SAWS AND STEEL
By Paul Smith, owner and CEO of Smith Sawmill Service, LLC
with locations in Texas, Louisiana, and North Carolina.
Many mills are finding the current lead time for new saws quite the challenge. The healthcare industry has been fighting this pandemic for over a year now and our industry, like many others, has been fighting the effects: shut downs, lost time from illness and supply-chain issues, just to name a few. The ability to receive new saw orders in a timely manner has all but disappeared. The majority of the steel to manufacture saws for the wood industry comes from outside the U.S. These steel suppliers have worked hard to keep the supply moving across the ocean to our saw manufacturers, both in the U.S. and Canada. We are being assured that measures have been put into place to ramp up and push out more steel for our saws.
However, challenges and problems continue to arise. Now, our overseas steel mills seem to be facing a logistical problem on top of everything else. Ships are full, containers are scarce and our ports are backed-up, causing long delays to get this steel delivered to our saw manufacturers. These plate manufacturers have worked diligently to keep production up as well, despite the problems they are facing. At one point, factories were seeing their raw material supply dwindle down to almost nothing.
Of course, a problem we are all facing is the shortage of workers; some that had to stay home because of the pandemic and some that chose to do so. Unfortunately, it isn't just our industry facing these challenges, so it only stands to reason that the machinery parts and supplies needed in the steel mills, the saw manufacturing facilities, our filing rooms and saw shops are now either on back order or facing long lead times as well.
All of this brings us to rely on our professional saw filers. It has come to my attention that mills are turning to seasoned, well-trained filers to keep the mills running with their existing saws. Round saws are being re-tipped more times that normal and saw guides are having to be adjusted and maintained even better than before. Saws that would have been discarded in the past are now kept in the run out of necessity. Better saws are positioned in the saw box where the majority of wood is expected, while saws that are of "lesser quality" are placed in position where they will be in the cut of minimum amount of time. Filers and saw shops are now seeing saws with excessive guide wear still being used in the mills. In the past, at many mills, the saws were discarded before the guide wear problem would be noticeable or affect the running of the saw. Also, grinding and squaring the gullet edges was almost forgotten about since saws would be culled before this was needed. However, with re-tipping circular saws multiple times, the practice of grinding and squaring the gullet edges is now being brought back.
I have noticed on social media many bandsaw filers posting pictures of bandsaws that normally would be discarded but kept in the run. These social media posts and comments on bandsaws reflect well-deserved pride in our trade. Social media photos show bandsaws that have had much work and time spent on them for repair and upkeep. Running a wide bandsaw down to a much narrower width creates much more work for a filer.
Additionally, band wheels are being resurfaced sooner, strain is checked more often and the tried and true craft of saw filing is required in the filing room. Narrow bands have to be benched better, teeth need more attention when saws can't be readily replaced. More filers are making sure their machinery is in the best possible condition in order to run a saw that is possibly narrower and/or worn thinner than is typical.
We in the industry, recognize and applaud these seasoned, professional saw filers that continue to keep mills operating. I am hoping that saw filing will be recognized as a much-needed position that should result in more people learning the trade. Experience creates the best filers. Most mills know that having a seasoned, professional saw filer in the filing room and on the mill floor working with new and less experienced filers is the best way to train the next generation.
These problems didn't occur overnight and they won't go away anytime soon. With planning by everyone involved we should be able to continue to operate and recover to a more normal manufacturing schedule. Hopefully, we will all continue to keep a little better cushion of trained employees, raw materials, parts and saws in the future to prevent us finding ourselves in this situation again.