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An effective in-plant training program for rough mill production employees can increase profitability by increasing production of furniture parts and overall yield. No matter what lumber grades are used or what damage has been done in the drying process, the operators have to take one board (or cutting) at a time and try to cut out blanks of the quantity and quality specified. It is an enormous task that management places upon a relatively few people within the plant. It is within this framework that management should plan, develop, and execute in-house training sessions for these people. Basically people want to know “how” to do “what” and “why.” It is our job to tell them. We must be interested enough to show the workers our interest and concern about this critical cost center – the rough mill.

Selecting the Teachers

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Selection of the teaching staff is most critical. Those involved must be credible and have the respect of the audience. The teachers may include: (1) plant manager/VP of manufacturing, (2) staff personnel assigned to rough mill control, (3) lumber buyer, (4) rough mill superintendent, and (5) lead maintenance supervisor responsible for the rough mill area. It will be the challenge of the teachers to plan the program and its delivery, set the standards of procedure and performance in the rough mill, learn job descriptions, know the technical area well, and know the mill process well.

It is suggested that a concentrated program be given within a week. The program may be divided into five sessions. Each should last no more than one hour. The hour immediately following the end of the day may be best suited for all concerned.


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The program should be given primarily in a seminar room, but include the rough mill area for demonstrations and the machine room, assembly, and finishing areas for observation of how blanks generated in the rough mill are used.

Who Should Attend

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The target audience includes: cut-off operators and helpers; rip saw personnel and tail persons; inspectors and foremen; lead planer operator; and salvage operators. Management should also attend. This is important in the eyes of the operators as they will soon realize your sincere interest and the need for improvement. Also, the workers will know first hand that you, the management, know what was discussed and expected of them.

The class size should be no more than about 30 people. Fewer would be better in that a part of the program will involve “field” demonstrations in the rough mill as well as other parts of the plant. Lead glue operators and/or moulder operators could also participate, depending on class size and overall subject matter.

Assistance in Program Planning

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The following publications can be very helpful in planning the content of the program and individual presentations:

  1. Anonymous (1968). Reference notes for rough mill yield workshops. Raleigh: North Carolina State University, Department of Extension Forest Resources.
  2. Hanover, S. J., & Gilmore, R. (1980). Maintenance check is key to ripsaw performance (AG-230). Raleigh: North Carolina State University, North Carolina Cooperative Extension.
  3. Klinkhachorn, P., Gatchell, C.J., & Moody, J. (1994). User’s guide to ReGS: A realistic grading system (Version 2.24), General Technical Report NE-190. Radnor, PA: USDA Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station.
  4. Lawson, P., Thomas, R.E., & Walker, E.S. (1996). Optigrami V2 User’s guide, General Technical Report NE-222. Radnor, PA: USDA Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station.
  5. Pepke, E., & Kroon, M. (1981). Rough-mill operator’s guide to better cutting practices, Report NA-TP-4. Broomall, PA: USDA Forest Service.
  6. Simpson, W. T. (Ed.). (1991). Dry kiln operator’s manual, Ag. Handbook No. 188. Madison, WI: USDA Forest Service.
  7. Smith, W, (1967). Simplified guidelines to hardwood lumber grading. Asheville, NC: USDA Forest Service.
  8. Thomas, R. (1995). ROMI-RIP: Rough mill RIP-first simulator user’s guide, Report NE-202. Radnor, PA: USDA Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station.
  9. Thomas, R. (1997). ROMI-CROSS: Rough mill CROSScut-first simulator, Report NE-229. Radnor, PA: USDA Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station. (in press).
  10. Weidhaas, N. (Producer), & Hanover, S.J., (1986). Wood industry video series, No. 1. The techniques of lumber yield improvement [videotape]. Raleigh: North Carolina State University, Department of Wood and Paper Science.
  11. Wengert, G. (1987). Lumber cut-up tutorial on IBM PC [computer program]. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin, Department of Forestry.
  12. Wengert, E., & Lamb, F.M., (1994). A handbook for improving quality and efficiency in rough mill operations. Princeton, WV: R. C. Byrd Hardwood Technology Center.

Example Agenda for the Training Program

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Day 1 – 1 Hour

Session to be held in the seminar room. An introduction to the entire training seminar is appropriate at this time. Discuss the purpose and let them know questions and suggestions are encouraged during and after the seminar.

Subject Contents

  1. Review of the major species used and their characteristics. (Examples: white pine and pith associated natural defects; gum and warping tendencies; oak and its checking-honeycombing problems).
  2. Review of lumber grades.
  3. Defects in lumber and their causes by natural, inherent types and drying associated defects.
  4. Illustrate the company’s cost of the various grades by major species, by showing actual boards, and presenting their value.
  5. Procedures for accounting for lumber input. Stress the importance of the need to know what does indeed go into the mill.

Day 2 – 1 Hour

Session to be held in the seminar room.

  1. Diagram the process flow and relate how each worker contributes to the process.
  2. Reading and understanding bill and route sheets. Here, the people should understand where and how, the blank(s) they are cutting are to be used. Part specifications should be discussed here, including what is allowed – defect wise – in a cutting and what is NOT allowed in a cutting; use actual wood parts as demonstrations, plus visual aids illustrating the route sheet. Explain how part specifications may change, but references to the route sheets should be made. (Note: many route sheets do not have quality specifications written down; they should!)
  3. Accounting procedures used for quantifying the output. Illustrate with tally sheets.
  4. Relationships between input and output showing how yield is calculated (or waste, both fixed and variable); relate yield to standards; show how you chart variances and what they mean. The idea is to make them aware financially, not just aware in the physical productivity sense.

Day 3 – 1 Hour

Session to be held in the seminar room and rough mill. This session should be devoted primarily to the cut-off operation. It is important that the rip saw operators and others attend in that they will learn what is expected at the cut-off, plus the procedures used.

  1. Explain: (a) setting up a back gauge and (b) using it. (Note: this subject should be discussed only if the firm uses the gauge or is strongly considering the acquisition of one). Illustrations on the blackboard (in the seminar room) should be done first, followed by demonstrations in the rough mill. Have individuals cut a few boards.
  2. Maintenance of the cut-off machine and materials handling equipment; who is responsible for what? Maintaining stop positions.
  3. “Nut and bolt” ideas to reduce waste. Examples may include: looking for the sticker mark on each end of the board as an indicator where drying defects generally stop; cut excessively bowed, twisted or crooked boards into shorter lengths; what defects should be cut out, and what can be left. The literature cited above will be very helpful on this.

Day 4 – 1 Hour

Sessions to be held in the seminar room and rough mill. This session should be devoted primarily to the ripping operation, including the salvage process.

  1. Maintenance of the rip saw. Show procedures such as how to check to see if the saw is making a good joint. Describe what a good joint is and what a bad one is. Instruct the rip operators to test – first thing every day – to see if a good joint is being made.
  2. Detail standard procedures you (the management) have set forth. An example is: are you going to use the fence (or pop-up gauge) every time you make a cut, or are you going to “free hand” the cuttings which result in “tapered” pieces?
  3. Discuss use and care of optional features designed to help the rip saw operator laser lights, for example).
  4. As with the cut-off session, discuss the “nut and bolt” ideas to improve the recovery of all available good, acceptable material. Be sure to concentrate on “edge” waste.
  5. Coordinate and schedule salvageable offal between the rip saw tail person and the salvage operator – discuss rules-of-thumb for determining if it would be better to “rip-out” or “cross-cut out” the remaining defect in a cutting.

Day 5 – 1 Hour

To be held on that Friday or perhaps the following Monday. This session should include a review, but should concentrate mainly on a walk through important areas of the plant. At this time, lead foremen in the machine room, assembly, sanding and/or finishing room should be available to discuss specific points with the group. Items that can be discussed include, for example, moulder allowances – the need for “how much”, quality needs for various parts – hidden vs. partially hidden vs. exposed; natural color variances and their effect upon finishes; matching (grain and/or color) in panel layup; allowable drying defects – if any. Wrap-up is an important element in this training program. Reassure the operators of your interest, understanding, and need for improvement. Adjourn with a smile!


Within about a month from the training sessions, the “teachers” should collectively walk through the rough mill area, unannounced, and observe procedures used. This should then be followed by a discussion among themselves as to the effectiveness of: (a) their presentations and (b) operators’ abilities to learn and implement ideas. Share your thoughts and appraisals with the employees. Consider establishing a “Quality Circle” as an ongoing tool for improved quality production.


Associate Professor and Extension Specialist
Wood and Paper Science

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Publication date: June 1, 1997

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