Manufacturing lumber for your new deck

Looking to build a new deck? You’ll probably want to use high quality 5/4 decking, likely made of southern yellow pine. Much of it comes from the Gulf coastal lowlands of Florida where slash pine (Pinus elliotii) grows in abundance. Whether from natural stands or plantations, slash pine grows straight and clear, making it ideal for this product.

On October 15, 2019, members of the Florida Society of American Foresters toured the Conifex Timber, Inc. sawmill in Cross City to see for themselves. Conifex, a British Columbia firm, purchased the Suwannee Lumber Company mill in 2018 and owns two other U.S. mills in Arkansas. Raw material and markets align to make decking the primary product for the Cross City mill although one-inch and dimensional lumber are also produced.

Here’s a basic outline of the process:

  • Timber dealers deliver loads of sawtimber to the mill’s yard where they are weighed, off-loaded, and stored.
  • Logs at sawmill yard
    Sawlogs ready for processing
  • When ready for processing, logs are debarked, analyzed for grade, and cut to optimal length.
  • Control panel for logs being cut to length
    Control panel for logs being cut to length
  • The log sections, or bolts, are sorted based primarily on diameter before being sawn.
  • Bolts of various lengths ready to be sawn into lumber
    Small diameter bolts of various lengths ready to be sawn into lumber
  • Each bolt is scanned and the saws are set to produce the highest value combination of boards possible.
  • Cants to be sawn into boards
    Cants to be sawn into boards
  • The rough lumber is sorted into bundles according to length, width, and thickness, then stacked for drying.
  • Bundles of rough lumber sorted by size
    Bundles of rough lumber sorted by size
  • Stacks of green lumber are sent through continuous-feed, sawdust-fired kilns to reduce the moisture content.
  • Lumber stacked for drying
    Lumber stacked for drying
  • The dried boards are planed and then bundled for shipping
  • A finished bundle of 5/4 decking ready for shipment
    A finished bundle of 5/4 decking ready for shipment

The optimization algorithms are adjusted roughly weekly based on changes in lumber prices. While maximizing the value of the mill’s output in real time is crucial, the specific needs of long-term customers must also be considered. The mill’s lumber finds its way into the products of many secondary manufacturers including mobile home builders and wood treatment facilities. Nothing goes to waste. Sawdust produces energy, bark becomes mulch, and shavings provide bedding for horses.

The operation provides a lot to think about as you’re lounging on that new deck.