.
are naturally dark because of the color of Walnut, come in numerous character variations.
“We have a wide range of grades and patterns,” Hiers said. “And a lot of times beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
In addition to manufacturing gunstocks, the company also uses Walnut for some dimensional products, such as Walnut moulding and steering wheels for luxury cars.
Midwest Walnut began as a small lumber mill in Council Bluffs, Iowa in 1931. The company grew quickly through the 1930s, supplying gunstocks to the U.S. armed forces. During World War II, Midwest Walnut supplied gunstock blanks for the Springfield Armory, makers of the Springfield rifle.
In 1942, Midwest Walnut opened its second mill in Willow Springs to answer the industry’s growing demand. With the recent addition of a new circle mill, the Willow Springs location, which has been a large producer of gunstocks since it opened, has recently begun p
According to Mether, Midwest Walnut uses the highest grade of lumber for their manufacture of gunstocks.
roducing more lumber than gunstocks.
But, “We still have the capacity to produce for the gun manufacturers like we did in the mid-80s,” he said.
Hiers said the company has tried to gear the plant to increase the production of lumber.
“We have made many changeovers and conversions, and have added new equipment and facilities to produce more lumber,” he said.
In recent years, Midwest Walnut has added several new pieces of equipment to keep up with increasing demand in domestic and export markets. The company added two new carriages, new kilns at the Council Bluffs plant and new steamers at both the Council Bluffs and Willow Springs locations. Two new Brewco horizontal resaws have also been added.
The Council Bluffs' plant manufactures hardwood lumber in its band mill, and currently has a dry kiln capacity of more than 500,000 board feet.
Ted Hiers is the vice president of Missouri operations and plant manager of the Willow Springs, Mo. plant.
The Willow Springs plant sits on more than 37 acres of land in Missouri. The plant houses the firm’s recently installed steamer, five dry kilns, a resaw, a Weinig moulder and a newly installed circle mill. The Willow Springs facility has similar production capabilities as the Iowa plant, and has an additional 800,000 board feet of dry kiln capacity.
Midwest Walnut plans to manufacture 8 million to 10 million board feet of Walnut lumber per year. The company’s log buyers purchase from approximately eight states, and are trained to select only the best raw materials. The materials are purchased from independent producers across the central United States and delivered to the two plants in rail cars and semi-tractor trailers. The rail system used by Midwest Walnut is able to bring large volumes in at one time and can be directed to either of the two facilities.
Using the rail system keeps costs down for the company and is much more cost effective than using trucks, according to Hiers.
“The flexibility we have to move the volume that we can m
Midwest Walnut recently installed a new circle sawmill at the Willow Springs, Mo. facility.
ove at any given time is the key,” Hiers said. “If I want to concentrate 200,000 feet of logs in one area, and I want to move them all at once, I could pull the cars in and move them quickly, whereas I can’t move the trucks in there to move that volume of logs in a short period of time.”
After the logs are delivered, the load is inspected, graded and separated before being sent to the sawmill, where they are then manufactured into lumber. The lumber goes through the steam box and then the sorter, before being sent to the automatic stacker. Afterwards it is placed on sticks to air dry before it is loaded into the kilns.
For the gunstock production, the logs are cut into flitches and marked for defects. Once the patterns are cut, the ends are waxed to protect them, and they are again placed on sticks for kiln-drying. All lumber and gunstock are dried between 6 and 8 percent moisture content.
Because Walnut production is a specialty, the company takes extra precautions to ensure that the lumber and gunstocks are well protected due to the waxing process. Hiers said the company does this to make sure the customer gets the best quality product.
Midwest Walnut purchases logs from across the country and are delivered to the company’s two facilities by rail and truck.
For optimum protection during shipping, the gunstocks are put on pallets and wrapped with plastic film. The end user performs the final turning and finishing.
Overseas shipments are sent in containers, break bulk and occasionally by air freight. The company ships it domestic orders by truck or container to wholesalers and manufacturers of furniture, sporting firearms, veneer and other specialty products.
Midwest Walnut has approximately 140 employees combined at both locations that operate on a 40-hour workweek. Other than Hiers, key personnel include: Jim Plowman, owner and president; Les Schmitz, domestic sales manager; Gary Keller, chief operating officer and Larry Mether, vice president of sales.
Jim Plowman has been with Midwest Walnut for 38 years. For 33 of those years, he has been exporting forest products to Europe and Asia. He has served as the company’s president for 27 years.
Recognizing when it is time to make improvements is part of Midwest Walnut’s history. In 1976, wood-burning boilers were installed at both facilities to conform to environmental regulations and create a cleaner workplace. The company soon began
Midwest Walnut’s graders ensure that the company only uses the highest quality Walnut for their products.
utilizing the steam generated from the wood waste to operate the kilns, making both plants energy efficient.
The firm added 50,00 square feet of kiln-dried lumber storage in 1995, bringing the total dry storage space to 300,000 square feet. One year later, 16,000 square feet of additional manufacturing space was added to the Willow Springs plant.
With all of those improvements and additions over the years, Hiers said the company has created a place for one-stop shopping. Even though the company has always been an exclusive manufacturer of Walnut, new equipment and additional space have made it possible for the company to work with some other species as well.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Hiers said. “Walnut has always been our livelihood and we will continue to be committed to supply the beauty and character Walnut brings to our valued customers around the world.”