Reliable old saw comes back from retirement

November 6, 2013

Weekend farmer Dave Wibberley needed to fell 200 trees, but had limited access for large transport to move the logs once the trees were felled. This presented a real challenge that called for an innovative solution.
by Etienne Nagel 

Dave Wibberley with his stripped and reconditioned 30-year-old Wood-Mizer saw.
Planks cut with the reconditioned Wood-Mizer.

"As I have limited access for large transport vehicles on the farm, I was probably going to end up cutting the trees into blocks and firewood, a real waste given I had some beautiful 30-year-old cedar and pine in the woodlots that form part of the property," remembers Dave.

He then thought about how he could add value and after scouting around, found an old Wood-Mizer LT30HD sawmill at a wood yard in Belfast, near his farm in Dullstroom. The machine was in a sorry state with all the hydraulics and control systems in pieces.

Dave, a mechanical engineer who runs an industrial automation business, decided there and then that the challenge was on. After purchasing the scrapped machine, he shipped it to Johannesburg where he worked with a fellow electrical engineer to renovate it.

"I visited Wood-Mizer Africa who assisted me no end by giving me all the operating and maintenance manuals for a similar machine," said Dave. "Even though the manuals were for a more modern LT, the diagrams and information were good enough for us to work from."

Dave and his team then completely stripped and reconditioned the mechanical and electrical parts and fitted a new control board. "I was amazed that the 30-year-old hydraulic pack and actuators still worked. Although we had to get new springs made, once we had power in the unit and re-primed the actuators, it all worked."

It took two months working in the evenings and on weekends but eventually the machine was ready to go and was towed to the farm for the big start-up. Wood-Mizer Africa's sales representative for Mpumalanga, Rob Moxham, joined Dave to assist with the initial set-up.

"It took a morning and lots of questions from my side to fully understand the machine, but once the set-up was complete, the old lady ran like a dream," he said.

After learning a little about cutting, Dave used his skills learned in the field of industrial control systems to add a few enhancements to the mill.

"I managed to run the blade into the clamp and supports a couple of times so I decided to put a couple of additional sensors on the machine to prevent this from happening again. Two Omron cat whisker sensors now fitted to my Wood-Mizer has saved me from some serious damage. The sensors are wired directly into the cutting head forward motion motor and automatically stop the advance motor if the clamp and side supports are too high. I also added a current sensor so that the hour meter only advances if I am actually cutting wood.

"I have decided to plank all the wood and build myself an old style wooden barn and I have no doubt that my LT30 will handle anything I throw at it," Dave said.
Dave's story applies to many farmers whose land includes woodlots or parcels of timber that have lain fallow. Their origins might be partially to blame for that – some might have been planted or are feral or have resulted from subdivisions or have sprung up over obstacles that prevent the farmer from using the land. They could also be the remnants of commercial logging operations where profitable diameters have been extracted or the trees have been compromised by disease and abandoned.

One distinguishing characteristic of a woodlot is that the parcel size or quality of wood on the parcel does not generally justify full-scale commercial harvesting. However, sensible forest management practices, even on a small scale, can turn a woodlot into a useful resource.

Finding the right machine to plank timber doesn't necessarily involve buying new and expensive equipment either, as Dave has proven.

Published in August 2010

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