An Essex pig farmer who almost went of business has replaced his loss-making herd with a profitable small scale timber processing operation, whose hub is an electrically-powered band saw operated as stationary equipment and supported by a multi-rip, a Baker resaw, a planer and other equipment.
Peter Tutton, 40, son of 'Buster' who still lives on the farm, now achieves 200% gross margin from lumber, equal to the return from pigs in the "good old days". Every bit of processed timber, including the chips and sawdust is sold.
The logs-to-lumber set-up brings in 80% of farm income now.
The Wood-Mizer LT40HD-electric saws 1,560 metric tonnes of wood - mostly oak - a year. 80% of it is sold as beams to builders and much of those beams used in the restoration of Essex and Suffolk buildings.
The Tutton family have farmed at Shardelowes Farm, Gosfield, near Halstead for 40 years, originally breeding 1,500 swill fed pigs annually for slaughter.
They got rid of them when pig prices sunk to their 1983 low.
The herd had not only stopped being profitable, it had begun to run at a continuing loss. So in 1983, after having already done some modest timber work making fencing panels with a Wadkin sawbench, Peter Tutton progressed to an old Stena band rack saw which he bought in pieces.
Later he acquired an old steam powered reciprocating saw and converted it to electricity. He operated this successfully for three years, including during the dynamic post-1987 hurricane period.
However, it proved too slow so he mounted a Trekasaw head on the track and bought a muti-rip saw to edge the boards.
By now the scale of his operation had increased, local builders increasingly came to him for good quality beams and he was on the lookout for a faster, easier to use sawmill which would turn out quality lumber and serve as a focus around which he could assemble the ancillary equipment he had accumulated. He looked around for six months until in January 2001 he bought an electrically-powered Wood-Mizer LT40HD band sawmill, and operated it in stationary mode as the pivot of what became overnight a very cost effective wood processing operation. It cost him GBP15,590 plus the cost of a Wood-Mizer blade sharpener (GBP1,700) , paid in cash from profits, eschewing bank loan offers.
The Trekasaw had been too slow for the old frame, whereas primary breakdown is faster with the Wood-Mizer.
Previously he had to clamp by hand but now the new mill does it all hydraulically.
He comments: "Another attraction is that after seven sharpening processes, I can throw away old blades a
nd replace them, compared with having to send them away to a 'saw doctor'.
"But I might buy a debarker, to clean the very muddy logs I bring in. I currently attack them with a stiff brush", he adds. He buys the bulk of his wood, the oak, as well as some softwoods from two dealers for about GBP2.50 per cubic foot and converts 60% of it to beams. He guesses he loses another GBP2.50-worth in waste before selling direct to builders and local councils for just over GBP14.
There are no middle men so both he and his customers get a good deal. And there is no lack of available oak in Essex and Suffolk.
He also produces off cuts for oak laths, fencing posts and boards. Chips are sold for golf club footpaths and shrub beds and the sawdust is mixed with a neighbour's cow manure which the Tuttons sell as bulk compost to landscape gardeners. There is no true waste so his margin could be calculated as double his 200%!
At any given time he usually he stocks about 200 metric tonnes of oak and other logs some 50 yards from the sawmill, turning out about 30mt a week.
A JCB with a log grab carries the logs to the Wood-Mizer.
If a beams are required they are completely cut on the Wood-Mizer.
If posts are called for, the logs are sawn on the Wood-Mizer, usually into 12-inch squares and resawn into four-inch squares without taking them off the mill. Posts account for 20% of output.
Oak logs destined for laths proceed from the mill to the baker resaw, then the multi rip. Peter Tutton would like to sell more laths but demand is relatively limited.
For board production (5% of output) 6x6 squares are cut on the Wood-Mizer and then finished on the resaw. There are also a certain amount of "odd-sized" products turned out by the set-up.
Peter Tutton comments:
"I'm pleasantly surprised at the fine cut we achieve with the Wood-Mizer, as are our customers, even though we run it fast, flat out four hours a day, six days a week, all year,"
Peter Tutton has taken on three men to assist him, one of them working part time. Three of the four man team operate the Wood-Mizer and he explains:
"Being electric, the new mill is so convenient. We leave it idling between sawing and we hardly hear it — and it uses less power than its predecessor.
"The hydraulics enable me to handle big logs - sometimes weighing 2.5mt, three feet in diameter and eight metres in length - lightly and easily, even though the machine is designed for six metres-long logs. Typically, however, I cut logs weighing 1/2mt, 18 inches in diameter and 12 feet long."
Essex and Suffolk, just over the border from the farm, represent a good area for business where the restoration of old buildings accounts for perhaps 50% of his trade. The building of imitation cart lodges, which are used as garages, is also a source of business.
The business, called Tutton Timber, still brings in the same income as a year ago but there are less costs in terms of blades, electricity and - above all - time, physical effort and stress.
"We are even more versatile now which accounts for our popularity and the fact that we don't need to advertise.
"Sometimes I cut a beam while a desperate restorer stands and waits for it. After all, if an eighteenth century wall is propped up somewhere, a new beam is needed very quickly - it can’t be left artificially supported and open to the elements", explains Peter Tutton.
Sometimes he finds himself making oak knees and boat building components, which are a particularly profitable way of turning a waste piece of timber into GBP100 for little effort.
The family is delighted to be still living on the 45 acres of farm. Barns have been let out to small businesses, six acres have been planted with English hardwoods and rest is set to horse grazing. ‘Buster’ still owns most of the farm and Peter Tutton's wife keeps the books.
The family have started taking holidays, the two sons have home made go-karts and Peter has taken up pheasant shooting.
"Now that Wood-Mizers are beginning to be used more in static timber processing like mine, I recommend them for any timber sawing.
"We used to think that only bigger mills could achieve such quality at such speed with very little handling. "I know that with my new production set-up, based on such a sophisticated band sawmill, I could probably process 5,000 mt of wood over 4,000 hours during one year if I doubled shifts. "But apart from the fact that we would have to stretch ourselves to find the customers - who currently come to me for their lumber - that's not the sort of life I want.
"I enjoy the hands-on approach to wood, our whole family has been able to retain our farm and we enjoy ourselves. And I do a bit of pheasant shooting on the side.
"I miss the pigs but this way of doing business is great", concludes Peter Tutton with a grin. Peter Tutton
Shardelowes Farm, Gosfield, Halstead, Essex C09 1PL Mobile: 07889 767276