Companies in this industry engage in the sawing of dimensional lumber or make veneers, plywood, engineered wood members, or reconstituted wood products. Major companies include divisions of Georgia-Pacific, Louisiana-Pacific, Universal Forest Products, and Weyerhaeuser (all based in the US), as well as Canfor and West Frasier Timber (both of Canada), Ilim Timber (Germany), Stora Enso (Finland), and Sumitomo Forestry (Japan).
Demand is closely tied to the level of home construction. The profitability of individual mills depends on efficient operations, because most products are commodities. Large companies enjoy economies of scale in purchasing. Small companies can often compete successfully by focusing on a local market. Sawmills can operate with only a modest investment of capital, but plywood mills require expensive equipment and therefore are usually plants with high annual volume.
Products, Operations & Technology
Sawmills process raw logs in a few simple operating steps. Logs are debarked and cut into "cants" that are further cut into finished pieces of lumber, using either circle saws or bandmills. Once lumber is cut to size, it may be sold as "green" lumber or may be stacked and dried to a specific moisture content through air- or kiln-drying. Kiln-drying involves stacking wood in shed-like structures and ventilating with hot air for ten to 30 days. Many sawmills produce a range of "dimension" lumber, lumber of various standard lengths, widths, and thicknesses. Some sawmills specialize in producing only "stud" lumber, lengths of 5 to 10 feet with a cross section of 2 by 4 inches or 2 by 6 inches. Because their product is smaller, studmills can use smaller, cheaper logs.