Harvester solves problems for Karkloof Timbers

April 30, 2010

Last year Brendan Raw of Karkloof Timber Contractors decided to invest in a harvesting machine in a bid to revitalise his contracting business that was plagued by on-going labour hassles. He took a 'chance' and purchased a Sampo Rosenlew 1066 wheeled harvester – the only one in South Africa – fitted with an SP551 head.

Brendan Raw

Brendon and Mandla discuss the harvesting operation.

Karkloof board edging

Left: Structural timber coming through the board edger. Centre: The finger-jointing section. Right: Timber ready for market, with the boiler and kilns visible on the right.


The Sampo Rosenlew was brought to South Africa 18 months ago for trial and evaluation purposes by the Finland-based manufacturers who are keen to supply the South African and African forestry markets. Last year the machine underwent a 2 000 hour trial run with Iningi Harvesting in eucalyptus plantations in Zululand. Tickey and Leon van Eeden, who have a lot of experience in mechanised harvesting with different machines, gave the Sampo Rosenlew their thumbs up.

Sampo Rosenlew's marketing director for the African region, Larry Jenkin, wanted the machine to stay in South Africa rather than ship it back to Finland, as the company plans to appoint a local distributor to pursue opportunities in southern and east Africa.

Then along came Brendan Raw, who bought the used machine and head to harvest timber in the KZN midlands. There was a bit of risk involved as this was, and still is, the only Sampo Rosenlew forestry machine operating in South Africa, but he got it at an excellent price and was confident that the Finnish manufacturers would provide the necessary backup. Plus, Tickey and Leon of Logmech are the official distributors of SP heads and would provide all the backup he needed in that regard.

When I asked Brendan if he made the right decision (to buy the Sampo Rosenlew) his response was emphatic: "definitely!" In fact, when SA Forestry magazine visited, Brendan was full of smiles and looking pretty relaxed for a guy who is running a timber harvesting business AND a sawmill.

Karkloof Timber Contractors, which was established 15 years ago, currently harvests some 18 000 tons a year for private farmers and corporate growers. He admitted to me that it was becoming increasingly difficult for him to meet his harvesting targets due to on-going hassles with labour (high absenteeism rates and low productivity), and that he was even considering quitting the contracting business altogether to concentrate on the sawmill. He said that he had started using a Bell three-wheeler to debark gum in desperation.

That's when he seized the opportunity to purchase the Sampo Rosenlew, and he hasn't looked back.

Considering that it is still early days, Brendan is more than satisfied with the productivity of the machine so far. Working in eight-year-old E. nitens on an NCT estate, the machine was harvesting and processing 6.39 tons/hour using 10.6 litres fuel/hour.

Harvesting and processing a wattle compartment for a private farmer returned figures of 5.08 tons timber/hour at 7.63 litres fuel/hour. The Harvester was felling the wattle, running the stems through the head to loosen the bark, delimbing and cross-cutting. A team of 12 people was working behind the harvester stripping and bundling the bark.

When SA Forestry magazine visited recently, the harvester was busy felling a block of E. grandis for a private farmer, Willie Shaw.

Brendan explained that the harvester operator, Mandla Shabalala, is a youngster who is still gaining experience and is operating the machine at its lowest speed option, so there is still a lot of potential for improved productivity. However, he is happy for Mandla to take it slowly for the time being while he is learning the ropes.

Mandla, previously a tractor driver, spent two months training on the machine with Iningi in Zululand, and has been operating the machine for Brendan for the past four months. A full-time mechanic does regular maintenance and attends to any breakdowns. The machine is doing one shift a day and is hitting the contract target with time to spare.

Brendan says there have been a few niggling problems with the electronics on the machine, but overall he's been happy with its performance and reliability. He deals directly with the Sampo Rosenlew technical department in Finland and they have been very helpful. Similarly, Logmech are on the ball when it comes to backup for the SP551, which is quite an old head and a bit small for some of the bigger trees.

Brendan built the sawmill, Jetteson Timber Products, from scratch four years ago. Roundwood is sourced from private farmers in the district. They produce structural timber (roof trusses) and industrial timber for pallets and furniture making. The sawmill is producing 50 cubic metres of processed lumber a day from 100 cubic metres of roundlogs.

On the industrial side, narrow band saws are used to break the logs down and re-saw them, and on the structural timber side they use a six inch bandsaw and board edgers. All timber is kiln dried.

"We've managed to secure enough raw materials to keep the sawmill busy," said Brendan. KTC does all the harvesting and transport to supply the sawmill.

Brendan's many years in the forestry business has meant that he has been able to build up an extensive network of contacts which enables him to secure sufficient roundwood for the sawmill now and into the future. Having his own harvesting operation is also a key factor in sustaining the flow of roundwood into the sawmill.

Brendan says that prices for sawn timber haven't improved despite rising costs, but demand is beginning to pick up which is an encouraging sign for the future.

Published in April 2010

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