Friday, July 10, 2015
A sawmill may not be the first thing you expect to see on
a beef cattle and sheep farm, especially when the mill, sited next to the
farmhouse, houses the largest Wood-Mizer horizontal bandsaw in Europe.
The WM1000, which can cut logs up to 1.7m diameter in the
centre, was originally designed to meet demand for a cost-effective machine to
saw tropical hardwood logs in Asia and Africa, but at Copford Farm Sawmill in
Sussex it is proving its worth cutting large diameter oak prized for top grade
joinery as well as quarter-sawn material for furniture.
Demand from builders, joinery companies and furniture
makers for the quality English sawn oak produced by the sawmill has ensured
steady growth in this side of the business. The local area has a tradition of
oak-framed houses and provides an important market, but Copford’s expertise
in oak has attracted customers from far afield as well. Recent high profile
commissions include timber for the 2012 Olympics cross-country horse trials, a
narrowboat that was part of the Jubilee flotilla, rebuilding a waterwheel in a
Welsh village for a TV programme, and several archaeological projects in east
The mill also cuts FSC certified oak for customers who
require this, including local councils, with every board tagged and stored
separately for chain of custody control.
Alex Gingell, whose family have been farming for
generations, has reared cattle and sheep on his 120-acre Copford Farm since 1977.
The move into sawmilling began following the 1987 hurricane that battered
southern England. Collecting the plentiful windblow logs and hiring a local
mobile sawmiller to cut them, Alex started making bespoke oak gates for sale to
“Over the next three years this business grew to
become a useful supplement to farm income, and in 1990 I decided to buy my own
LT40 mobile sawmill from Wood-Mizer”, said Alex. “Demand for gates
continued to increase, and then small builders started to ask for oak beams,
leading to further expansion”.
In the mid-90s the LT40 mobile was replaced with a newer
model to benefit from advances in the design and technology of the machine, and
in 2004 the machine was replaced again, this time with a static LT40.
“I introduced some changes to our methods of
farming to streamline the system and give more time for running the sawmill,
which was getting busier and busier, but it was becoming more difficult to have
time to go out with the mobile saw so I bought the static machine and set up the
sawmill on the farm”, said Alex, whose son Harry had now returned from
service in the Army and joined his father working in the mill.>
“We specialise in bespoke products for the higher
end of the market and buy from local estates – mainly English oak but with
a small amount of cedar and larch – choosing quality logs that are best
suited for the intended end-products of our customers. Another issue with mobile
milling was that we were cutting the customers’ logs and they told us what
they wanted out of it – but sometimes the logs were just not suitable for
their desired end-product. Along with installing the static LT40 we started
buying-in logs and now cut only our own logs, so we can select the best one to
meet a customer’s requirements for sawn product”.
Smaller diameter straight logs are easily cut on the
LT40, but any with wide flared butts have to have the butts removed with a
chainsaw, and large diameter logs have to be cut in half, also with a chainsaw.
The mill holds around 2,500 cubic feet of logs at any one time, and a fair number
of these are of large diameter. Bigger logs tend to be better quality and are
more expensive, making it important to achieve maximum yield of sawn
There was a clear need for a larger capacity sawmill, but
despite several years of research into wide and narrow band options, finding the
right one for Copford’s needs proved problematic. Then, in mid-2011, Wood-
Mizer launched its WM1000.
“I read about it in the UK trade press and
contacted David Biggs at Wood-Mizer UK”, said Alex. “The fact that it
is a horizontal bandsaw was a definite plus point, since it could be installed
easily and cheaply on a flat surface rather than requiring a pit like a vertical
bandsaw, and could therefore be moved without problem if we rearrange the mill
layout in the future.
“However, the main benefit was that it would run
with 2in/50mm narrow bandsaw blades that could be maintained using the Wood-Mizer
sharpening and setting machines that had already been purchased for the LT40
“There was no WM1000 installed anywhere in Europe
to look at, but there are good YouTube videos of the sawmill in action, so we
watched those, read the technical information, and together with discussions with
David Biggs that was enough for me to be confident that it was the right machine
The WM1000 is the largest sawmill to be manufactured by
Wood-Mizer to date. It combines robust, durable construction with easy
installation and simple operation, and takes 50mm or 75mm width narrow band
blades running on 1m diameter wheels. Despite its large size, therefore, it
retains the key benefits of Wood-Mizer's world-leading thin kerf technology
– reduced capital cost, energy savings through lower power requirements,
and maximum recovery of valuable wood from each log because the blades cut less
sawdust and more boards.
Hydraulic blade tensioning ensures accurate, straight
cutting with a good surface finish, whether the user is halving or quartering a
log or producing slabs for further processing, or using the Setworks control to
automate production of finished boards of consistent thickness.
The headrig is a twin-rail design, with four driven
wheels running along 'I-beam' tracks. The mill is also available with a raised
bed with advanced hydraulics for loading, turning and adjusting the log, but for
specialist operations like Copford, cutting relatively small volumes of larger
stock, the higher cost of this level of automation is difficult to justify and
the manual version is a better proposition.
The control panel is mounted on the head and the operator
rides on a platform during cutting operations. Harry Gingell, who runs the
WM1000, is a TRADA-trained visual grader for hardwood and the fact that the
platform moves with the head means that he is able to closely observe the cutting
“I’m reading the timber all the time, with
each cut, and assessing it for grade and purpose”, said Harry.
“It’s a huge sawmill but easy to operate. Cutting slabs which are
then resawn on the LT40 is a lot quicker than squaring logs and then resawing on
the LT40 alone. For example, to produce 5in x 4in beams we now cut 4in thick
slabs on the WM1000 and then turn them 90 degrees on the LT40 and cut every five
“In addition to being faster we are getting much
higher yield from bigger logs – trimming them with a chainsaw to fit on the
LT40 meant a lot of waste”.
As well as controls for vertical, forward and backward
movement of the head, the WM1000 comes as standard with Wood-Mizer's Setworks
system. This improves productivity by allowing the operator to pre-set the
required board thickness, after which the head is automatically moved to the
correct position for each pass, ensuring precise and consistent control. Variable
forward and reverse speed allows the operator to adjust cutting speed to suit the
size and species being cut - and to use 'full speed' for the return journey for
maximum production efficiency.
“Accuracy is spot on and the surface finish is
excellent”, said Harry. “We have had very good feedback from
Both sawmills often run simultaneously, with Harry on the
WM1000 and Alex on the LT40 – a further boost to productivity that is
helping Copford Farm Sawmill to meet growing demand. In addition, says Alex, they
can now buy more larger diameter logs and offer a greater variety of products and
sizes to existing customers and also attract new business since there are fewer
mills able to handle big oak logs.
As the only sawmill manufacturer that also makes its own
blades, Wood-Mizer has invested heavily in research and development and also in
blade production lines to expand its supply capacity of blades that provide
optimum performance on its own and other makes of bandsaw. The WM1000 takes
blades of nearly 10m in length, and an additional feature of the head is that the
hydraulic blade tensioning system allows the distance between the bandwheels to
be adjusted by approximately 200mm. This amount of movement means that the blade
can continue to be used even if it is repaired by shortening and re-welding.
“In-house blade maintenance is very
important”, said Alex. “Using outside saw doctors risks problems with
delivery times and you have to keep more blades in stock. The Wood-Mizer blade
maintenance machines are easy to use and ensure that the blades are always
correctly sharpened and set. We use the 50mm DoubleHard blades and have had no
problems at all”.
Copford Farm Sawmill has deliberately set out its stall
as a bespoke oak specialist, serving higher end and therefore less price-
conscious and competitive markets. The expertise of the company has become known
far and wide and demand is strong and increasing – and this is likely to be
given a further boost now that the mill can handle larger logs and ensure high
“The business has changed over the years and grown
significantly”, said Alex Gingell. “Our experience of the LT40s and
of Wood-Mizer’s manufacturing and service capability has been positive and
it is good to stick with the company for the WM1000, which takes us to a new
level of capability in the sawmill”.
Watch the LT40 sawmill video below:
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