In the latest in our A Voice from the Woods series, our insider looks at new saw blades. 

THE pressure on me to raise my prices is growing daily. Over a period of six months – and in addition to the banning of red diesel – my energy costs have risen from roughly £1,500–£2,000 a month to something now approaching £8,600. This is clearly unsustainable and something has to give. However, with a recession just around the corner, raising prices isn’t always a wise choice.

Thankfully, I’ve just brought my latest innovation, a set of edgers, into production and (without wanting to sound over-dramatic) this may well save the mill. Initially, I designed these to save double handling and general labour, but until you actually bring such an innovation into production you have no idea what impact it will have. I’m pleased to say this seems to have resulted in an increase in production, greater efficiency, growth in residues and a welcome boost in income.

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So, all in all, I’ll just have to keep watching the bottom line and doing the numbers to check the figures keep adding up, while at the same time exploring cheaper ways to fuel the mill. Bizarrely, I even dreamt of a cheaper fuel for the generator which, although rather odd, may be worth exploring. In the short term, one can only hope oil prices will come down to more realistic levels, even though it still looks to me as though the tax man is on a mission to tax us to death – especially the little guys, who are in no position to fight back.

On the subject of ripping off the little guy, I was recently required to go through the Tyne Tunnel. The system now involves ‘cashless payment’, so instead of throwing a few pound coins into a little basket one now has 24 hours to pay online. As someone with a deep-seated suspicion of modern technology, I was determined not to get caught out. I didn’t want to use the tunnel, but the A1 was closed and the diversion took me in that direction. The cynic in me spied a trap and, as I headed for the tunnel, I thought: ‘Dick Turpin would be proud of this one!’ The following day I made sure the toll was paid and forgot all about it until, of course, the fine arrived for non-payment. Naturally I’ve appealed, but it seems they had credited me for a ‘future journey’, yet fined me for the actual journey. Talk about a rip off! I’ve since discovered they collected £2.3 million in fines over a seven-week period. If the government seriously wants to raise more money then perhaps it should get in touch with the French operators.

READ MORE: Voice from the Woods February 2022: Red diesel, loaders and sawmills

I have tried over the last few years to make the mill as efficient as possible and achieved some good results. As you will have read over this period, part of the aim behind my actions was to try to reduce my workload. Factored into all of this was also a desire to give the mill a bit of a makeover. However, with demand being so high, everything has taken a bit of a battering and there is a need to repair several pot-holes, as well as some fencing. If you ever get a visit from the HSE or the council, that’s always the first thing they criticise, but as one old sawmiller once said to me, ‘A tidy sawmill is a quiet one!’

Part of the reason for the current situation is staff absence. This has been a real issue over the last couple of years, with COVID, chest infections and a host of other respiratory problems putting people out for the count. This undoubtedly puts huge pressure on me to keep all the plates spinning and, as a result, I’m absolutely exhausted. Now hopefully, with spring in the air and illness behind us, and with greater automation, I’m ready to start a spring clean. Since the new edgers have come into production, the wood is moving through the mill into finished products without having stacks of ‘half-cut’ wood sitting around. This makes the act of tidying up a good deal easier.

On reflection, all of this does make me wonder where the electronic age is taking us. When I consider what modifications we have made, they have generally been strong, reliable, and should they need it, easily maintained. Yet time after time, the products which we buy are not only very, very expensive but generally unreliable and almost impossible to fix. Another problem with current products is the wiring systems.

Inevitably, issues develop which in the past you could bypass or ‘hot-wire’ to keep the operation up and running, but no longer. Everything now seems sealed for death! I wouldn’t actually mind trying to design a mobile sawmill which cuts quickly, is relatively inexpensive and has simple electronic systems which are easy to maintain. Everything now appears to have built-in obsolescence.

Our new ‘computer-controlled’ generator has taken to shutting itself down in the event of a power surge, which usually occurs when starting up the sawmill. After several costly visits by a man with a laptop, I’ve now discovered that if I remove the battery leads, then reconnect it and then repeat this process, it clears the fault code and everything starts up again! I’d love to say how I worked all of this out, but I have no idea! It is, however, saving me £600 a go. At this stage, I just cannot see how this generator will provide the service and longevity of its 53,000-hour, trouble-free predecessor. Likewise, our brand new Maitou is a great little machine, but I dread to think what it will be like in 10 years’ time, when all the little plastic connections have begun to crack and the water gets in. Its predecessor, a JCB, had wiring issues and spent half its life ‘hot-wired’. Had it had a computer control system, I doubt this would have been possible. The advance of computing systems in the machines that we use has meant that when they go wrong, which they inevitably do, then unless you’re in a position to afford to replace them you’re in deep trouble.

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As if to emphasise the point about quality and electrics, after some of the gales we’ve had over the winter I decided to splash out on a nice shiny, new roller door. I even paid a £1,000 premium for the heavy-duty three-phase electrics. It managed to raise and lower three times before the circuit board blew.

And finally, on the issue of quality, I return to a subject I’ve mentioned on several occasions: Sugihara chainbars. These bars are so good compared to most of the others on the market. They cut straight and have great longevity. However, when the sprocket nose split I couldn’t find another and so ended up putting a standard run-of-the-mill bar on the saw. It lasted three days! Admittedly, they get some punishment in the mill, cross-cutting and rounding up butts, but two years’ use as against three days is pretty damning.

However, I was determined to try to find an equivalent and, after spending several hours on the internet, I came across a Japanese make called Tsumura. It’s now installed and appears to be as good as a Sugihara. Fingers crossed, as I don’t really have time for wonky cutting!